A week after Orthodox clergy-led crowd violently attacked an attempted anti-homophobia rally, several hundred people gathered in downtown Tbilisi park on May 24 under the slogan ‘No to Theocracy’ to protest against violence and to speak out against what they believe is the Georgian Orthodox Church’s attempts to claim supremacy over the state.
In the same park a parallel rally was held by counter-demonstrators, who said they were gathered to protest against “propaganda” of homosexuality on the one hand and on the other to speak out in defense of the Georgian Church and Orthodoxy; some carried banners calling for “ban of propaganda of sexual wrongness and indecency”; one Orthodox priest at counter demo said he was protesting against “LGBTization in Georgia.”
There was a heavy police presence in the park.
Counter-protesters tried to occupy the area in the park where ‘no to theocracy’ demonstrators were planning to gather, but they were prevented by the police. Counter-demonstrators were booing and some shouting homophobic slurs as ‘no to theocracy’ demonstrators were arriving on the venue at the monument to mother tongue.
In the aftermath of the May 17 violence debates went far beyond LGBT rights and grew into broader and intense discussions about the role of the influential Georgian Orthodox Church. Some commentators and observers suggest that intended gay rights rally in the country, where anti-gay prejudice runs deep, was just a pretext for the Georgian Church to mobilize supporters in the street which in fact aimed at demonstrating Church’s power.
In the lead up to ‘no to theocracy’ rally, an online petition was launched, which attracted more than 13,400 signatures, saying that the May 17 violence by the Orthodox clergy-led protesters was the attack not only against LGBT groups “but also against the Georgian statehood.” It says that cost of “inaction” of the authorities in the face of the May 17 developments will be too high for the Georgian statehood and calls on the government to prosecute all the perpetrators and instigators.
Among four men, who have been charged with criminal offense over the May 17 developments, are two Orthodox priests; charges involve “encroachment of right to assembly and manifestation”.
Meanwhile earlier on May 23 representatives of Identoba and Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group – the two organizations behind attempted May 17 anti-homophobia rally, as well as representatives from legal advocacy and watchdog group Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Public Defender’s Office met with head of Patrol Police Davit Tsinaridze to discuss increased number of homophobic incidents following the May 17 violence.
The Public Defender’s Office said that the rights groups had expressed need for more efficient response from the law enforcement agencies, which would help increase confidence of LGBT people towards these agencies and encourage reporting of homophobic incidents to the police.
The Public Defender’s Office also said that the rights groups proposed close cooperation with the police in order to tackle discrimination against sexual minorities through joint efforts of the state and the civil society. “It has been proposed [by the rights groups] to set up a joint working group to provide coordinated efforts in this direction,” Public Defender’s Office said, adding that the Patrol Police chief “expressed readiness for active cooperation.”