On May 17, Georgian LGBTQI+ rights organization Tbilisi Pride, an NDI partner, published a memorandum signed by fifteen political parties that unambiguously rejects discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Georgia. This public display of political unity aims to encourage a broader change in political and social attitudes in a country where political parties have often either avoided or been openly hostile to LGBTQI+ issues.
“By signing this document, you send out a signal and your supporters and non-supporters will at least think about why you signed," said Zurab Girchi Japaridze, a representative of the political party Girchi - More Freedom.
Signatory political parties committed to eliminate discrimination and violence, protect the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and ban their party’s representatives from using hateful or violent speech regarding diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) communities. "It is important to discuss the problems of the [LGBTQI+] community; society is good and healthy when everyone feels safe," said Khatia Dekanoidze from the United National Movement.
In conservative Georgia, despite some legislative protections, LGBTQI+ equality remains a controversial political topic, and LGBTQI+ people still face discrimination and violence. According to NDI’s 2019 public opinion survey, only 27 percent of the population believes that protecting LGBTQI+ communities’ rights is important. But that is not dissuading Georgian advocacy organizations from working to shift entrenched public perceptions and ensure LGBTQI+ Georgians enjoy equal political and social protections.
Tbilisi Pride, a union of LGBTQI+ activists founded in 2019, carries out social campaigns and advocacy in order to claim and defend basic civil rights for LGBTQI+ communities. The group organizes annual Pride weeks to assert these communities’ constitutionally protected freedoms. This year, with support from NDI’s Equal Rights in Action Fund, Tbilisi Pride also began to press political parties to make public statements in defense of these rights around the October 2020 parliamentary elections in order to build broader political and social support for the LGBTQI+ movement.
The May 17 memorandum represents a groundbreaking and tangible advancement in the ongoing collaboration between political parties and Georgian LGBTQI+ activists. The date of May 17 holds special and tragic significance in Georgia. It not only marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), but also on that day in 2013, a small rally of LGBTQI+ activists was met with overwhelming violence by conservative and religious groups. These groups consider equality for diverse sexual orientations and gender identities as a threat to their values, and regularly threaten similar public demonstrations with violence.
Even before the memorandum signing in May, Tbilisi Pride’s advocacy was yielding results. By election day on October 31, Tbilisi Pride secured signatures supporting the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ people from eight political parties. During the campaign period, homophobic rhetoric historically present around elections was largely absent; still, only one party nominated an openly LGBTQI+ candidate and most did not take public policy stances on these issues. With continued outreach in the post-election period, Tbilisi Pride was able to secure even broader support for the memorandum.
With this pledge in place, NDI continues to work closely with partners like Tbilisi Pride to support Georgia as it takes steps toward ensuring that the rights of all citizens are both respected and guaranteed.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.