Sunday, May 19, 2013

Georgia: Anti-Gay Orthodox Protesters Attack Gay Rights Rally

May 17th was International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), celebrated around the world with LGBTQ rights rallies. IDAHO was a day of supportive remarks by leaders such as UN Ambassador Susan Rice and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and of pro-LGBTQ gatherings across the globe. Unfortunately, IDAHO gatherings met with resistance from the authorities in China and Kenya, as well as outright violence in Russia. Georgia, sadly, also experienced homophobic violence on IDAHO, with Orthodox anti-gay sentiments as an alleged driving force behind it.

According to RT, thousands of anti-gay activists attacked a gay rights gathering in Tbilisi, Georgia on May 17th, leaving at least 28 people injured. At the time, Orthodox Christians were marching in a counter-demonstration as the gay rights gathering took place. Anti-gay agitators reportedly threw stones and beat demonstrators, forcing police to evacuate demonstrators in minibuses. Unrelenting anti-gay protesters then attacked the minibuses.

Even more disturbing are reports that Orthodox priests took part in the anti-gay demonstration, as the New York TimesBBC News and AFP indicate. After the gay rights rally dispersed, anti-gay activists holding Orthodox icons hovered near Georgia's former parliament building, chanting homophobic chants, according to AFP.

Before the rally took place, Orthodox leaders reportedly made homophobic comments. Orthodox Georgia Patriarch Ilya II said that an IDAHO gathering in Tbilisi would be an "insult" to Georgia, calling homosexuality an "anomaly and illness". Ilya II called for the pro-gay gathering to be banned, according to Radio Free Europe. After Friday's attacks, Ilya II distanced himself from the violence, but reaffirmed that gay rights "should not be propagandized", according to Eurasia View. Additionally, RT reports that the day before the gathering, Orthodox priest Father Ioanne told AFP that demonstrations were a problem and "The people do not want propaganda from minorities".

Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishili condemned the violence, arguing that the right to peaceful assembly and free expression were seminal to Georgian democracy, reports Pink News.

Observers are criticizing Georgian authorities and the Orthodox church for failing to extinguish violent homophobia. John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, called Georgian authorities to account after the incident.
“Ironically this shameful violence marred a day that is meant to mark solidarity in the face of homophobic violence around the world, and it shows that the Georgian authorities have a long way to go to promote tolerance and protect LGBTI people and their human rights. The authorities must investigate this violence and bring to justice those responsible for committing acts punishable by law.”
Dalhuisen condemned religious justifications for homophobic violence, arguing that Orthodox faith is no excuse for savagery.
“It is becoming a dangerous trend in Georgia to condone and leave unpunished the acts of violence against  religious and sexual minorities if they are perpetrated by the Orthodox religious clergy or their followers. It is simply unacceptable for the authorities to continue to allow attacks in the name of religion or on the basis of anyone's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."
Paul Rimple, a journalist stationed in Tbilisi, voiced his disgust at the homophobic violence in a May 19th commentary in the Moscow Times. Rimple warned that Georgian leaders were facing a test from a "dangerous theocratic movement" seeped in Old Testament language. He also admonished Georgian authorities for their failure to prevent homophobic violence.
"[Prime Minister] Ivanishvili issued the routine condemnation of violence and vowed that perpetrators will be punished, but nobody in Georgia is going to lay a hand on the Georgian Orthodox clergy responsible for Friday's bestiality because they fear the church's influence. There is truly something amiss when a government is impotent to a religious institution whose merciless leaders incite intolerance, hatred and murder against its fellow countrymen ... Ivanishvili is facing his first real test as a leader against a dangerous theocratic movement that speaks in Old Testament language of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The authorities' utter failure to prevent the violence means these extremists will become more emboldened.

The government talks of European integration, but Georgia will remain isolated in the Dark Ages of irrelevance until its leaders have the guts to stand up for the equal rights of all its citizens and confront the dark forces of evil masquerading as Georgian Orthodox Christians."
In yet another part of the world, we see homophobic religious sentiments giving rise to violence. Friday's shocking attack is a reminder that the struggle for LGBTQ rights continues and that religious extremism is very much alive. The fact that Orthodox clergy openly took part suggests that they did not fear consequences from Orthodox church leaders. In the wake of such savagery, calming words are not enough. Georgian political leaders and law enforcement officials must take concrete steps to protect free expression and LGBTQ rights. Moreover, the Georgian Orthodox Church must hold its priests accountable for their role in promoting homophobia.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Daily Kos: Terrifying video of rioters attacking gay pride participants in Tbilisi

Americablog: Horrific video of 1000s of (former Soviet) Georgians rioting against gays

Towleroad: Gay Parade Marchers, Buses Come Under Attack by Violent Mob in Tblisi, Georgia

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