In Georgia, the LGBTQ+ community and organizations working in the field have always faced problems. After the Bassiani riots in 2018, when the police and government started to shut down and limit the activities and gathering spaces and even prevent the closed events. The community members were labelled as foreign agents, supporters of the EU and west, not real patriots of the country. Many LGBTQ+ organizations cannot find safe physical space for events and organize activities, because the security of their spaces and personal lives are not ensured by the government through the police. This leads to the prevention of NGOs from carrying out activities in the heart of local communities because of the labels attached to them. This is the consequence of the shrinking space in Georgia.
The physical spaces and security for LGBTQ+ people are in danger
My name is Miko Shah. I identify myself as a bisexual in the LGBTQ+ community of Georgia. I am a co-founder of Tbilisi Pride organisation. We represent the union of queer people and supporters.
We organise the annual pride week in Tbilisi, we carry out social campaigns and advocate for policy changes and civil rights of the community. We also work a lot with the parents of LGBTQ+ community people, teaching them how to approach and treat their children, we work with the media, teaching them how to cover news concerning LGBTQ+ correctly. When we were registering the organisation, we had challenges as our first application was rejected. It was related to our name and type of activity.
Two years ago, the government made aggressive police checks in nightclubs, which is known as “Bassiani riots”. Club is a space for youth to feel safe and gather, especially for the LGBTQ+ community, those who left their families and live alone. Going to clubs for us is also a way to socialize. It gives us a chance to network and generate ideas. As soon as the clubs gained huge popularity, many conservative media outlets started to blame them for “making our young generation filthy", "selling drugs", "spreading wrong values" and so on.
On that day I was also there when the police came and shut down all the parties blaming the night club for selling drugs. Dozens of special forces entered the club in the middle of the party and arrested a lot of people. Later the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia issued a statement which said that they had arrested 5 drug dealers. What they did not say loudly enough was that none of them was at the club. Next day thousands protested against the police brutality, unprofessionalism of special forces, Georgian policy about drug usage, as well as the culture of planting drugs. The government used narratives against LGBTQ+ community members, labelling us as the agents of the European Union, not real patriots that want to take the Georgian culture away, make the country too liberal, and they spread other fake news about us.
They took from us our physical spaces, but when we tried to show publicly and express ourselves as a community and civil society representative, we were limited as well, because the police always appeared and cancelled our activities.
At our organization’s events, they usually tell us that religious groups or radical people could come and in order to prevent the escalation, they do not want our events to be held. Of course, this is not a valid argument. If the police are the only one in the country who can officially use the force to protect the citizens, then whom else to call. In our country, we are not allowed to carry a gun and if you want to protect yourself legally, you have to call the police.
It is very important to mention that Georgia is quite a conservative country, especially the elderly. Spaces like Bassiani club, where you can use your right of expression, are not many. In my country, many young people are free and colorful, but the system of the government is oppressive in its nature.
We also had cases of cancelling the events, where we were supposed to screen a movie or implement the organization’s activities, but the police came and wanted to prevent us from doing that. And this happens when our events are not even public. We organise events which are not for everyone and the information circulates only among certain people for security concerns. The police wanted to shut down such kind of events too.
In my view, civic space is getting smaller and smaller and less inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community and organizations working in the field.
Miko Shah - co-founder of “Tbilisi Pride"