Tbilisi Pride March Canceled Amid Anti-LGBTQ Violence

Anti-LGBT protesters take part in a rally ahead of the planned March for Dignity during Pride Week in Tbilisi
Anti-LGBT protesters stormed the building of Pride organizers ahead of a LGBTQ demonstration.
REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

LGBTQ advocates in Georgia’s capital city of Tbilisi were forced to suspend their Pride March after a homophobic group raided their offices and violently attacked journalists and residents ahead of the demonstration.

Tbilisi Pride had planned to host the March For Dignity on the evening of July 5, but it was canceled when a mob of counter-protesters climbed the organization’s building, stormed the offices, and ripped down a Rainbow Flag, according to abc.net.au. More than 50 journalists, including some locals on the ground, were also attacked by those who branded reporters as pro-LGBTQ propagandists.

Video footage of the incident showed an individual driving a scooter into a group of media professionals and a journalist using a face mask to absorb blood from his face and mouth following an attack. A tourist from another nation was allegedly stabbed for wearing an earring, according to local news outlets.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the country’s law enforcement agency, said eight individuals were detained following the riot. The attack came at a time when Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had recently ripped Tbilisi Pride as “not reasonable” and warned such an event would result in violent demonstrations due to ongoing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the area.

Georgia — formerly part of the Soviet Union — bans discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment and other areas, but anti-LGBTQ attitudes are pervasive. Activists said the attack was supported by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which publicly decried the Pride festival as “propaganda” and said it would lead people to have a “perverted lifestyle.”

Giorgi Tabagari, the director of Tbilisi Pride, said the event was part of a week-long Pride festival. He denounced the anti-LGBTQ attack and said officials did not protect organizers.

“Footage of hate groups attacking our office.. horrific and no police presence,” he tweeted on July 5. “Where was the state today?! Where were governance and democracy?! Absolute failure of state institutions!” 

In a statement, Tbilisi Pride added that the Prime Minister’s comments further fueled anti-LGBTQ demonstrators.

“The ongoing actions of the government have shown yet again that they are not willing to fulfill their direct responsibilities,” the organization said in a written statement. “The shameful, cruel, anti-state and anti-western remarks by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, in which he transferred blame and responsibility for the aggression on activists, is a continuation of the cruel, heinous, Russian-style politics which has been coordinated by the country’s political leadership, the Patriarchate, and pro-Russian groups. Inaction by the government has placed under real danger the health and lives of the citizens of Georgia.”

Denis Krivosheev, the deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International — an international human rights group — said the violence “was as lamentable as it was predictable.”

“The Georgian authorities are responsible for failing to ensure their safety and their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Krivosheev said in a written statement. “Instead of planning for this turn of events and providing a robust response to violence, the government deployed inadequately small numbers of policemen who were only reacting to violent attacks, rather than providing an organized protection for LGBTI activists.”

Police pushed back against accusations that they did not protect organizers. In a statement, police noted that activists moved ahead with plans for the march despite warnings.

“Due to the high public interest, the Ministry of Internal Affairs would like to clarify/inform that conduct of the final event of ‘Tbilisi Pride’ contains risks regarding the safety of persons involved in the event,” the agency said in a written statement. “The organizers of the event have repeatedly been informed about the risks by the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We once again publicly call on the participants of ‘Tbilisi Pride’ to refrain from the ‘March of Dignity’ being held in public space due to the scale of counter-manifestations planned by the opposing groups on Rustaveli Avenue.”

In a joint statement, the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia, which includes support from embassies in the US and France, slammed opponents of the march. The groups demanded that the rioters be held accountable for their actions.

“We condemn today’s violent attacks on the civic activists, community members, and journalists, as well as the failure of the government leaders and religious officials to condemn this violence,” the organization said in a written statement. “Participation in peaceful gatherings is a human right guaranteed by Georgia’s Constitution. Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused.”

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