TBILISI -- Several dozen people have marched in the Georgian capital to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), despite fears of potential clashes with opponents.
Police in Tbilisi were on high alert on May 17 even after an event commemorating IDAHOTB was canceled to avoid a confrontation with marchers expected to take part in a counterdemonstration supported by the Georgian Orthodox Church.
One of the LGBT demonstrations took place near the prime minister's office, where several dozen people held signs and chanted slogans against homophobia.
As LGBT supporters rallied, hundreds of Georgians marched in support of the church’s call for a rally on the “day of sanctity and strength of the family.”
Several minor clashes were observed by local media, but no major incidents were reported.
Earlier in the day, LGBT rights groups said they would hold only an online demonstration to mark IDAHOTB to limit the possibility of violence, even with police pledges to keep the peace.
“We have seen that there were would not only be peaceful demonstrators…but also illegal and out-of-control Nazi and neo-Nazi groups forcing the government to use unprecedented resources to stop hundreds of destructive citizens,” Equality Movement, a group dedicated to supporting the LGBT community in Georgia, said in a statement.
“Despite the fact that we have tried our best to avoid their activities, we were informed that they have coincided their rally with ours. We, LGBT activists, recognize all of the existing and real threats and took a difficult decision to cancel our rally,” the statement added.
The rallies followed several days of protests in Tbilisi by club-goers – many of whom are members of the LGBT community – who were upset over police raids at a nightclub on May 12.
Police said they were acting in response to a spate of recent drug-related deaths, but those at the raids characterized them as unwarranted and a demonstration of excessive force aimed at scaring those inside the club, especially members of the gay community.
Wedged within the Caucasus at the crossroads between East and West, Georgia and its 3.7 million people have been caught in a cultural clash between liberal political forces and religious conservatives since it broke free from the former Soviet Union and began a series of social and economic reforms aimed at moving the country closer to the European Union.
While change on some fronts -- such as antidiscrimination laws -- has been lauded, the country has made little headway in developing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Studies suggest that of all the minority groups in Georgia, homosexuals are under the greatest pressure -- with more than 80 percent of survey respondents expressing strong negative attitudes toward homosexuality.
Georgia ranked as the world's third-most homophobic country in the World Value Survey, with some 93 percent of Georgians saying they would be against the idea of having a gay neighbor.
Although homosexuality and gender change are legal in Georgia, society's view of the LGBT minority remains negative, with hostile attitudes toward gays strongly influenced by traditional stigmas, taboos, and values promoted by the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Five years ago, LGBT activists were severely beaten in Tbilisi after trying to hold a rally on May 17 against homophobia. Since then, gay-rights activists have not held an official demonstration in Tbilisi to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.