It’s Not Just Russia: Combating Hate Crimes in Georgia

The Olympic Games in Sochi has put a spotlight on Russia’s anti-gay laws. But Russia is not the only country waging a silent war on the LGBT community through homophobic legislation, hate crimes, and anti-gay movements. Our work in Georgia demonstrates an innovative grassroots effort to support the victims of this violence.

Last May, Identoba (or “Identity” in English), our partner for this video project, organized a small silent demonstration in Tbilisi to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Approximately 20,000 people came out into the streets to protest this event. Before the demonstration even began, the angry mob easily pushed through the thin police cordons that separated them from the demonstrators. The counter-demonstrators were armed with stones, heavy sticks, and chairs, and screamed, “Kill them!” and “Don’t let any of them leave here alive!”

Mere seconds before the leaders of the mob reached us, the police directed us to run onto a nearby bus. I was luckier than some of the other demonstrators—I managed to run onto one of the first buses to drive away. The mob attempted to surround and block our bus, and continued to scream threats, throwing stones and chairs at the windscreens and windows of the vehicle as the bus drove away.

I sat near Irakli Vacharadze, Identoba’s Executive Director, who is featured in this video. I overheard him calmly talk on the phone amid the chaos around us, demanding that the Ministry of Internal Affairs provide another secure location so that we could hold the demonstration. My first thought was, He is insane. We are going to get ourselves killed. But I also was overwhelmed with intense admiration. Despite the real threats to his life and physical integrity, Irakli was determined to show that the LGBT community exists in Georgia and protest against the rampant homophobia in Georgian society. And he and Identoba’s other staff members do this every day.

The events surrounding May 17 were not isolated incidents. According to a recent survey of the LGB community in Georgia, 1 in 3 respondents reported that they had experienced violence in the previous two years (2011-2012). Identoba faces serious obstacles in seeking to increase protection for LGBT people. Georgian society in general does not acknowledge that the Georgian LGBT community even exists. The community is portrayed as an outside group that is created, funded, and supported by foreign donors. And society seems to tacitly (if not explicitly) approve of the rights violations that LGBT people regularly experience, including attacks, death threats, murders, harassment, and discrimination.

In our video, some of these community members speak about the violence that they experienced. They requested that we obscure their identities in order to protect them. One interview subject told me that she feared that her young male relatives would be killed if she publicly revealed that she is transgender. Another interview subject sought asylum abroad after our shoot because he was being targeted for abuse and the Georgian authorities did not protect him.

The video seeks to strengthen Identoba’s efforts to promote accountability for hate crimes by encouraging victims to report hate crimes to Identoba and to the authorities.

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