[UPDATE: Paata Sabelashvili, the leader of the Inclusive Foundation, who is very much out-of-the-closet, has written to me and the global gay community. His letter is posted in the comments section below. Read what he says from inside war-torn Georgia. Just click on comments page. -michael]
With the outbreak of war between Georgia and Russia over the disputed territory of South Ossetia in recent days, I grew concerned for all people in the region, and especially so for gay people in Georgia.
After scouring the net for any word on either newspaper or blog sites about the fate of Georgian gays, and not getting any hits, I posted a query to the Gays Without Borders group on Yahoo. Replies were soon posted on the Gays Without Borders listserv, which are shared here. The first is brief, but provides positive news.
I've been in touch with the head of Georgian only LGBT NGO - Inclusive Foundation. He is OK, well, as 'OK' as the rest of the population.
Our friend Artmika is a gay Armenian man and he often shares news from his part of the world. Of course, it's great news that Artmika reached the leader of the Inclusive Foundation, and I've asked him to convey my concern from America to the gay citizens of Georgia, and to keep members of Gays Without Borders informed on any developments for gay people in the war-torn region.
BTW, things are so bad for gays in Georgia that leaders of the gay group can not be publicly identified without seriously jeopardizing their safety and security.
Another nugget of good news is that the web site for the Inclusive Foundation, with pages both in Georgian and English, is still up and functioning. Not only was I surprised to learn they had a web site, and in two languages, given the terribly repressive societal homophobia gays face in Georgia I'm impressed there's an advocacy group there and they have a dynamic web site, I was surprised the site was operational, given Russia's cyberattacks on Georgia's web sites. Click here to visit Inclusive's site.
The second, much longer reply, came from a gay friend in Moscow, with lots of background information on gay in the countries on Russia's southern border.
I am not surprised that you didn't find any information about Georgian or Ossetian gays in internet. The problem is that they don't exsist visibly.
I know this problem very well as former Soviet citizen myself. This is the same fear to come out, the same hate and pressure from homophobes like in other former Soviet or Socialist countries. If in Eastern Europe, like Poland, Baltic countries or Russia we try to make LGBT community visible, so this is almost impossible in Caucasian countires like Georgia, Armenia or Russian Rupublics like Chechnya, Ingushetya and other.
It doesn't mean that gays and lesbians don't exist in there. They are just not visible. LGBT groups are a very rare thing.
Last year there was a rumour (just a rumour) that Georgian gays would make manifestation in Tbilisi. There was a very hard reaction from Georgian Orthodox Church and politicians who demanded to ban any rally of gays and lesbians.
Orthodox Chruch has very strong influence in Christian republics of Caucasus. The Muslim ones are influenced by muftis.
The most of population in this region live in rural areas. So there are no as big cities as for exemple in Russia where LGBT people can feel relatively safe. Therefore Caucasian gays and lesbians are forced to hide their identity, marry to women and men.
Homophobic violance and harassment are widespread.
Another point. Family values are still very strong among Caucasian people. Homosexuality is regarded "dishonour" of the whole family which should be "washed with blood". So this is very dangerous for Caucasian gays and lesbians to be visible in their societies.
Some of them prefer to leave their countries and to go abroad, for exemple in Moscow. I often met in Moscow some gays and lesbians from Caucasian areas which find in big cities an opportunity to be themselves.
Many thanks to Artmika and Nikolai for their messages, which I hope to receive more of in the coming days. And want to say I prayed in church today for a speedy end to the violence and killing in the Caucasian nations. There is nothing much I can do from San Francisco about the terrible situation over there, except express my concerns through emails and blogging.