I am Davit Kakhaber, director of the Equality Movement. Despite the fact that many times I had the desire to leave everything and give up, I still couldn’t and in the end, I always came back. Perhaps the reason for this is the hope that I will change something. I had this hope in 2011, when we founded LGBT Georgia; I had this hope on May 17, 2013, despite what happened; I had this hope in 2016 when we were doing HOROOM and I was actively involved in the white noise movement as a proud gay activist; I had this hope in 2019, when the equality movement was facing huge challenges, and I still have this hope today, that I will make a difference. I don’t know how long this enthusiasm will follow me, because there are disappointments and frustrations along the way. I call it the activist curse — once you get into activism, you get angry, you leave, but then you come back.
I was born in Tbilisi. I studied at school 51 and if they asked me what is the scariest place on earth after Gokcen Airport in Turkey, I would say it is school 51.
I don’t have any good memories from school. However, strange as it may seem, I was a victim of bullying not by my classmates, but by my teachers.
“The Georgian Church is a medal that has no two sides, only evil. Nevertheless, I think it played a big role in my development.”
I remember a zoology and botany teacher whom I really liked and thought was my supporter. I was already a student when my mother told me that she called her while I was her student and told her that something was wrong with me and maybe she should take me to a doctor. I was very feminine as a child. I was a very feminine child, this is what she judged as illness, homosexuality.
The second case was with a math teacher. At that time, TV company MZE was airing a terrible program called Taboo, and one of the people there came out as a gay man. The next day, it became known in the whole city that there was a sole gay in this country. They talked about it at school too. In fact, we didn’t have a math lesson, this teacher stood for 40 minutes, looked me in the eyes and talked about what is happening in Georgia in general, how gays “multiplied”, he might have used the term “blue”, I don’t remember anymore. He practically told the whole class that such a person was sitting amongst them. Fortunately, I was lucky and my classmates didn’t pay attention to it, but these 40 minutes remained as a terrible memory, when someone looks at you, accuses you of something, and you don’t understand what the crime is.
When you don’t fit in, you start to look for people who are closer to you. Then I met my childhood friend in 2003. This person was my only childhood friend, not any of my classmates or neighbors. After meeting him, a completely different life began, because other people entered my life with him. At that time, the Internet was a novelty, and forums were active. In addition, I remember that Rustaveli Avenue was closed on Saturdays and Sundays and concerts of rock groups were held. I met a lot of people there and it turned out that they were radically different from those I knew before. It was an alternative to school friends for me.
These people and spaces helped me a lot at an early age to accept myself as I was, without feeling guilty. If I came out in the future, I think it is their merit. Although I now remember a few people specifically, who played a huge role in shaping me as a person.
Then I entered the university, and I was interested in philosophy. At that time, philosophy was “cool” and at some point I liked being a philosopher more than studying philosophy. After that, my studies continued in France, and later in the Czech Republic.
Self-discovery and coming out
I don’t remember the self-discovery process. I have thought about this a lot. All I remember was being feminine, what we call feminine in a patriarchal society. I was always tall and therefore always visible. Because of this, I was always pointed out. This was external though, I don’t remember when internal realization came. There were always jokes, making fun of this femininity, but I was not a victim of severe bullying.
I realized who I was at the age of 12-13.
“We must realize that the enemy is common. Therefore, no matter how different our positions are, there are times when we must all stand together, be it July 5th, May 17th or other dates.”
I first came out to my friend Levan Sutidze. We had a lot in common, he was really my closest person and still is, even though today he and I are in completely different political positions. To this day, he is really like a brother that I grew up with. I wanted him to be the first to know this about me. He is a proud person himself, he may not admit it, but for me, I always looked up to him, it was important what he would say, what he would advise me. To this day, I am like that, when I realize that I am at a dead end, I ask him for his opinion. It’s true that all this ends with me making a mockery, but still (laughs).
I told the family myself. I have a mother, a father and a sister who is 9 years younger than me and whom I love very much. I am lucky to have a lot of support from my family. My mother is very actively involved in many things, she is not an activist, but she always takes a public position, especially when it comes to Ukraine. She is always protesting something. Dad is a quieter person and quietly supports me if I may say so. And my sister is involved in everything I do.
I believe that the privileges I have as an activist and as a person are due to the fact that my family has always supported me. I don’t mean just support due to my identity, but financial support. The main priority of the family finances has always been my education and it meant a lot. We are talking about the 90s, the period when we heated the house with a kerasin stove, but my parents did their best to take me swimming, for example. And this is very important, because when the beneficiaries come to us, they often have problems because their parents stopped supporting them at an early age.
“We need a politically strong LGBTQI community that we all will care for together—we need to know what we want. It’s not enough to just be gay and want to fly the flag. What are we asking for?”
If I didn’t have that support, my life would most likely have turned out very differently. In general, every time I achieve something, I thank my parents for it, even though I was a very independent person and had my first job at the age of 19.
I divide my life into two parts – the period of being in the church and life after leaving it. The fundamental difference is that then I believed in Christ’s resurrection from the dead and today I no longer believe in that .
My belief at that time was probably also determined by school. The tutors were deeply religious women who taught us religion, we often recited “Our Father”. I love fantasy a lot, and in my childhood I saw religion as a part of this genre, just like other books or movies: teachers told us, about the ring of the Antichrist, about Seraphim of Sarov talking to bears somewhere in the forest, and I really liked all this. Then, when I grew up, I became interested in religion, studied it and sincerely believed in it.
I was an altar boy for 5 years. My parents are not religious, but I was. If other people’s parents insisted on their child getting married, my parents begged me not to become a priest.
I didn’t think about it until now, what role all this had in my life. All I’m saying is that the Georgian Church is a medal that doesn’t have two sides, only evil. Nevertheless, I think it played a big role in my development, as I had a huge sense of protest and started looking for alternatives.
At that time, I went to the Caucasian house, where lectures were held on religious issues, including ones by the so-called liberal believers who were very critical of the Church. These were people with intellectual resources, some of whom I still have relations with and have great respect for. There I met Basil Kobakhidze, who gave me a lot of books, so many that I didn’t know how to put them in a taxi. I read those books all summer, and a lot of things changed radically in my visions. I would have been 17-18 years old when I realized that I had to find something else in life. Soon I went to the Inclusive Foundation.
On the other hand, I still appreciate all this very much, for example, the Apostle Paul – despite the fact that I am completely opposed to him ideologically, I think he is a very interesting figure in the history of Europe, because at least the idea of tolerance and diversity belongs to this man. Aesthetically, I still like Christianity very much, I couldn’t say the same about other religions, except for Buddhism, which is probably more a philosophy than a religion.
In 2008, my friend and I went to the Inclusive Foundation. It was the first LGBT organization in Georgia. I volunteered in many things there, including the community meetings that were held on Fridays and for many people were the only space where we could get together and have a good time. I was 18 years old then.
The whole charm of Inclusive was in what no longer exists, which is only natural – we looked forward to Friday, knowing that we would get an hour-long talk or discussion by a very interesting person and then a very good event where we could have fun, talk to each other. Professors from Ilia State University came and talked about interesting topics, film screenings were held and the room was completely full. All this had a kind of soul, which, unfortunately, none of the non-governmental organizations, and moreover, not even the big gay spaces, could preserve. However, we must remember that at the time this was done at the expense of the fact that most of the people who went there were hiding their identity.
Then came Identity, where I also volunteered. And in 2011, my friends and I decided to create a second organization, which would be more community-based, LGBT Georgia (future equality movement). Davit Mikheil Shubladze was the director. It was such a small organization that I remember we were at home with him, in a one-room apartment, and we locked ourselves in the kitchen, so there was no conflict of interest during the board meetings. If someone had told me that after 11 years this organization would be the largest not only in Georgia, but also in the region, with so many services, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.
Soon many sad things happened in the Identity. In 2016, there was a need for a strong organization as the community grew. This coincides with the time when my friends and I decided to start the first queer space series, HOROOM Nights. Suddenly people appeared out of nowhere, as if everyone was hiding, or we thought they were, but 1000 people came to the first event. It was a great responsibility and a great shock. The equality movement was a response to a demand—there is a community, these people have challenges, they need a service, and what do you do as an activist? We decided to do our best to give these people what they wanted based on our competence.
“We need a politically strong LGBTQI community”
To defeat homophobia, the state must have a strong political will. When a state has the will, it has all the tools to succeed. Today, unfortunately, the church and the government are dancing a waltz, which excludes the possibility of the state having any will in the near future. We have to do everything we can to convince the authorities – they may not want to, but they have an obligation and they should do the bare minimum at least.
Unemployment is a huge issue. One must not have enough time to come to Rustaveli on May 17th to beat someone.
“Over the years, every frustration has been followed by tremendous growth, and we are stronger after it all. The only thing that scares me is that people are leaving Georgia. Activism will soon become very difficult.”
The state should realize that what we NGOs do is their responsibility, be it normal health care, normal legal space or something else. It is simply impossible for citizens to rely on non-governmental organizations. People were left in the streets during the Covid-19 and all they could do was contact NGO-s. Although I am proud of this organization, it is like a child to me and all the activities we do are very important, I hope that one day we will no longer need to be people’s only hope.
There is a need for a politically strong LGBTQI community, which we all need to care about together—we need to know what we want. It’s not enough to just be gay and want to fly the flag. What are we fighting for? That’s why I think that strengthening the community comes first.
If the community is not strong, there is no point in talking about activism- only the privileged people and those who had nowhere to go will remain. To strengthen the community, a good economy and social situation is needed.
Division in the community
We Georgians are not special in this, every country has such experience, organizations have different visions. On the other hand, there were also many personal problems, these conflicts were not based on pure ideological confrontation. These personal things, unfortunately, have not been overcome to this day, I myself am a part of all this. Perhaps we need more time.
We have the principle of “do no harm” and we always act in the interest of community members, because we are a community organization. I understand that someone may want to do something, but our priority is to know that this is the desire of the community, not a few private individuals. However, these people are also members of the community, and therefore, despite ideological differences, our position has never been not to interfere with others’ work. As to how much we get involved in something is another matter.
It is hard to say what the future holds. The context changes all the time. The political context of things was drastically different just one year ago. What I believe is that even if 2018 there was a huge divide, it was not an unequivocally negative process. Activism was revived. It is better to have many organizations, many visions and strategies, we just need to understand that our enemy is common. Therefore, no matter how different our positions are, there are times when we must all stand together, be it July 5th, May 17th or other dates. Based on my position, I hope the situation will change and we will make progress in solving these conflicts.
From 2008 until now
Compared to 2008, today the community has grown. In 2013, we were a maximum of 30 people, even less. Today, when we talk about the queer community, we are talking about thousands of people who are involved in the process of strengthening the community in various ways, including in entertainment spaces that have acquired cult status.
Today, there are 5 queer spaces in the city, about 6 non-governmental organizations are working, services are available free of charge to community members, which would otherwise be expensive. Unfortunately, all of this took years of struggle that took a toll on the mental health of many activists as we were wrestling with a monster.
Over the years, every frustration has been followed by tremendous growth, and we became stronger after all. The only thing that scares me is that people are leaving Georgia. Soon activism will become very difficult because the activists will be gone.
What is most important for me and brings me the most pride is that we LGBTQI people somehow have become a very important part of the civil society.
Now we have the luxury of having public discussions about terminology and debating on how many colors should be on the flag. It means that things are better. However, I think a lot more things will happen in this country much faster thanks to TikTok.