Having struggled against the oppression of first the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, Georgians have become to believe that the Georgian Orthodox Church is the only institution capable of preserving and protecting the Georgian Nation. The church was successful in maintaining its status and influence throughout decades of occupation, but since its liberation from the Soviet Union in 1989, the church has become not only free, but also excessively active, enjoying the support and unquestionable trust of at least 90% of the Georgian population. The majority of devoted Georgian Christians, including priests, have not withheld themselves from making homophobic statements, as well as actions. On 17th May 2013, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, saw extremely violent actions against LGBTQ supporters on the streets of the city.
On the international day against homophobia, Identoba, a Georgian LGBTQ rights supporting organization, in collaboration with other organizations, as well as independent supporters, planned an event on the central Rustaveli Avenue. The original plan was to have all the supporters stand in front of the former parliament building from 1 PM – 1:30 PM in a silent demonstration, showing the importance of protecting the human rights of the LGBTQ community. On the evening prior to the event, the current Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia the Second, made a statement, condemning the planned event, claiming that homosexuality is a sin and its spread should be avoided. In response to his statement, more than 10,000 people gathered in front of the former Parliament building at midnight and spent all night there, following the orders of the priests that led this anti-LGBTQ demonstration. On the morning of 17th May, approximately 2,000 policemen received the order to surround the anti-LGBTQ demonstration in order to avoid a possible clash, as the LGBTQ-support demonstration was continuing as planned.
As I reached Rustaveli Avenue through the underground system (the only way of getting there, as anti-LGBTQ demonstrators had blocked all the other surrounding streets), the police escorted me to Liberty Square, which lies at the very beginning of the Rustaveli Avenue, not far from the former Parliament building. As the anti-LGBTQ demonstrators had taken over the grounds surrounding the former Parliament building, the location of the LGBTQ-support demonstration was promptly changed toPushkin Square, right next to Liberty Square.
At around 12:50 PM, as I was standing in the middle of Pushkin Square in a group of 7 people, (5 of whom were not Georgian), all thelegal observers as well as local journalists started running towards the police cordon on Rustaveli Avenue, blocking the way for anti-LGBTQ demonstrators, so that they could not approach Pushkin square. I was surprised and slightly scared by the fact that only about 50 of us LGBTQ supporters were left at the square. I soon saw an aggravated crowd of 10,000 Georgians, eager to “protect Christianity,” running in our direction. Priests swearing; several of them carrying stools that they later used to hit mini-buses that were carrying LGBTQ-supporters out of the spot; men in traditional Georgian dressscreaming, running towards Pushkin Square chanting the Lord’s prayers, occasionally interrupted to curse at the LGBTQ-supporters; older women running with nettle plants in their hands that they wanted to beat us with; all 10,000 people, in religious ecstasy, with one aim – to protect Christianity from perversion by murdering LGBTQ-supporters. [Read more…]