My experience on 17 May, IDAHO day, in Tbilisi

20 / 06 / 2013

Mariam Gagoshashvili is a queer, feminist activist based in Tbilisi, Georgia (located on the coast of the Black Sea, bordering Russia). Last month, she attended a local rally for the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). The small group was attacked by religious leaders and groups of men. The violence was reported in the New York Times, here. Mariam provided this eye-witness account, soon after the protest. It is reprinted with her permission – thank you Mariam!  Her article for this edition of ‘First Person’ serves as an important reminder of the challenges and dangers queer protesters face across the world. We stand with her in solidarity.

On 17 May, IDAHO day, I was together with 20 other activists (18 women and 2 men), staging a peaceful protest, when counter-protesters attacked us. We were surrounded by police, who were in turn surrounded by a large number of counter-protesters. Even though their number and aggression was growing (swearing at us and spitting in our faces), police were repeatedly telling us to leave and not to escalate the situation.

We obviously did not want to leave, because the aggressive crowd would attack us. Needless to say, we did not engage in verbal contact with the aggressors. We stood still. Some of us were demanding that police takes special measures to protect us and we were requesting some transport. However, they were reluctant to provide so. We were trying to get hold of three contact persons provided by Ministry of Internal Affairs, but without success.

Later two representatives from UN Women joined us. They were showing their work ID to police – and only after realizing that United Nations representatives were with us, did police take some steps. With the guidance of UN staff members, they led us to the entrance of the residential building, where we found a temporary shelter.

On the way to the entrance, several of us were attacked by counter-protesters. Stones and plastic bottles full of water were thrown at us with full force. One girl’s head was bleeding. Police did witness who was throwing stones, but did not do much. As far as I am aware, none of the counter-protestors were detained by police.

We spent some time in the shelter, where UN representatives were urging policemen to take measures. I believe that thanks to the efforts of the UN representatives, police took steps and provided one yellow minibus for our evacuation. They made a corridor and we were evacuated from the building. Two policemen accompanied us into the minibus while the agressive crowed tried to reach us and continued throwing stones, spitting and swearing.

The minibus being attacked. Photo: Reuters.

 

The crowd was preventing the minibus from moving. The counter-protesters attacked us from outside, threw stones, broke window glasses, bit us, grabbed our hair and bodies, threw bottles, tried to drag us out from windows, spat at us, swore, etc. The minibus was moving very slowly because of the crowd, but also because its front windows were damaged that prevented visibility. Counter-protesters also tried to get into the minibus and continuously tried to drag the driver out, but the two policemen did a good job in ensuring that the minibus did not stop. I am grateful to both of them, as well as the driver.

We were taken outside Tbilisi, to a safe place. Members of our group were then safely delivered to their homes (or nearby streets) by police patrol cars.

As a result of this attack, one activist had her head injured (cut and bleeding), three activists have concussion, others have minor injuries (bruises, cuts, clothes torn, etc.).  Needless to say, everybody is shocked and psychologically devastated.

With full responsibility, I can say that the crowed gathered against us was more than ready to tear us apart and kill us. It was a matter of luck that we survived. If we stayed a minute longer in the minibus, I am sure we would be stabbed to death.

May 17 IDAHO events demonstrated the real need for LGBTQI activism and showed the real face of Georgia – homophobic, xenophobic, intolerant, aggressive and easily influenced. It also clearly showed the level of religious fundamentalism that the country is currently facing. This is a huge challenge and personally I will keep struggling, although I feel disillusioned and pessimistic. Not marking the next year’s IDAHO with a march or a flashmob, would mean giving up. And I definitely do not intend to give up.

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