Giorgi Tabagari is the co-founder and director of Tbilisi pride. One year ago, he organized a first-ever gay pride in Georgia, which, however, was held in a restricted format due to threats.
In the interview, he talks about the connection between fake news and homophobia in Georgian society.
Giorgi, you organized the first gay pride in Georgia last year, how was it received?
It was hugely controversial, to be honest. Far-right groups and Georgian Orthodox Church church were against the pride happening in Georgia and unfortunately, the government also failed to provide protection. Also, the gay community was divided in some sense, but overall it was still hugely successful. We had some very impactful campaigns which have set the standard for queer rights within Georgia.
What is the general situation on LGBTQI-rights in Georgia?
Because of the EU integration policy, Georgia had to integrate a lot of policies. On paper Georgia is actually doing better than some of the EU Member States like Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and few others. We adopted an anti-discrimination law for example, which provides the legal protection of minority groups. On the other hand, when it comes to societal attitudes, this is where we still need a lot of improvement. And unfortunately there is no interest from the current government to target this issue. It would be important to raise awareness in the public for campaigns and especially sensitise the police.
The number of hate crimes targeted at the LGBTQI-community has increased over the last years, do you see a rise there?
I do not think that there is an actual rise in hate crimes. I just think that they are getting reported more. Homophobia seems to become more, as the community is demanding to get more visible. At the same time the government fails to provide proper protection to us. They are not allowing our freedom of assembly. So say, we are organising a demonstration, they are not telling us in advance if they are gonna be there or not. So we as organisers are in front of a tricky situation. Because there are some very dangerous far-right-groups, and we have to be honest about this in our community. The church plays into that as well. They have power to impact politics and Georgian government often fails to provide protection due to the negative influence of Orthodox Church over human rights.
How do fake news play into homophobic attitudes in Georgia?
There are a few media outlets which are homophobic, transphobic and racist. The most popular one is called “Asaval-Dasavali”. It is one of the most read newspapers and their language is extremely bad. They use very defamatory language against minority groups. And then there are a lot of online websites which spread fake news which are quite influential.
How did this affect you?
We have been personally targeted from a lot of fake news by pro-Russian groups and pro-government-groups. They used fake news to discredit us at Tbilisi pride and the people behind it. I will tell you one example: They took a photo of mine and then they made up a quote underneath it. It said “When I will come to power I will make stalinist repressions to the people who do not agree with the LGBTQI-community”. Of course I never said this, but it was believable. The picture alone had over 1500 shares on one media outlet only. In general homophobia is strategically used to fight certain opponents and to discredit everyone who is against the government.
How does Russia play into this?
Russia plays a huge role in this. It is basically behind every radical group that is doing anti-LGBTQI--work in Georgia. These groups are financially linked to the Kremlin. And they spread certain narratives to further fragment Georgian society. They use LGBTQI-rights for their anti-Western propaganda. Their main goal is to undermine any Western influence in Georgian society.
What is your strategy against fake news and homophobia in general?
It is a very multifaceted strategy. It is important to us to raise awareness among people and sensitise them towards LGBTQI--issues. For that we use campaigns and organise demonstrations – and our pride of course. When the pride first happened we had a prime-time media coverage which was a huge success. Overall we try to spread positive narratives by using intersectional language. And we try to reach people from all parts of society: academics, artists, the police force. In the end, the most important thing is to work together with a bunch of very passionate activists. And our work has paid off so far. We can see a change in the societal attitudes towards our community and we hope this will continue.
Student at the University of Arts in Berlin
The article is published within the framework of the project #FIGHTFAKE, which is implemented by MDF in cooperation with its partner organisation Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V.