I’d been having a fantastic week this week. On Thursday my team and I won a sporting competition at work–not only did I get the best souvenir ever (a medal in Georgian) but I made new friends with my teammates, had the incentive to exercise with a purpose, and made a good impression with our management. A friend was in town from the village that evening, and he said he’d never seen me so happy. Friday was also off to a great start–my first lesson went really well. My students wanted to watch the news because the anti-homophobia (IDAHO) rally was quite important, so I agreed to let them watch if they would translate for me. This spurred the kind of conversation that makes me love teaching–although there were differences of opinion, the discussion was respectful, and there was no hate. Disagreements came from a place of mutual respect, and though no one changed their opinion, the phrase “You have a good point” came up–people were clearly thinking. At the end of my class, I got some good news about my future working there, and as a little bonus for my great morning, all my favorite foods were in the cafeteria at lunch. I was ecstatic when I left.
From there, things went belly-up. As I was on the marshrutka to Job 2, I received a text message from S saying that the rally was not going well, and the protestors had been chased by an angry mob. When I arrived there, my co-workers filled me in on the news updates and said how ashamed they were of their country, but I didn’t really realize just how wrong the situation had gone until after my lesson when my co-workers told me it wasn’t safe to take my usual route home. “Not safe” is a phrase I had never heard before in Georgia, and I’d never felt unsafe before.
That afternoon/evening I chatted with friends and read the news articles to find out what had happened. (I recommend this article from EurasiaNet, and Mark Mullen’s spot-on reaction). Note, though, that my friends who were near the action (who I generally trust and believe are reasonably good at counting) say that their impression was that the numbers of anti-homophobia demonstrators was closer to 200, not the 50 that most news stories attribute. The most shocking thing to me, and I believe to most people, was the behavior of the priests: using vulgar language and advocating killing the LGBT supporters. To me this is absolutely horrifying, and absolutely non-Christian. Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love, and priests should be the ones at the forefront of that, not the ones committing such brutal violence. I’m glad to say that MP Tina Khidasheli shares this point of view, and has been brave enough to say so publicly. Good for her, and shame on the Georgian Orthodox Church.
I was quite upset and spent the evening in a bit of a funk–decompressing with friends, and listening to 60s and 70s protest music on YouTube. (Someone mentioned that this is Georgia’s version of the US in the 60s, and Neil Young’s “Southern Man” was striking a chord with me).
Fortunately, on a personal level at least, my day ended happily. A former student invited me to join him and his friends for khinkali–my reflex was to refuse and stay at home watching YouTube and chatting with my friends. But I hadn’t seen this student in a long time, and I realized that it would be good for me to be reminded that although there was a lot of hate on Rustaveli, it is not representative of the majority of Georgians. Hopefully the good, kind Georgians will prevail.
So that, ultimately, Friday’s events can have a happy ending for others, I’m linking here to two organizations fighting the good fight here in Tbilisi who I think could use some support.
- Identoba, the organizers of the peaceful demonstration. (English website temporarily down)
- Women’s Fund in Georgia, another NGO working to fight sexism and homophobia
It also helps to remember, that despite the hate, there were tens (or hundreds) of people who were brave enough to stand up for what is right. Though the struggle is different in America, Georgia’s LGBT community isn’t alone in their fight against ignorance and fear. Love is love is love is love.