Societies are still divided on the subject of “traditional” and “nontraditional” love. The dichotomy contained in the single date of May 17 is a good illustration of that.
May 17 commemorates the decision taken by the World Health Organization in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Celebrated since 2004 as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia it aims to draw attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.
As decreed by the Patriarchate of Georgia, May 17 marks Family Purity Day in the country. Celebrated since 2014 the day is dedicated to Georgia’s long-lasting traditions, family values, and Orthodox Christianity. This year the celebration will take place in front of the biggest church in Tbilisi with a concert full of Georgian polyphony and traditional dance.
Although Georgia is a secular country, the Orthodox Church enjoys a lot of influence as well as economical benefits. The church establishment and the patriarch of Georgia top lists of most trusted entities in the country year after year.
On the other hand, the youth culture in the country is on the rise, with artistic and fashion scenes blooming and electronic music in its zenith of popularity. A protest rave on the capital’s main square last year was a clear message that the youth is changing direction. The first ever Pride in the Caucasus scheduled for this June is an even louder statement.
But the biggest statement was sent for the whole world to see: the new Georgian-Swedish movie “And Then We Danced” - about a Georgian male dancer who develops feelings for his main rival. With its premiere at Cannes the movie has outraged traditionalists and it is still unknown whether local theaters will release it at all.
The stage seems all set for a showdown between generations, the date is set for May 17.
May 17 has seen a lot of contradictions in Georgia. It all started with relatively low-key protests staged by LGBTQ activists and grew into a full-scale confrontation in 2013
The image of priests armed with chairs chasing people around is still fresh in the minds of Georgians.
To prevent such incidents, the Church decided to launch a new celebration about family values in their traditional sense.
The idea itself seems harmless and is undoubtedly more subtle than laws about stoning or concentration camps we see elsewhere. But the choice of the date sets a certain tone to the festivity: the church clearly voices its disapproval for a day dedicated to queer people. The divide they are creating is fuelling radical nationalist sentiments among groups who see “defending our Georgianhood” as their duty. Again the images of chairs and chases in the streets resurface as the date approaches.
What Georgia is experiencing is similar to any country transitioning from relative cultural exclusiveness to globalization. Societies where religion prevails and traditional establishments remain influential find it hard to reconcile old views with emerging personal identities.
Poland is the most recent example where “gender” and “LGBTQ” were listed as sins in Easter pamphlets. In response to that local activist and artist, Elzbieta Podlesna put up images of Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. Her move scandalized believers and Podlesna was detained for offending religious feelings.
Countries like Jordan and Kuwait ban artists from performing because of their sexual orientation and Egypt’s government goes even further, cracking down on the citizens, arresting them for waving the rainbow flag on a concert venue.
More and more campaigns are launched worldwide to help people in traditional countries find their voice. The “No Longer Alone” campaign in the Middle East and North Africa was the latest move by Human Rights Watch.
Georgian campaigners have also chosen a way to make their voice heard: the symbol for Tbilisi Pride will be a Kinto, a popular traditional figure of the 19th century. Kintos were entertainers working at local restaurants in the capital. Their peculiar style of dress and behavior influenced a popular Georgian dance. It was often debated whether Kintos were of “nontraditional” sexual orientation.
“Our Kinto represents a non-binary person. Symbolizing diversity of Tbilisi.”- We read on social media outlets of Tbilisi Pride as we prepare for May 17 in the city. Far-right groups have planned a peaceful protest against LGBTQ activists and the church has announced the annual concert for Family Purity Day. As the capital prepares for multiple celebrations, the message of Kinto rings more relevant than ever: Tbilisi is indeed diverse and maybe polarizing the city in the name of family is not the best idea of them all.
*Cover image: Tbilisi Pride
*Images in the text: Egypt Independent and Tbilisi Pride