The United Nations’ Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, spent the last 11 days in Georgia, assessing the country’s implementation of domestic and international laws that protect LGBTQ people.
From September 25 to October 5, Madrigal-Borloz met with activists, politicians, and religious leaders in the capital, Tbilisi, as well as with those in the cities of Kutaisi and Batumi.
In remarks made in Tbilisi on Friday, Madrigal-Borloz said he supported the legal reform pertaining to gender and discrimination. However, he noted that there had not been sufficient progress in protecting LGBTQ people, who he described as “one of the most disenfranchised, vilified and vulnerable communities in Georgia.”
“During my visit, I have developed the conviction that in Georgia there are systemic factors that deny lesbians and gays, and bisexual and trans persons the right to live free and equal in those neighborhoods, those schools and those places of work,” Madrigal-Borloz said.
“But this would not be an accurate reflection of reality. Not only do we know that gay, lesbian and trans and bisexual persons exist in every corner of the world, we also know that they represent a certain proportion of Georgians,” he added.
In his statement, Madrigal-Borloz gave an example of a gay Georgian man who told him that he could not be free in the country and had to continuously “lie” about himself and to himself about his sexuality.
“The majority of Georgians who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans face dilemmas: leaving the country or staying and taking one of two paths: revealing their true self and be subjected to certain violence and discrimination, or concealing this essential aspect of their identity and living in a world of deception,” Madrigal-Borloz explained.
This comes on the heels of an attack on an LGBTQ rights group in the country on September 28, in which activists at the Equality Movement were verbally and physically assaulted by their neighbors.
Because of the attack, the group has closed its offices to protect its employees and activists, the organization said on Twitter.
“Perpetrators locked the activists in the backyard and attacked them physically when they were leaving the premises,” Equality Movement wrote on Saturday.
On Monday, the group announced on the social media platform: “Due to recent attack on 4 of our staff members and consequent high risks from neighbors, we are closing down our office until perpetrators are hold [sic] responsible.”
“Civil society organizations and groups working on protection of human rights in Georgia are extremely concerned about the violence and threats committed on homophobic motives against four activists of the organization Equality Movement in Tbilisi,” says a joint statement released by Equality Movement and 14 other organizations.
The statement describes how on the evening of September 28, a woman living next to the organization began yelling at Equality Movement guests who were hanging out in the organization’s backyard during a meeting. After harassing the group for several minutes, she yelled: “we will force you to move out” and “you will see what will happen to you soon.”
Equality Movement then ended the meeting and the guests left. An hour later, around 11:00 PM, four people remained at the office. While locking up the building, a man began insulting them and began physically attacking one of the activists.
“The attacker was trying to choke one of the activists for a few seconds. In this process, the attacker was cursing, using phrases such as ‘I will kill you, chickens,’ ‘who gave you the rights’ and so on. Suddenly the attacker ran into his house to bring an unidentified item,” the statement says. He then went to his car to retrieve whatever he planned to use.
“[The attacker’s] family and neighbors tried to stop him. The members and activists of the community suspected that the attacker intended to take out and use a firearm from the car. Due to the fear, the activists hid behind cars,” the statement continued.
Authorities, the organizations say, treated the incident as if both sides were being aggressors. The joint statement explains that such a classification “reduces trust in the ongoing investigation” and calls out the bias in the authorities’ reaction. They also say the situation with the police shows “a manifestation of institutionalized homophobic practices.”
In a statement by the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, the authorities do not mention the alleged homophobic motivation of the attack. The rights group called on the police to be more transparent about the investigation and to acknowledge the homophobic aspect of the attack.
The LGBTQ rights group ILGA-Europe has condemned the attack and has called on Georgia to investigate the situation thoroughly.
“ILGA-Europe remind the Georgian authorities to consider the homophobic and transphobic nature of this event – as the Georgian Criminal Code mentions sexual orientation and gender identity as a bias motive for hate crimes,” the organization said in a statement.
In May, Equality Movement had to cancel an event for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) due to a protest rally scheduled for the same time.
Eighty percent of Georgians polled expressed very negative views of homosexuality, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In another poll the outlet cited, 93 percent of people said they would take issue with having a gay neighbor, making it the third-most homophobic country in the world.
Georgia received a score of 26 percent and ranked 33 out of 49 countries in ILGA-Europe’s latest annual assessment of European countries’ LGBTQ-related policies.