LGBT+ issues in South Caucasus / Caucasus Regional Meeting

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After the fall of the Soviet Union, not being heterosexual was decriminalized in the South Caucasus and the movement started to take shape. Thus, LGBT+ movements in the South Caucasus region does not have a long history. When the movement started to get organised, the abbreviation was often used – awareness of the existence of LGBT+ people was higher, but the attitude towards them was mostly negative. The community is becoming more visible once again, but unfortunately it also results in the increase of violence towards LGBT+ people. At the moment the number of NGOs working with the community is very low and are not strong enough to speak on the whole community’s behalf.

Gender in the South Caucasus is not perceived as a social construct. The only two genders are man and women with all the assumptions about their social roles, especially regarding the power of men over women.

The strong role of the church (Georgia) and having Russia as a powerful neighbor strengthens the homophobic discourse in politics in order to reclaim their power in the region. There is a strong need for public education, but even more for showing that oppressions in the society are inter-connected and thus emphasizing a need for uniting the struggles of LGBT+ community, women, workers, minorities, lower classes in order to achieve a change is a must. A systematic fight is possible only if the approach to the issues is holistic, based on the green principles.

In the following lines an analysis of the situation and the causes of homo/bi/trans phobia in the three South Caucasus countries are presented. These findings are a result of the Caucasus Regional Meeting.

Georgia, Armenia

Natia Gvianishvili
Women Initiatives Support Group, Georgia

WISG has conducted a study with the aim to assess the knowledge about homosexuality/bisexuality and transgender persons, attitudes towards LGBT+ persons in the society (level of homophobia and transphobia) and how informed the society is about the situation of LGBT+ persons in Georgia and Armenia (legal environment, discrimination, violence) as well as Identifying how the situation of LGBT persons could be improved.

The study was conducted within the frames of a coalition project coordinated by South Caucasus Office of Heinrich Boell Foundation (link) and aims at providing data for long term policy change, advocacy and public awareness strategies on overcoming homophobia and transphobia in Georgia and Armenia.

Homophobia

Levels of homophobia differ in different socio-demographic variables:
Gender – men express more homophobic attitudes compared to women;
Age – the higher the age group of the respondent – the higher the likelihood of homophobic attitudes;
Geography – Levels of homophobia are higher in rural areas and other cities than in Tbilisi;
Education – Responses differ per education level, however they are not in direct correlation with levels of homophobia;
Economic situation – in case of men, the harsh economic situation in the family is in direct correlation with negative attitudes towards LGBT Persons;
Religious fundamentalism, right-wing authoritarism and traditional attitude towards gender roles are in direct correlation with high level of homophobia.

Per target groups: Respondents show same attitudes towards lesbian women as gay men; Negative attitudes towards lesbians and gay men have different predictors. In case of lesbians it has mostly to do with traditional role of a mother among Georgian women.

Biphobic attitudes turned out to be stronger than homophobia. Biphobic attitudes are mostly caused by perception of bisexuality as a fluid identity. While transphobic attitudes are even stronger than homophobia and biphobia.

Conclusion

Homo/bi/transphobia is perceived as a problem of LGBT+ community and not the society. Incidents of violence against LGBT+ people are seen as sporadic events rather than manifestations of systemic violence. Attitudes towards LGBT+ people vary according to demographic variables of respondents (age, gender, geographic location). Attitudes towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans and gender non-conforming persons vary not only per intensity of expression, but also by their nature; homo/bi/transphobia have different predictors.

pi2 wisg panel backThe issue of LGBT+ equality is mostly considered from moralistic point of view. Public figures and politicians often try to justify violence or hate speech against LGBT+ people, appealing to dominant culture, religious and traditional values. The state’s inadequate reaction to incidents of violence towards LGBT+ people, on the one hand incites mistrust and disbelief in the justice system, furthermore it encourages such violence even further.

Negative attitudes towards LGBT+ persons and their equality are mostly caused by lack of knowledge on sexual orientation and gender identity; Attitudes towards LGBT+ people are highly correlated with traditional gender roles. Teachers, healthcare providers and other specialists experience the same lack of knowledge as random members of Georgian society about LGBT+ persons, their rights and equality. Acquaintance with LGBT+ people is highly correlated with more acceptance of the people.

Complete study can be found HERE

Azerbaijan

Gulnara Mehdiyeva
LGBT+ activist; editor of ,,Minority” journal; member of MIL Network Azerbaijan

The Country faces the problems not only with LGBT+ rights protection but also with other sensitive categories of human rights. A lot of LGBT+ rights advocates have been arrested or fled the country. Not only LGBT+ community but also women are a subject of huge discrimination. Although the country has not adopted the “propaganda” law, the government officials are openly showing homophobic attitude. There have been cases when one of the local TV broadcasters has been fined for various violations. The head of the national council of TV radio broadcasters, Nushrevan Mageramli, in his statement about the issue said the following: “the TV channel in question is presenting the lifestyle of sexual minorities as natural and normal”.

Another case: some journalists found “evidence” of gay “propaganda” in one of the high school books. The head of the press department of Ministry of Education stated: “The conclusion is far from our moral values”. Third case: a member of the parliament and the chairmen of the board of press, Aflatun Amashov commented about the release of the first issue of the first LGBT+ journal in Azerbaijan. In his statement he said that the magazine opposes the national and moral values of the country and he expressed hope that the magazine will not be popular and it will be shut down in near future.

History of the LGBT+ movement and legal framework

LGBT+ activism in Azerbaijan does not have a rich history. At the moment we are at the beginning of activism. The real activity in the community can be seen only in the past 3 years. There are 3 LGBT+ right organisations in the country and 2 of them are not officially registered. The reason is that Ministry of Justice ignored the request of the organisation “NIAFAS LGBT” to register as an NGO – twice. By the law the Ministry had to approve or deny the request in 40 days but a year has passed and the ministry has not responded yet. Although the Ministry has not denied the request neither. The only registered organisation has been registered for the last 8 years. In their name there is no reference to the abbreviation “LGBT” and they are cooperating with the Ministry of Health. Even though they identified themselves as an LGBT organisation, only in the last few years we can really see their activity regarding LGBT+ issues. Their main agenda is based on the health issues of the community and excludes the issues regarding their rights.

Not being able to register as an NGO makes it hard for the civil society to get any funds. According to the law, organisations which are not registered can’t get any grants and can be prosecuted for doing so. Thereby it is really hard for activists to get any funds for projects or any activities. And even if the organisation could get the registration, the grant project by law should be approved by the Ministry of Justice. So there are double obstacles.

Regarding the laws, homosexuality has been decriminalised in 2000. However, currently there are no anti-discrimination laws, nor the ones regulating hate speech, hate crime etc. These gaps in the law are often abused by the media. Media can freely criticise or even offend LGBT+ people.

On the state level, Azerbaijan is not homophobic – to be precise, the country is not homophobic on paper, although there are no laws protecting the LGBT+ community. Therefore the community suffers more from the ignorance of the government, rather than from direct homophobic actions on their side. A concrete example is a case involving the most popular opposition newspaper “Musavat”. The paper published an article about the engagement of one of the leaders of an LGBT organisation Javid Nabiev. In the article the journalist asked directly why the society is ignoring same sex unions. The article reads: “why the society which takes “honour in being bound by blood” is ignoring such news?” This was a direct reference to the crime. In the article the journalist also interviewed a psychologist who stated “God save us, what is waiting for us in 50 years? “ Unfortunately there are no laws on the LGBT+ community’s side which would give them possibilities to take such cases to court. Despite all of this, LGBT+ people can openly exist, have Facebook profiles and openly announce events or gatherings.

Homophobia

Discussion on LGBT+ rights

Discussion on LGBT+ rights

Of course the fact that the religion of the majority in Azerbaijan is Islam cannot be ignored. As a rule, people of faith do not accept homosexuality; however, there is no institutionalized homophobia. The main causes for it are ignorance and lack of education within the society. Homophobic speech is openly displayed in the media. Even though words such as “gay” or “homosexual” exist, the media still uses words like “faggot”. For example the arrival of the trans-gender singer Aziz was announced in the news with the headline “faggot in Baku”. In the news any issue concerning the LGBT+ community is treated with a strong ignorance by journalists. In one text a person can be referred to as homosexual and bisexual at the same time. And in some cases people with both reproductive organs (intersex) are referred to as bisexuals as well. Furthermore, journalists don’t know how to refer to a person who underwent surgery. Trans woman can be referred to with a male pronoun, they try to use her male name and deny the fact that she got gender confirmation surgery. In one case the news portal 1news.as published an article about the FTM (female to male) operation of a person and the headline read “What a nightmare”. We were surprised to find the comments of some readers who were condemning the news agency and saying that no one should judge him and that he is a really handsome men. When the foreign news about the LGBT+ community emerges the news agencies try to copy the translation of the Russian media and preserve the homophobic narrative.

The numbers

Statistically, no matter the geographical location 4-6% of the population are members of theLGBT+ community. Because the community in our country is ,,in the closet” it is pretty hard to calculate the number of active members in the community. But secret LGBT+ Facebook pages have as many as 3000 members.

Myths and prejudices

– Homosexual men are men who want to be a woman. Non-existence of father figure in the childhood causes not knowing how to act ,,manly”.
– All the gays are feminine. They have hormonal dysfunction which can be cured – but they don’t want to get cured. They cannot go to army, therefore cannot save our women from the Armenian invasion so they are not worthy to be called man.
– A lesbian is a girl who is traumatised from a break up with a guy.
– Transexual women are sex workers.
– There was no homosexuality in Azerbaijan before the influence of the West (USA, Europe, Masons).
– LGBT+ propaganda is an elaborate way to destroy the Azerbaijani people.

Orientation and Gender Identity

Most of the interviewed people can’t separate orientation and gender identity. Most are not familiar with the phrase “gender identity”, including members of community.

Cause of transphobia

The establishment of the idea that all the trans-gender woman are sex workers. This myth is supported by the transgender woman who make videos of themselves in which they state the price of their service. There are no open trans activists in the country. Most of the members of the transgender community prefer to stay hidden. Most of the homosexual people in country are transphobic as well, because they think that the behavior of trans sex workers is ruining the reputation of the LGBT+ community.

The main cause of homophobia in the case of the younger generations is the lack of education. As trainings and other data has shown us the young people are not familiar with this issues but are willing to change their attitudes towards the community.

Caucasus Regional Meeting was supported by the Green Forum (Sweden), Heidi Hautala (Member of European Parliament, Greens/EFA), Women Initiative Support Group Georgia, Georgian Young Greens