Why are Georgians homophobic?

There have been some interesting developments this year regarding today’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

For some background context, Georgian LGBT rights activists have been trying to hold demonstrations against homophobia in Georgia for several years now. On May 17th, 2012, there was some scattered violence against the demonstrators. On May 17th, 2013, there was much more organized violence against the demonstration, as the Georgian Orthodox Church led an angry mob numbering in the thousands to attack a group of about 25 young people, who had to be evacuated by the police. The famous-in-Georgia image of the priest holding a stool with which to bludgeon the gayness out of these people comes from this event. Last year – May 17th, 2014 – there were a few guerrilla demonstrations – including a staircase painted with rainbow colors, and a bunch of empty pairs of shoes placed in Tbilisi’s main square to symbolize the people who could not attend a demonstration because of the threat of violence from the peace-loving, Christ-like Georgian Orthodox Church. The Church, for its part, declared May 17th the Intranational Georgian Day of the Family, because if there’s anything in Georgia that does not get enough attention, it’s families.

This year, Identoba – Georgia’s LGBT rights organization – tried to get the government to agree to protect LGBT-rights advocates against the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Georgian police apparently said they would protect a demonstration only if it occurred somewhere that was of no particular importance to Georgian social or cultural life – such as the parking lot of a large hotel/casino in one of the city’s (relatively) newer districts. Identoba responded by calling Georgia a theocracy – which is not entirely fair, because a country in which the police cannot protect its citizens from a group of organized thugs (or, for that matter, secure its borders) is more properly called a failed state rather than a theocracy – but it is certainly true that the Church is a powerful and oppressive force in this country.

The result of all this is that Identoba is planning to hold a secret rally, somewhere in the city, the location of which will apparently be disclosed only to registered participants from recognized NGOs (correct me if I’m wrong). Demonstrators have been told to wear ordinary clothes and carry no signs, symbols, or other recognizable indications that they are affiliated with any LGBT rights groups, because in the past people have been targeted for random violence on the basis of suspected LGBT sympathies. In 2013 there were reports of violence against anyone who even looked gay, including a woman who was attacked in the street for having a short haircut, so these are actually quite sensible precautions.

*****

The debate about LGBT rights in Georgia is at the stage where it is a battle over public visibility. Most Georgians do not want to actively hunt down and murder gay people and there is comparatively little anti-gay violence, aside from the annual eruptions described above. Generally Georgians take a live-and-let-live attitude, as long as the so-called “sexual minorities” stay in the closet. I think part of this is an issue of the honor of Georgia – when I came here many Georgians would often say that there are no gays in Georgia, and now that they cannot credibly make that claim, they are angry. Georgians find it embarrassing that there are, in fact, gays in Georgia.

The other part is that Georgians are concerned about their children. Russia has banned “gay propaganda” with the justification that the government needs to protect children from being recruited into a homosexual lifestyle, and the overall sentiment in Georgia is similar. To me this sounds ridiculous, but I don’t think we can dismiss it. Often when I talk to Georgians about gay rights, they ask me what I would do if my own son were gay. Since this question keeps coming up, I have come to suspect that it lies at the heart of Georgians’ concern about letting LGBT groups have public visibility. It’s why the Church wants to claim May 17th for families, as opposed to some more particularly religious agenda.

Georgian family values are still heavily influenced by economic and social concerns that probably seem alien to people from wealthier, more developed countries. Georgians of my generation have strong connections to their villages, even if they’ve never actually lived there, and you’d be surprised how many people still consume produce (and wine) that comes from the villages where their ancestors lived. The family is not just a source of organic foods – it’s a source of educational success, of career paths (yes, there is still a lot of nepotism in Georgia), of social status. The family is the social safety net. The obligations surrounding family are so much stronger and more pervasive in Georgia than in New York City that it is hard for me to predict where and how and how much they’ll influence other Georgian cultural practices.

For example, Georgians are really afraid of having gay relatives. They’re afraid of the loss of social status. They’re afraid people will think they’re gay if they have a gay relative. This is salient because loss of status can mean loss of educational and job opportunities, given the amount of nepotism in Georgia. They’re afraid of having a gay son and therefore not having grandsons – Georgians are very concerned about male heirs, who are the property-inheritors and name-carriers. Georgians want their children to be “normal”, because children are a status symbol, and status in Georgia is tied into the social and economic system such that a threat to status can be a threat to livelihood.

I would love to offer arguments as to why Georgians shouldn’t fear LGBT visibility – but I’m not convinced those arguments would work here. Georgia does not have strong, reliable social institutions outside of the family. Georgia’s economy is precarious, its employment levels low, its educational system primitive, its social safety net new and untested and incomplete. Pensioners do not make enough to live without their relatives’ support. Students do not graduate with the skills to compete in the world market. If the social institution of the family is weakened, Georgians do not have anything to fall back on. As a result, Georgians respond to any perceived threat to the family out of fear – and fear responses are notoriously irrational. You can’t reason with a cornered animal.

I think that the only way Georgians will become comfortable with LGBT visibility is if Georgian society develops to the point where Georgians can feel secure in their existence regardless of the status of their family. This requires economic development, institution-building in government, education reform, and other forms of modernization. If I had to put forth a theory, I would say that the reason for the correlation between wealth and gay rights in a society comes down to the dependance on public social institutions versus dependance on family (and this theory explains outliers like Saudi Arabia, which are fabulously wealthy and awful for gay rights, because they are idiosyncratically family-dependent). This would explain why social democracies are great for gay rights. But who knows, I could be wrong.

I should point out that I don’t think Georgia’s poor socio-economic status justifies anti-gay sentiment. Bullying others out of fear is perhaps the most pathetic form of cowardice, and there are plenty of Georgians who recognize that intimidating your fellow humans into a life of fear, silence, and shame is morally repugnant regardless of the social and economic conditions you were born into. I just think that most people do not have the courage to face their fears unless it is unavoidable, which means that most Georgians will continue to be homophobic until the battle for LGBT visibility is won and Georgians have no choice but to get used to it – which is why this is such an important battle in the overall struggle for LGBT rights.

*****

I am against homophobia because homophobia has victims. Homophobia drives people to suicide. Homophobia drives families apart and forces young people out of their homes and onto the streets. Homophobia causes people to bully and beat and kill each other. Homophobia creates secrets and lies. Homophobia makes American men afraid to touch each other. Homophobia creates scapegoats and allows us to avoid confronting and solving the real problems we have. Homophobia is petty and cowardly and ugly. Homophobia defines us by our fear and hatred. I look forward to the day when it is eradicated.

And if I do someday have a son or daughter who is gay, I will love and support them and do everything I can to make sure they are happy and successful, because that is what family means to me, and because that is the kind of world I want to live in – a world of love, not of fear.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Culture Shock!, Sex and Gender. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Why are Georgians homophobic?

  1. You can’t spell “patriarchate” without “hate”, am I right?

    • Hmmm... says:

      Oh my god, so true! Hahaha

      But the sad thing is people are afraid of voicing pro-gay (or anti-Georgian church with regards to gays) opinion in public since people will get aggressive. I’m not sure if it’s just Tbilisi…..people from anywhere else outside the capital seem much calmer. Even in the villages fights and whatnot are not as common, and they’re much more conservative.

  2. arleebug54 says:

    Outstanding post. You are able to both explain the situation dispassionately while allowing your feelings and values to shine. Bravo, and thank you for helping me understand this issue in Georgia.

  3. Man In A High Castle says:

    Yeah, because Georgian attitude has nothing to do with our history, am I right? because Georgian isolationist nature and so called homophobia isn’t the manifesto of we saying ; “we’re tired of being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it” surely this type of thing hasn’t happend in “civilized countries like.. France… oh wait, it has! . we’re fucking sick and tired of people, people who know /fuck all/ about our country, culture and origins trying to guide us, trying to tell us what to do.

    You think we haven’t seen this narrative? you think we haven’t been subjected by a third party culture? think again, you culturally marxist piece of shit. Persians, Russians, Turks, Arabs, Romans etc they’ve all tried to force their ideas of life, freedom and liberty onto us. go ahead, deny this comment, deny it with your asswhopping moderation powers! but remember this, the new generation is waking up, we are waking up and we’re ready to once again shout “Georgia for Georgians” and stay the fuck away from US, Russia and Europe. it has been too many times that we’ve been stabbed in back, fucked over or shat on by a super power.

    You’ll be deported, all your lib commie social marxist friends will be deported and it will happen soon because we’re tired, we’re tired and we’re fucking awake.

    And yeah, this sums up our ‘homophobic nature’ very well

    https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xft1/v/t1.0-9/13064_802594186502071_5894351440102755452_n.png?oh=e42f6bbcdc1b6d755b5e059cbad04943&oe=55BEF58B

    We will not tolerate cultural marxism, we will not tolerate bullshit or imperialism under any circumstance – no matter where it’s coming from. Fuck the EU, CIS, NATO and all the countries who give ass to USA or Russia.

  4. Hmmm... says:

    I don’t know who that ‘Man in a High Castle is’ but I think he exempifies another problem with Georgia and why it’s so homophobic.

    Georgians view ‘gayness’ (at least, public gayness) as only a Western trait since we were closed off from the world for so long. It’s the same in other former SU countries. The “gay conversion” therapies in Europe and the US where gay people were treated to awful so-called “treatments” to help get rid of their gayness are not known to people there. Besides, it’s a hard cycle to break – Georgians don’t know out of the closet gays, so they believe the rumors other people say about gays and all the stereotypes as well.

    A lot of Georgians that move to the US and Europe have gay colleagues, friends, and neighbors since it’s not as taboo and the Georgian realizes that not every gay person wants to sleep with them or creep on them or whatever else the rumors say.

    Also, as much as I hate to say it, gay rights and gay “outness” is only existant in Western countries (including some places of Latin America) and the rest of the world (Georgia included) has not caught up yet 😦

    Such a shame. I would love for my gay friends to see Georgia but I don’t want to take them to such a homophobic country.

    Btw ‘man in a high castle’, given all of the other problems in Georgia gay people being out of the closet are the least of our worries.

    • Man In A High Castle says:

      As part of the majority, I will not give special rights and privilege to a minority that makes up only 00,3 percent of Georgian population. there’s already a discrimination law which /APPLIES TO ALL, NO MATTER THE RACE, RACE OR ‘SEXUALITY’/ any further attempt to try and drag us into this pit of stupidity of so called ‘liberated’ multicultural, diverse world will be faced with hostility.

      You really think that Identoba isn’t being paid off by a western source? you really, really think that the gay rights activists aren’t speaking for EU? think again, please.

      Try and defend the family values, your tradition and religion outside of Georgia. go ahead and try. you’ll be labeled misogynistic, homophobic, nazi, far right moron who doesn’t understand anything. these people are slowly stripping away nationalism, pride and tradition away from Europe and all the other countries. personally, I couldn’t give two shits about who’s sucking who’s dick but what I do care about is my country, my traditions and my pride. I won’t allow anybody to try and take this away from me and my country.

      I’m not alone in this way of thinking, many Europeans are slowly realizing what type of a mess they got themselves into. while their ports are being filled up with Muslim immigrants and their cultural identity is being taken away, they sit there and think – how did we get here? I know the answer and so do you.

  5. Man In A High Castle says:

    I don’t think you quite understand how trolling works. Just because I disagree with Marxists pieces of human shit doesn’t mean I hate gays or give two fucks about them. you’re a prime example of stupid liberal commie that will never, ever understand how world functions. Get back to your chamber of dreams, this is real life.

    We are one of the less ‘homophobic’ countries in the region and this is because of our tolerant traditional values, we simply didn’t care enough about gay people until 17 May.

    People like you are the ones who never listen to opposition,you don’t like opposition because that challenges your ways of thinking, you don’t like that – that is exactly why you tried to pin ‘you hate gays’ on me as soon as you disagreed with me.

    • Hmmm... says:

      We are “less homophobic” as long as they stay in the closet and don’t dare even mention they’re gay, right?

      It’s clear you hate gays from the way you talk about them – your earlier posts are very angry and very, very defensive (gays and Europe will kill our family values! Muslims are destroying Europe! Aahhhhh!). Mine have been calm, thank you very much.

      If you really “didn’t care what gay people do” as stated earlier, why are you so against Identoba? All they’ve done so far has been hold 2 parades! Can gay people not get a parade? Btw the parades were against homophobia, which is not the same as having a gay pride parade.

      If we’re so ‘tolerant’ how come the slang word for ‘gay’ is ‘pedophile’ and how come gays can’t come out without risking loss of employment and aggressive behavior toward them? And how come people think out of closet gays will lead to their children becoming ‘depraved’? That’s not tolerant at all! I have family and friends in Tbilisi and while they’re not really pro-gay, they know gay people have always existed in Georgia and they wouldn’t act so aggressively toward them as you do.

      Besides, gays are a very small minority in any country! Just let them have the same rights and move on with your life. If only we were this passionate about stopping alcoholism and drug abuse…

    • Hmmm... says:

      Btw according to that map we are more tolerant than many European countries, and yet earlier you said that Europe is “too tolerant” and that’s why their civilization is declining. So if we’re *much* more tolerant than Italy (according to your map) doesn’t that mean that *our* values are eroding more quickly than theirs? Since “too much tolerance” is bad for society.

      Hmmm….I think someone’s contradicting themselves.

  6. Man In A High Castle says:

    Sarah, I’m wrong because? You clearly haven’t attempted to debunk or counter my claims, you just continued your shaming tactics to devalue my points. the fact is that the EU backed pro liberal groups have caused pro-neo nazi sentiment, sentiment that is purely ultra nationalist and will rip this country apart, the way it’s doing so right now in the Europe. clearly, you have little to no understanding of Georgian ways of thinking and politics of way Georgians are thinking. you also have no clue how Trolling works and to be honest, your attempt to try and devalue my point by doing the whole ‘he’s a troll’ routine is honestly pathetic, pathetic and sad.

    On our previous encounters, you failed to provide any substantial evidence to back up your claims, claims that were in no way in touch with reality. as the matter of fact, you retreated to shaming tactics.

    And since you claim that I’m wrong, please do so and tell me why.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Great Post. I am with you on every statement you make in this post.
    I am saddened to read some of the comments, especially one coming from a sicko called “Man in a High Castle”. People like him make me want to cross the street to the other side.
    I am Georgian and i am not proud to be sharing a country with deeply deluded soles like him/her.
    I have not visited your page in a very long time. I noticed you’ve adopted much more measured and careful style, i guess you are trying to soften the backlash πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s