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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Georgian Antidote for Treating its Gays

It was the campiest thing I'd seen on television in quite a while. Four young hunks in camouflage uniforms, members of a Georgian boy band, were preening and strutting their way through a cheesy disco dance. On the background was footage of muscle-bound soldiers performing training maneuvers. It looked like the kind of act you might see with dancing, super-muscular men at one of Europe's more tacky gay clubs.

But Georgia is a country where that kind of love still dares not speak its name, and where the closet remains home sweet home to any homosexual who values his personal safety. In Moscow, gays get beaten if they attempt to show some pride.

In Tbilisi, they haven't even dared to try it. A few weeks ago, wild and unsubstantiated rumors spread about "sexual minorities" participating in a city parade. The Georgian Orthodox patriarch has advised that any such procession would be "unacceptable." If this is combined with the moral outrage that most Georgians feel toward gays, the situation could lead to riots.

This being the Caucasus, where rumor is a valued currency, scurrilous gossip about the sexual proclivities of top political figures circulates freely. But while tales of the nocturnal exploits of heterosexual politicians raise smirks, an open declaration of homosexuality would be career suicide.

A few months back, I met some courageous youths who had set up Georgia's first gay rights group. They were wary about revealing their full names, and I won't repeat them here.

"Violence is an everyday thing if a person is an outright homosexual," one told me. "The response from family members when someone comes out as gay is usually negative, including being kicked out of the house, being locked up in a room or being taken to psychiatrists.

"It's only a community of maybe 150 to 200 people who are 'out,' but it's not stable. There is no regular place for homosexuals. If a place becomes known to be gay-friendly, homophobic people come in and try to stop it."

Afterward, I went out onto the street to ask people what they thought about this new organization for Georgian homosexuals. Surprisingly, most of the women I spoke to thought it was wonderful, although I quickly realized that they had no idea what I was talking about. "It's good there is an organization that will enable them to get help," said one middle-aged shopper. "Maybe they can be cured of this sickness."

The men were somewhat less forgiving. "It goes against God's law," went one response. "I think it would be better if they were dead."

Matthew Collin is a Tbilisi-based journalist.