Georgian Dream's fight against LGBTQ+ people

Image by Arzu Geybullayeva

This story was first published on OC Media’s website. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.

The ruling Georgian Dream party is risking the country's European aspirations ahead of the October parliamentary vote after proposing constitutional amendments that would outlaw queer “propaganda,” including banning public demonstrations or publications that it deemed to “popularize same-sex family or intimate relations.” The proposed changes would also ban gender transitioning.

Pundits say the ruling party is throwing the country's EU aspirations under the bus for a potential electoral advantage.

Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the party's parliamentary caucus, said on March 25, when presenting the amendments, that the party was fighting the spread of “non-traditional lifestyle” as a result of “pseudo-liberal ideology” propaganda. These allegations were all backed by “international studies,” according to Mdinaradze, except the party member omitted any citations.

A history of homophobia

Homophobia has been part of the Georgian Dream Party's toolkit in the years since the party took over the country's leadership in 2012, emboldening the country's ultra-conservative and far-right citizens to target the community and its supporters.

In 2013, led by the Georgian Orthodox Church priests, a mob chanting “no to gays” attacked a group of queer rights activists who were marking the International Day Against Homophobia in the capital Tbilisi.

In 2018, same-sex marraige was banned as per changes made to the Georgian constitution. At that time, Georgian Dream argued that redefining marriage as a heterosexual union would also prevent “certain groups” from instrumentalizing homophobia in Georgia.

The LGBTQ+ community didn't attempt to organize another PRIDE event until six years later, in 2019, only to cancel it hours before citing security concerns after the Interior Ministry announced that the police would not protect protest participants.

In the following years, little changed as the organizers of Tbilisi PRIDE had to cancel the “March of Dignity” amid violent attacks by anti-LGBTQ+ protestors. In 2021, at least 50 journalists were battered, and a violent mob stormed and ransacked the offices of the march's organizers — Tbilisi Pride and Shame Movement, a liberal activists group at the time. At least one journalist died as a result of the attacks.

Although some of the perpetrators of violence were eventually convicted, little to no action was taken against the supporters of hate speech among the ruling party followers or ruling party members.
The latter was evident during last year's PRIDE event when a mob of several thousand far-right protesters marched to disrupt the Tbilisi PRIDE Festival in July 2023. They claimed the event was a “Western plot” to promote the LGBTQ+ agenda. By the time the mob approached the festival venue, the festival organizers and all of the guests of the event were evacuated to avoid confrontation.

Anti-queer legislation

Several months after organizing a violent attack on the aborted 2021 pride march in Tbilisi, Alt Info, an extremist, far-right, and pro-Russia group, submitted their initiative to ban “LGBT propaganda” to parliament. The following July, the Georgian Orthodox Church explicitly endorsed the idea.
According to a 2023 report by the Media Development Fund, titled “Anti-Gender and Anti-LBGTQ Mobilization in Georgia,” between 2012 and 2023, at least eight legislative changes were registered in the parliament submitted by various groups including the Georgian Dream, with the purpose of restricting or limiting LBGTQ+ rights in Georgia, five of which received no support.

The party, along with its supporters, began requesting a law targeting queer people around a month ago, citing the need to counter “pseudo-liberal” propaganda allegedly advocated by the opposition groups.

If adopted, the proposed changes to the country's draft Constitutional Law on Family Values and Protection of Minors would ban any gathering, product, or educational program that “popularizes” “same-sex families or intimate relations,” “same-sex or non-heterosexual” child adoption, gender transitioning, the idea there are more than two genders and incest. The changes would also prohibit any medical assistance in gender transitioning or any legal gender recognition for transgender people. This would likely also ban any pride events from being held in the future.

The party said they planned to add a line to Article 30 of the constitution stating that the “protection of family values and minors are ensured by Georgia’s constitutional law, which is an integral part of the Constitution of Georgia.”

To pass the amendments, the Georgian Dream would need to secure 113 votes out of 150 in the parliament, where the party holds only 82 seats.

“The draft law has yet to see the light of day, but fears are already mounting that whatever the political motive may be, the Georgian Dream exploits homophobia as a campaign pillar for the upcoming parliamentary elections, a campaign of hate that may make the pre-election period even more dangerous for Georgia’s queers,” wrote journalist Gigi Kobakhidze.

Mdinaradze said the party had opted for constitutional changes as opposed to regular legislation because the party wanted “stronger guarantees” that would be harder to reverse “if some pseudo-liberal group comes into power in 10–15 years.”

International organizations, as well as opposition parties and civil society organizations, including queer rights groups, have criticized the proposed amendments.

In response to the proposed amendments, Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, said:

This proposed initiative is a blatant attack on human rights in Georgia and on the rights of LGBTI people in particular. It is distressing to see the governing party pursue such a detrimental initiative in a country that is pursuing membership of the European Union, which is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom and equality for all.

Georgia formally applied for European Union (EU) membership on March 3, 2022. In June 2022, Georgia's candidate status was declined, instead giving Georgia a list of 12 conditions the country had to fulfill before their application could be reexamined. Among these conditions were reducing political polarization, reforming the judiciary, ensuring functioning state institutions, strengthening anti-corruption measures, including de-oligarchisation, and others. Georgia was finally granted the status in December 2023.

“If you really want to promote ‘family values,’ then work on what matters to families — stop inflation, higher paying jobs, no more families being split by mass emigration,” Alexandre Crevaux-Asatiani, deputy director for foreign affairs of the opposition United National Movement party, said in a statement to Eurasianet.

Organizers of the Tbilisi PRIDE described proposed amendments as “homophobic legislation” in a Facebook post.

Legislation against queer “propaganda” in several other countries, including those citing the protection of minors, has been widely condemned by human rights groups as an assault on fundamental freedoms.

Critics have pointed out that laws like the one adopted by Russia in 2013 to “protect children from information advocating a denial of traditional family values” have also increased hate crimes.

Giorgi Tabagari, founder and former director of Tbilisi Pride, warned in a tweet, “Putin's Russia wasn't built in a day, they started just like this,” while referring to the new amendments.

The ruling government of Georgian Dream has taken a U-turn on freedoms and human rights since October 2020, when the country held a contested parliamentary vote on October 31 and entered an ongoing political crisis. Since then, the country has witnessed violent dispersals of protestsattacks on independent media; and a widening rift between society and state leadership.

In September 2023, officials attempted to impeach the country's president, who has been publically critical of the ruling party in recent years, but failed to do so.

These factors are why the country's track record on freedoms and democracy has been steeply declining in recent years.

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