A number of American Religious Right leaders will be headed to the former Soviet republic of Georgia next week for the annual World Congress of Families, which is organized by the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. As Peter noted earlier this week, the event will coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church has designated the “Day of Family Strength and Respect for Parents.”
It’s not a coincidence that WCF will be in Georgia on that day, May 17, or that Georgian Orthodox leaders picked the anti-homophobia day to commemorate “family strength.” As Tbilisi-based journalist Giorgi Lomsadze noted in EurasiaNet.org yesterday, the renaming of the anti-homophobia day and the timing of WCF coincide with the anniversary a violent attack on LGBT-rights protesters three years ago:
The convention, timed to coincide with the day of a violent 2013 mob attack on an anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi, will be hosted by a Levan Vasadze, a dagger-sporting homophobic knight dressed in Georgian national attire. Vasadze participated and is alleged to have helped organize the 2013 attack that relegated Georgia’s nascent LGBTQ-rights movement to the periphery of national discourse.
To counter the symbolism of the May 17 anniversary of the mob attack on LGBTQ supporters as a day for celebrating gender and sexual diversity, Georgia’s Orthodox Church pronounced that date as the Day of Family. The Illinois-based World Family Congress subsequently announced its tenth annual conference would also coincide with the anniversary.
The New Yorker’s Natalia Antelava described the violence that erupted after a group of clergymen led a “huge mob” against a small anti-homophobia demonstration in Tbilisi in 2013, ultimately injuring 17 people:
“Fuck your mothers,” a priest shouted.
Another priest came armed with a stool. Their followers carried rocks, sticks, and crucifixes. “Kill them! Don’t let them leave alive,” they screamed.
They smashed heads, windows of shops, and a minibus in which activists tried to escape. Twelve people, including three policemen, were seriously injured.
“Before the van arrived, about ten girls—gay rights activists—were being taunted by a growing, frothing mob. A stone was thrown and split a girl’s head open.… This mob was the creation of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Georgian government has so far been gutless in standing up to the Church to protect the rights of its citizens. Shame on you, Georgia. Shame on you,” Paul Rimple, a Tbilisi-based journalist, posted on his Facebook page. He later wrote about it for the Moscow Times.
The BBC captured footage of anti-gay protesters attacking a van carrying the anti-homophobia protesters.
Lomsadze notes that WCF’s cheerleading of anti-LGBT sentiment in Georgia, “wittingly or not, might be helping a Russian foreign policy agenda in the region” since the Kremlin has used the issue of LGBT rights in an effort stir up anti-Western sentiment and solidify its influence in the region:
As it descends upon Georgia, the World Congress of Families, wittingly or not, might be helping a Russian foreign policy agenda in the region. Fanning the flames of homophobia has long been Moscow’s soft-power way to urge its former Soviet satellites, including Georgia, to distance themselves from the West. Before Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, the Russian propaganda machine was put into gear, describing the landmark treaty as essentially Georgia’s gay marriage with Europe. Brussels had to issue public assurances that the treaty, meant for political and economic harmonization, does not contain any fine print requiring Georgia to allow same-sex marriages.
In reality, same-sex marriage is a non-issue in Georgia, where LGBTQ people cannot gather safely in public much less demand marriage rights. Nevertheless, some of the country’s own politicians run on an anti-gay marriage platform, pandering to widespread conservative attitudes and the position of the much-revered Georgian Church. A pending parliamentary vote seeks to amend the Georgian constitution to state that lawful marriage is limited to opposite sex partners.
“Would you want such marriage in your family, men in bridal veils, hairy, bearded men?” asked Tamaz Mechiauri, of the Georgian Dream Party, when asked to explain the reasoning for the bill.