Freedom of Expression Should Not Be a Luxury: LGBTI Rights in Georgia

When society denies safety, empowerment, and space for these communities to express themselves, it effectively shuts them out of public policy and cultural debates.
Irakli Vacharadze
Irakli Vacharadze, an alum of the Open Society Social Work Fellowship and Faculty Development Fellowship Programs, is the executive director of IDENTOBA, a Georgian NGO supported by the Open Society Human Rights Initiative. IDENTOBA works for equality for women and LGBTQI people in Georgia. I spoke with Irakli about the challenges faced by these marginalized populations.

What does “freedom of expression” mean for the populations IDENTOBA serves?

Defining freedom of expression for LGBTQI and other gender-based marginalized groups is both a simple and complex task. Freedom of expression, speaking from my position as a member of the gay community and as an activist, embodies our fight for physical survival and mental stability. 

When society denies safety, empowerment, and space for these communities to express themselves, it effectively shuts them out of public policy and cultural debates and many other types of social participation. The hate in Georgia that is unleashed against LGBTQI persons, and non-dominant social groups in general, is so strong that when we speak out about the discrimination we suffer, it is equated with propaganda from the earlier Soviet period.

What are the main factors that prevent people in Georgia from freely defining their sexual or gendered identity? Do these factors differ in rural and urban environments?

I think the ability to prove that you are discriminated against socially, politically, legally, and economically depends on the amount of freedom of expression granted in any given society. In Georgia, it is severely limited. Rural communities are completely closed to LGBTQI people. This lack of presence combines with high levels of emigration, the general taboo surrounding talk about sexuality, poverty, and lack of access to modern media to breed enormous intolerance and stigma in rural areas. Isolation is the destiny of LGBTQI people there.

Have media or the government taken any actions to aid socially marginalized groups? 

Until recently, in the Georgian Criminal Code, only certain crimes with a “hate motive” constituted the aggravating circumstances which lead to heavier sanctions. However, the provisions only referred to hatred toward racial, linguistic, religious, national, or ethnic groups, thus failing to include sexual orientation or gender identity.

IDENTOBA decided to launch a campaign to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the draft law. We sent several letters of appeal to the relevant Georgian authorities and international representations in Georgia. As a result of the campaign, the initiators of the draft law agreed to include sexual orientation and gender identity in 2012. The Georgian Criminal Code now recognizes homophobia as an aggravating circumstance for any crime committed, which is a huge step for securing a safer environment for LGBTQI people in Georgian society. 

The above excerpt is from an interview with Irakli in the latest issue of ScholarForum, the annual journal of the Open Society Scholarship Programs. This issue also highlights the work and ideas of our grantees from Jordan, Lebanon, and Tajikistan on issues including women’s rights, education, and electoral developments in the Middle East. 

Read the complete issue of ScholarForum.

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Illegal actions of Irakli Vaharadze
To: Anastasia Lundqvist - RFSU

Jonas Tillberg - RFSU

Gregory Czarnecki - Open Society Foundations

Dominika Skubida - Delegation of the European Union to Georgia

Helena Sancho - Embassy of Sweden in Georgia

Macie jLuczywo - American Embassy to Georgia

Lela Lomia - Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia

Anastasia Smirnova - ILGA-Europe
Dear All,
We and our minor children are the victims of violence. But we are doubly have suffered from the illegal actions of Irakli vacharadze.
We believed, that the Non-governmental organizations,, Identoba " protect our rights. We appealed to the ,,Identoba ", because we knew that, there employs the best lawyers : Inga Arakhamia and Nino Bolkvadze, which have done everything for protect our human rights. Inga Arakhamia became our only hope, she saved us and our children, and now our cases are considered in Tbilisi City Court and very importantly, the case in court has completed the lawyer Inga Arakhamia.
January 17, 2016, we were informed, that the director of the NGO ,, Identoba" Irakli Vaharadze dismissed the lawyer Inga Arakhamia. Because she informed the prosecutor's office about Corrupt actions Irakli Vacharadze. The finance of NGO ,, Identoba " he used for personal purposes. He dismissed the lawyer for to avenge her, and our cases are already assigned to the court for consideration.
He created the threat to us. He created the threat to us. He did not give the possibility the lawyer in order to , pick up a materials of our case from the office
,, Identoba " so that she could speak at our processes in court.
When we wrote the complaint, that, if the lawyer Inga Arakhamia dismissed, we interrupt all relationship with the organization ,, Identoba ". Inga Arakhamia and Nino Bolkvadze are qualified and conscientious lawyers, to whom we trust.
Irakli Vacharadze January 25, 2016 told us, that the lawyer Arakhamia not dismissed and will continue to work. But it turned out, he lied to us. Irakli Vaharadze not pay lawyer salary, he took her office computer, he forces her leave her workplace.
He appointed for the position of lawyer student Tatia Nachkebia, which does not have legal education and Mari Gelashvili, which failed to pass lawyer exams and does not have lawyer's license.
Please , we ask you, accept the urgent measures, in order to prevent illegal actions Irakli vaharadze, which acts against the law and our interests.
Implore you, Please provide, that the lawyer Inga Arakhamia was able to continue our case in court and protect our interests. We can not entrust our cases by unqualified personnel, which do not have lawyers' experience and lawyer's license. Inga Arakhamia saved our children and us, if now she can not continue in the court of our cases, then maybe we will be in an uncorrectable position
and will suffer the minor children.
Our destiny depends on you . Arakhamia lawyer conducts our case in court, a total of more then 12 cases.
We look forward to your response, because the first process is already assigned to 4 February 2016.
Best Regards
Tinatin Kulumbegashvili
Sophie Shelia
Levan Kakalia
Nona Miqandze
Ketevan Mnatobaidze
Vera Sulava
Tea Kopaleishvili
Natalia Labantseva
Klara Chincaladze
Maia Jamalashvili
Aleqsandra Jamalashvili
Nana Jiquri
Tiniko Tskhvitaria
Khatuna Esebua
Nana Berekashvili
Irina Bzikadze
Nana Sagirashvili

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