Monday, 25 May 2009

IDAHO in Tbilisi: Orthodox group endorsed by Georgian church disrupts homophobia related discussion insulting participants

*Information is provided by Inclusive Foundation, LGBT NGO in Georgia.

On May 20th 2009, Heinrich Böll Foundation office in Tbilisi hosted the discussion entitled “Homophobia: from private to public space”. Selection of this specific time was connected to the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) that is marked for the 5th time worldwide. HBS has in the past organized two sessions of debates on similar topics and presentations of its cofounded ME magazine. However, the problems that we have encountered this time were somewhat unexpected to take place.

At about 18:15 discussion has started. The moderator of the discussion has introduced topic and gave floor to the presenters. Started by Head of Inclusive Foundation Paata Sabelashvili, discussion was continued by Women Initiatives’ Supporting Group’s Ekaterine Aghdgomelashvili eventually ending with the last presentation by Nodar Sarjveladze, psychologist, Head of Christian Democratic Institute. Upon the opening floor for discussion we have noticed a group of men of 9 people dispersed in the audience that in total numbered over 50 persons. These 9 persons looked similarly and acted similarly by gathering big number of publications available in the office and by interrupting the speakers and other attendees. They started insulting those participants that were positioning themselves against homophobia and first stage of escalation went within the audience. Representatives of the HBS and the moderator called for order and respect. Perpetrators had returned to their seats several times yet for few minutes until they could provoke next escalation. This has repeated for several times and eventually had grown into verbal insult of the two presenters (not their opponent from Christian Democratic Institute).

The main line of dissatisfaction of the perpetrators had been revealed when they sensed that the audience was not sympathetic to the Christian Democrat Presenter. They identified themselves as members of Orthodox Parents Union, a paralegal group endorsed by Georgian Church that does not admit the affiliation and neither dismisses it. Perpetrators were insulting everyone who tried to call for an order. In this situation representative of HBS Nino Lejava had to revert to the assistance of Patrol Police. Police was greatly delayed and perpetrators after hearing announcement that discussion is finished left the premises of the office leaving behind the life threat in relation to Nino Lejava and moderator Nino Danelia.

Patrol police after noting down the life threat had invited criminal police that eventually recorded the details as an interview, not interrogation. People that gave details were two presenters that were insulted: Paata Sabelashvili, Ekaterine Aghdgomelashvili and those who received life threats: Nino Lejava and Nino Danelia.

We have learned from the friend of us who was in patriarch’s office that perpetrators reported the incident to the patriarch’s office of Georgian Church immediately. It is noteworthy that HBS has not been the only target of their raids. Orthodox Parents Union is the religious organization that enjoys support from the Georgian Orthodox Church and recently had become very active in raiding various gatherings. During last fall they have violently attacked Halloween party, they have also succeeded to terminate theatre play and just recently international theological conference at the Ilia Chavchavadze State University. Their actions are treated with impunity and even the victims do not file official complaints. There are very few institutions that comply with declared liberal values and we think HBS is among these institutions. HBS provides a vital forum for discussing important public topics through its regular debates cycle.

**There is also Russian language post re this incident, based on Georgian blogger's account, on Gay Caucasus blog.

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