Notes from a thousands-strong anti-LGBT protest

By Pesha Magid | May 22, 2017 | Georgia

It was hard not to be intimidated seeing them approach. I knew from my research that Georgia had massive anti-LGBT or “family values” protests every year, but it was different seeing one in person. They streamed down Tbilisi's main avenue by the thousands.

When they first approached it looked like an endless sea of Georgian flags. Many were in traditional dress. There were a lot of families, a lot of children. It was hard to watch them walking down the avenue, smiling in the sun, and knowing that each and every one of them was there because they believed that "gay propaganda" was real and a threat to their families. 

The march went on for hours, slowly winding its way through the city and up a hill that led to one of Tbilisi's main churches. It ended with a speech by the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II. I stood inside the hot church, barely able to breathe because of all of the people pressed so closely together, while my translator whispered to me lessons about the sanctity of family and the holy position of the husband and wife. 

Earlier in the day we had attended the much-smaller LGBT rally. The reason for the convergence of these opposing events was because May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – something the Church saw as such a threat that they declared it “Family Purity” day. 

Only about 150 people were gathered at the LGBT rally, and they were kept under tight security. Unlike the prominent “family values” march, these protesters were relegated to an out-of- the-way square, hidden away from public view. Attendees were bused in from secret locations across the city. It felt tense and rushed, and everyone there knew the possibility of violence was just around the corner. It had already happened in 2013, when pro-LGBT protesters were attacked by a mob led by Orthodox priests, leaving several severely injured.

Later in the day, standing at the front of the anti-LGBT parade while filming the throngs flowing past me, it was hard not think of the juxtaposition. The “family values” march had the air of a public holiday; the LGBT protest felt like a secret.

View All Posts By Pesha Magid

Your donation helps continue the IRP's work to inform the public about international issues.

Make A Gift

Are you a Journalist?

Apply for a fellowship trip or a gatekeeper trip