A number of Georgian football players and officials have joined Guram Kashia in support of queer rights in Georgia. Far-right groups have rallied in response, against what they term ‘gay propaganda’.
Kashia, captain of Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem and vice-captain of Georgia’s national team, played a match in mid-October with his captain’s armband in rainbow colours, in solidarity with queer people. This served as a symbol of the Dutch Football Union’s campaign to promote diversity, according to RFE/RL.
After meeting backlash from conservative sections of Georgian society, Kashia said he did not regret playing with the armband, and thanked fans for their support. On 25 October, Kashia reiterated his support in a Facebook post, saying he was now ‘focused on upcoming matches’.
‘I entered the dressing room and the armband was sitting there. I am the captain, of course, I am responsible for leading my team. This was a normal game I had to play’, Kashia said in an interview with TV channel Rustavi 2 on 31 October.
His stance has led a number of conservative and far-right groups in Georgia to demand Kashia be dropped from the national team, but many of his teammates and the Georgian Football Federation (GFF) have come to his defence.
GFF head Levan Kobiashvili, a former footballer himself, also posted Kashia’s photo to Instagram as a token of support. Zviad Sichinava, a former head of the GFF and mayoral candidate in Zugdidi, also expressed support, joined by fellow-players Aleksandre Iashvili, Tornike Okriashvili, Jano Ananidze, and many others.
On 31 October, around fifty protesters gathered in front of GFF headquarters in Tbilisi to demand Kashia’s expulsion from the national team, burning a rainbow flag.
The rally was organised by far-right group the March of Georgians, with a number of neo-Nazis attending. Six people were detained after protesters threw firecrackers at the GFF building.
Mayor-elect of Tbilisi Kakha Kaladze, a former football star himself, questioned the backlash, asking, ‘what did he do wrong’?
Later, in an interview with Rustavi 2, Kaladze said it was Kashia’s ‘duty to wear that armband’.
Queer rights activists and a number of fans welcomed Kashia’s statements, with many Facebook users adding a frame to their profile pictures saying ‘no to violence, support to the captain’.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili also supported Kashia, posting a picture of the footballer on Facebook. Margvelashvili called the campaign against Kashia ‘unacceptable’, condemning all forms of violence and calling for solidarity.
Queer rights activists have faced difficulties in recent years while trying to mark International Day Against Homophobia in public spaces. In 2013, a small group of around 50 queer rights activists were confronted in Tbilisi by thousands of counter demonstrators led by Orthodox priests. Demonstrators carried posters with homophobic messages such as: ‘We don’t need Sodom and Gomorrah in Georgia’.