Since the thwarting of the 5 July ‘March of Dignity’ by far-right mobs, the queer community has lost their sense of security in Georgia, and attacks on members of the queer community, or on those who attackers assume to be queer, have grown in number.
On 9 July, Giorgi [not his real name], his boyfriend, and their friend were on a night out in Tbilisi and had stepped into a shop to buy cigarettes. While inside, they heard a man call out to them.
‘He started swearing — calling us faggots and threatening to kill us’, Giorgi recalled. ‘When we left the store, the same man asked me for a cigarette. I refused, and he began to swear again and attacked us.’
The man choked Giorgi’s boyfriend, as three bystanders, young men, looked on and did nothing. The attacker then picked up a large stone, but before he could use it, two police officers arrived at the scene and drove him off.
This burst of homophobic violence is just one example of a new wave of violent homophobia that has been afflicting Georgia since 5 July, when what was to be Georgia’s first Pride march turned into a pogrom on queer people, journalists, and ordinary passers-by who were deemed by attackers to be dressed too flamboyantly.
[Read on OC Media: Journalists recall day of terror in Tbilisi]
‘I had to leave my house in early July — the neighbours threatened to stab me because I’m queer’, Saba [not his real name] told OC Media. Until now I thought Tbilisi was a safe city, but I was wrong.’
He told OC Media, that after 5 July he took out his earrings and has tried to dress conservatively, but he still faces regular abuse. His sense of security, he said, has been shattered.
‘It’s a very difficult situation and I do not know how it will end’, he lamented.
Giorgi Tabagari, the co-founder of Tbilisi Pride, told OC Media that they had expected an increase of aggression against the queer community after the March of Dignity.
‘But, we expect this aggression to gradually subside, as similar events have taken place on 17 May [the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia] every year.’
[Read on OC Media: Live updates | Tbilisi Pride cancelled as mob violence continues]
Trans members of Georgia’s queer community have faced some of the harshest difficulties since 5 July.
Not only has there been a surge in violence, but for many trans sex workers, the closure of escort websites during the pandemic has meant a severe drop in income. While those who have returned to working on the street face an even greater risk of violence.
Nata Talikishvili, a transgender woman and human rights activist, was also forced to flee her home after 5 July. Before she left, she faced constant harassment and threats of violence, she said she had to call the police every single day.
‘Since 5 July, there has been significantly more aggression. People do not shy away from yelling insults, and throwing stones or bottles from cars,’ she said. ‘Before, such things were quite rare.’
Talikishvili recalled several violent incidents over the past few weeks. One trans woman was hit by a car, apparently deliberately. Another suffered from an attempted break-in, with perpetrators trying to batter down her apartment door for hours, and yet another was attacked by her own brother.
‘They were at her family’s house when her brother and his friends beat her up’, Talikishvili recalled. ‘He told her that “you are a faggot and don’t sit at the table with me”, after which he hit her and his friends started beating her too.’
Because of the increase in violence, Talikishvili is now helping shelter one trans woman and two gay men who had nowhere else to turn to.
Not just the queer community
Street violence has not been limited to members of the queer community, as anyone who appears in a manner that is perceived as gender non-conforming has become a target.
On 5 July a Polish tourist, Jacek Kolankiewicz, was stabbed by a stranger. Eyewitnesses reported that his attacker believed him to be gay because of his long hair and tattoos.
One week later, on 12 July Goga Gogia was also accosted in Tbilisi’s Dedaena Park. He was wearing a pink t-shirt, with his hair tied up under a bandana a man started yelling homophobic slurs at him.
‘I got angry and at first thought to find out what they wanted from me’, Gogia told OC Media. ‘But then I changed my mind.’
Despite Gogia not engaging the men, one of the men approached him and demanded that he give him marijuana. When Gogia did not comply, the man began to hurl abuse at him and was soon joined by three friends. It was then that the words turned to blows.
‘They started beating me, and I shouted for the police’, Gogia recalled.
Passersby helped stop the attackers, though Gogia sustained painful facial injuries. All four attackers were arrested by police, but a few days later Gogia was told that they had been released. He is awaiting their trial but has said that he has little hope that they will be punished.
Two days later, on 14 July, 27-year-old Giorgi Abuladze and a friend were walking down a street in the city of Rustavi when they were accosted by two other men. An argument ensued, and Abuladze and his friend were stabbed repeatedly. Abuladze died of his injuries, while his friend, whose name has not been made public, remains in hospital.
Local media report that the altercation began because one of the victims had long hair.
Social worker Beka Gabadadze, who works with the queer rights organisation Temida, told OC Media that it is difficult to calculate the exact number of victims of the recent spate of homophobic violence because distrust of the police has also increased among the members of the queer community.
Mariam Bandzava, who works with the Equality Movement, another queer rights organisation, told OC Media that they knew people who now fear to go outside and are ‘completely isolated’.