Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgian Gay Leader is Alive and OK

[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.

Hi guys,

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.

Best Wishes,

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.

Dear Michael,

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.

Best regards,
Nikolai Baev

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.


Paata said...

Hello everybody,

In the first place, let me thank you for expressing solidarity in this difficult moment.

I am the head of Inclusive Foundation. Unfortunately, I have not been able to take good care of the NGO these days as I was helping out journalists who covered the events. I was with Danish TV2 journalists as close to capital of South Ossetia as 6 km today. Bombs have been dropped around us. we saw 3 jets and heared more, as well as the noise from more than 20 charges being released.

It is close to panic situation. I am now sitting in the office and try to get on hold with family and friends. mobile phones are down. I am not sure when will internet go off. Russian troops are stationed 20 km west to capital Tbilisi and people are fleeing the city. I do not know what is on invaders' mind but it is really bad what is on in town.

Only reason our website still works is that it is placed outside Georgia and does not have Georgian domain.

It is not so easy for me to make clear points. So, obviously I need to stop writing and go back to why I came to office: to back up all our workfiles in case office is bomned.

I thank you for thinking of us and I wish peace to all of you no matter where you are.


Paata Sabelashvili
(by the way we are out and publicly visible - you can see that in our magazine as well)...

Michael said...

Dear Paata,

I am so happy to hear directly from you. Many gay and straight people have read this blog post and have told me they are deeply worried about you and all gays in Georgia.

They all ask the same question: How can we help the Inclusive Foundation?

We hope for a fast cease-fire to the warfare and a chance at peace for all peoples in Georgia and South Ossetia.

I apologize for making a wrong assumption about you and visibility as a gay leader.

Please keep in touch and let us know about your safety. Other than standing in solidarity with you, Paata, what else can we do to assist you in this time of war?

Warm regards,

Paata said...

Dear Michael,

Thanks again for being so supportive!

I do not think you can do much for the community and inclusive right now. But the thing is that we are in no unique position. The entire country suffers equally (at least in this way there is some equality) and we are hoping that everything will resolve soon.

Thanks you again for thinking of us!

I will keep you posted.



Michael said...

Dear Praata,

I am honored that you write me and then I share with people your messages of thanks. It feels like such a small gesture, blogging about you and gays in Georgia, but it feel very big to hear from you.

I'd like to suggest you post a message on the Inclusive Foundation web site. Your messages to me would make a great letter to the world, from you and the gays inside Georgia, at this time of war.

Just updating your site with a short letter will give us hope and solidarity for you.

Also, please send me any photos or videos you have of yourself or other Georgian gays, taken in the past week since the war began.

I will share the images through my blog.

Finally, please send me your email address. My email is and I'd like to share private emails with you.

I stand in solidarity with you, Paata, at this difficult time for you and all of Georgia's citizens.

Warm regards,

KevinVT said...

Now apparently Russian and Ossetian propagandists are using homophobia to attack Georgians. Supposedly there are claims that dead Georgian soldiers were found to be wearing women's underwear (yeah, right!), and some Georgian spy working in Moscow (and living with Zurab Tsereteli, no less!) was gay.

Pretty disgusting. And unlikely.

I for one would welcome more open gay Georgians! The Georgian men are hot, imho.