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Georgian Police Detain At Least Eight As LGBT Activists Face Off With Conservative Opponents

Activists involved in planning "Tbilisi Pride" gather on the steps near the main Georgian government building on JUne 14.
Activists involved in planning "Tbilisi Pride" gather on the steps near the main Georgian government building on JUne 14.

TBILISI -- Georgian police have detained at least eight people as conservative activists faced off against gay and lesbian protesters who rallied outside a government building demanding more support from officials.

The confrontation, which took place in the Georgian capital on June 14, came four days before gay-rights activists plan to hold a series of events to mark "Tbilisi Pride" week.

The head of Georgia's Orthodox Church on June 14 called for blocking the upcoming events, saying it would offend Georgian society and would only provoke violence from opponents.

Around two dozen activists involved in planning "Tbilisi Pride" then gathered on the steps near the main Georgian government building, calling for police and government officials to publicly promise protection for the upcoming events.

Many held multicolored signs reading "Come out!" -- a call for government officials to come out and help, but also to other Georgians. Others chanted "Where are you, state?" -- also a call for support from the government.

The activists were blocked from approaching the government building by conservative demonstrators, some of whom threw eggs and chanted homophobic insults.

Several Orthodox priests marched with signs reading, "If homosexuals do not repent, the all go to hell."

Among those protesting was Levan Vasadze, a wealthy businessman who has funded antigay, social-conservative groups in Georgia, and has links to U.S.-based groups with similar political leanings.

The groups were separated by Interior Ministry police, who detained eight antigay protesters for minor violations.

Georgia remains a deeply conservative country, where the Orthodox Church holds great sway.

Homosexuality is no longer illegal in the country, and the government has moved to update antidiscrimination laws in past years. But there has been little effort to bolster protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

In 2013, activists tried to carry out a march against homophobia in Tbilisi, but were violently attacked by members of conservative groups.