It was meant to be more than a day of festivities.
Planned in the spring of 2021, Tbilisi Pride, the main LGBTQ organization operating in the nation of Georgia, announced in early June of that year that Pride events would begin on the first day of the following month and continue for almost an entire week.
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By July 6, 2021, the same organizers were processing horrific details of a terroristic response to the capstone March for Dignity which rained down upon the queer community and members of the media at the hands of far-right fascist political organizations and the Georgian Orthodox church.
Headlines across the world indicated just how rapidly something joyful devolved into a terrifying and traumatic event.
Now, a year later, the founder of Tbilisi Pride spoke exclusively with LGBTQ Nation to discuss what happened that day, what life is like a year later, and where the Georgian LGBTQ community is headed in the future.
Giorgi Tabagari, who founded Tbilisi Pride, and served as First Director of the group while helping organize the 2021 event began his recollections by making clear that despite proactive attempts by LGBTQ leaders in Georgia to forestall the terror which took place on the 5 and 6 of July, the government was unwilling to help.
“They [the anti-LGBTQ protestors] were making threats throughout the entire month prior to Pride week. We were having negotiations with the government and demanding pre-emptive measures from the police; however, the government did not act to avoid the violence from happening.”
In the hours before the violence that saw more than 50 people injured and what would be referred to in its aftermath as a “pogrom” and an “ambush,” the former Soviet Republic’s prime minister Irakli Gharibashvili had called on participants not to take part in the march.
He followed that up by later making the outlandish claim that “95% of our population are against holding propagandistic” parades and saying, “The only parade I know, that will be held in our country, is that of our army.” When taken together, the Georgian leader made his stance clear.
Tabagari made clear that the homophobic stance coming from the prime minister’s office led directly to the lack of consequences being felt by those involved in the beatings.
“Until now not a single organizer of the violence is held accountable and the rhetoric from the government officials has not changed,” he said.
He also suggested the reason for such outward homophobia coming from his nation’s ruling administration – blatant to the point that U.S. embassy officials attempted to intervene – had its roots in a larger motive.
“Government officials used the Pride movement to undermine the opposition parties and accused us to be in cooperation with UNM,” Tabagari said. “They continued this narrative afterward, and this was recently reiterated by both the PM and the chairperson.”
Having addressed the one-year anniversary of the pogrom on Twitter, and facing a crossroads. Tabagari assessed if LGBTQ rights were regressing in his nation.
“Legally the situation remains unchanged. We had some progress in the past years, and adopted certain pieces of legislation which improved things; however, the government is practically not doing anything to address widespread homophobia in society. They are fueling it, to a level that facilitates aggression towards the queer community.”
This negative is held despite some progress being made at the E.U.-level with the European Commission on Human Rights accepting a civil lawsuit filed by Tbilisi Pride stemming from the rampage.
With Georgia having been involved in two recent wars with Russia and hosting scores of Ukrainian refugees, Russian influence became part of the conversation about the issue of non-queer journalists being targeted during the brutalities.
“The reason why journalists got attacked in the first place was they were supportive of Pride during the whole campaign, they weren’t giving air time to the pro-Russian radicals and had Pride pins on live TV. For the radical extremists, media, NGOs, and opposition groups represent liberal force, and this was an attack on liberals.”
According to Tabagari, the totalitarian hand of Russian fascism was being felt in other areas of queer life in Georgia when looking at what the future held.
“I do have hopes that the situation will get better and it is getting better in a sense that social attitudes are improving, however, Russia is the huge challenge in the region and the war in Ukraine is a defining moment.”
Tabagari added this reminder: “It’s important to understand that homophobia is the tool for Russia to destabilize Georgia. Not only Georgia, almost all countries in the neighborhood, and pro-Russian forces are on the frontline with anti-LGBTQ policies, playing with nationalistic sentiments while polarizing society.”