“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
– Nicholas Klein, American trade unionist
Yesterday was the International Day Against Homophobia, and as you probably know the demonstration in Tbilisi was preempted by a counter-demonstration, led by the Georgian Orthodox Church, the goal of which was to beat and/or kill as many demonstrators as possible.
Two weeks ago was Easter. The Georgian Patriarch said that abortion must be banned in Georgia because there are not enough Georgians, and that if Georgian mothers have babies that they cannot care for, they should give the babies to the Church.
I’ve been too busy to do either of these topics justice. I feel anger and rage and disappointment. I want to use these events as a bludgeon with which to attack the Church. I feel a sense of grim satisfaction that the Orthodox Church is finally showing its really ugly side to the world. Now, we can no longer ignore the violence inherent within the system.
Will my anger help anyone? My New Years Resolution was to avoid outrage for its own sake. What will outrage – my outrage – do in this case? Another foreigner coming to tell Georgians how to live. If anyone paid attention at all, it would be to point me out as an example of what the priests are fighting against – foreign influence ruining Georgia’s morality.
Two years ago, I wrote a post about the state of LGBT rights in Georgia. The gist was that the general direction of LGBT discussions in Georgia, in public, was that there were no gay Georgians. First they ignore you.
A lot has happened in that time. There was last year’s rally, which was attacked during its march down Rustaveli Avenue. Then there was the follow-up rally, protesting the violence, which was kept safe by the police. Then there was the broom scandal, where it came out that there was systemic rape – rape against men, in particular – going on in Georgian prisons. These are both viewed as assaults on Georgian manhood and Georgian morality. There was the election and its aftermath, during which many Georgians got the impression that the foreign media and foreign governments were biased towards Misha and were trying to enact their own agenda in Georgia – an agenda which might not necessarily have the best interests of Georgians themselves as its top priority. This, I would argue, is deeply interrelated with the rise in nationalist sentiment in Georgia, which is in turn reflected by things like the argument that abortion should be banned so that there will be more Georgians. And, of course, the homosexual lifestyle, which is seen as nonreproductive, is also at odds with this vision of Georgia’s future.
There are a lot of reasons why violence erupted yesterday, and many of them reflect real problems that Georgia has to deal with. But make no mistake: yesterday was a huge victory for LGBT rights in Georgia.
Now, the issue of LGBT rights in Georgia has international attention. Georgia made more of a spectacle of itself than most other countries around the world. Journalists and tourists were caught up in the violence and chaos. Georgia’s reputation took a hit, and many Georgians feel shame that their countrymen embarrassed themselves so thoroughly by resorting to this kind of behavior.
But more importantly for Georgians, now the issue of LGBT rights in Georgia has Georgians’ attention. Now there can be no more “there are no gays in Georgia” claims to close down arguments. In only two years, LGBT issues in Georgia have gone from total invisibility to total recognition.
Now, all of the people who were on the fence, who were quietly ambivalent, or who supported LGBT rights but did not talk about it because of social taboo or fear of offending someone or fear of being ridiculed, all of the people who we never knew were allies – now all of these people are standing up against violence and for the right of LGBT supporters to express their opinions in public. People who never cared before care now. People who didn’t think LGBT rights were their issue are making it their issue now. Thousands of Georgians, on the internet, in the news, and in person, are denouncing the violence perpetrated by their church and their countrymen against innocent human beings.
I have to wonder – could I have imagined, in May, 2011, thousands and thousands of Georgians, all over the country and all over the world, denouncing anti-LGBT violence? Could any of us have imagined that? This is what progress looks like. It’s painful, it’s discouraging, and we’re winning.
There is a widespread, non-partisan political consensus that the right of Georgians to demonstrate against homophobia must be protected. While a few commentators have tried to somehow blame Misha or Ivanishvili for what happened yesterday, I am encouraged by the fact that virtually every politician who spoke on the matter, including Ivanishvili himself, expressed support for the Constitutional rights of Georgians to demonstrate and to have their demonstrations protected. It seems like there is currently no party that is siding with the Patriarch on this issue in order to score political points. I suspect that next year’s rally will have better police protection (and I would note that the lack of adequate police protection at demonstrations has been a recurring issue since the last elections, not limited to this particular rally).
So do I feel anger? Do I feel pain? Do I feel fear that my son will grow up in an environment of hate? Absolutely. A part of me wants to retaliate, to curse the priests and the people who follow them, to fight fire with fire. But I will not allow that part of me to win. It’s counterproductive. I will focus on the positive.
Today, I am proud to live in a country where politicians will defy the Church and stand up for the right to freedom of expression. I am proud to live in a country where every act of violence is met with a public outcry against violence. I am proud to live in a country where a growing number of demonstrators every year will risk life and limb for the right of their fellow humans to live without discrimination or oppression. I am proud that my wife is disgusted by bigotry and that her family is disgusted by the violence. I am proud that this country has come so far in such a short time.
Two years ago I was disappointed by the wall of silence and apathy surrounding LGBT issues. Now I am proud that Georgians are standing up to confront hatred and ignorance head-on. What happened yesterday filled me with hope. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.