17 May is marked globally as the International Day against Homophobia. Widespread societal discrimination against sexual minorities is widespread in the Caucasus region reflecting deep rooted intollerance for anything that is "different". Homophobic statements appear frequently in the media, and often politicians who have nothing better to offer society, inflame the situation with irresponsible and homophobic statements.
A recent report published by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung gives a bleak picture of the situation in the region with regards to the rights of sexual minorities. read it here in english. But the report also says that this is part of a bigger problem of intollerance towards minorities in general. The report says:
"In all three South Caucasian countries where public, cultural and political life is viewed in the light of heterosexuality, cissexuality, ethnicity or confession, being a member of any given minority is automatically considered as estrangement of each individual followed by very complicated consequences. A person who does not wish to conceal his/her homosexual identity has but few chances to succeed in real life in their public, academic and political career."
Certainly homophobia is not a problem unique to the region and even in developed European countries some problems remain. A report published by ILGA Europe highlights problems across the European continent and globally. (read it here in english)
However the situation in the South Caucasus has often been exacerbated by failures of governments to protect the rights of minorities, and punish those who often use or incite violence against them. There are some signs that thinks are changing. The position taken a few days ago by Georgian Prime Minister Bidhzina Ivanishvili is principled and commendable. Ivanishvili became the first Caucasus leader to speak directly of the rights of sexual minorities. He said,
"I have said for multiple times previously that sexual minorities are the same citizens as we are... The society will gradually get used to it. I know there is part of the society which fails to accept it. There are law enforcement agencies in our state and we will do everything in order to protect rights of any minority group and that will be the case in this situation too".
Certainly, even on this international day of solidarity there will be those who will try to attack, even violently, the right of others to be different, but change will happen, slowly but surely.
In a wide-ranging speech on countering disinformation amid covid-19, Vera Jourova who is the European Commissioner responsible for Values and Transparency, emphasised this must not be done at the expense of freedom of speech and media.