I’m Gocha Gabodze, 32 years old, queer activist. Currently, I work in the political party Droa, where I am the secretary of social politics.
I am interested in people, especially different people.
I grew up in the 90s, in Tbilisi, in a communal style house, with no electricity and gasification. However, I still remember that period and mutual support well – TV series, music, the search process… I had a happy childhood, even though it was accompanied by economic hardships.
Queerness is an innate human condition, it’s just that different people call it their name at different times. As a child, I didn’t think it was necessary to highlight and advertise it, I thought it was already clear.
I used my less masculine voice, for example, as a form of self expression. This is the age when people perceive differences with special intensity, although it did not hinder me. I had very close classmates and they always supported me, we joked with each other sometimes, but it didn’t feel like bullying. I also really liked to laugh at myself and I think it’s a good quality to be able to joke about yourself. Maybe it was a kind of tactic. Now I don’t use it anymore, I don’t need it, but when I saw people trying to make fun of me, I started to make fun of myself and it always paid off.
At the same time, my interests have always been related to art: I drew, I loved music, I watched movies, I read magazines, I was a collector… Elton John, Madonna and her queer-friendly creations were a big thing for me, and Freddie Mercury, Queen were a source of inspiration. Art was the medium through which I got answers to the questions I had as a teenager. Back then the only TV representation of queer people was in Latin soap operas. Now there is Netflix, where, in my opinion, a bit exaggerated, yet somewhat accurate representation of queer community, so this is no longer secretive.
As a teenager, when you are alone and searching for answers, you still wonder why you are not like everyone else. Everyone probably has depression related to this, but I had supportive people by my side – friends, teachers. There are frequent stories when the opposite happens, but I have a good experience. There were teachers in the school who tried to teach us to communicate and respect each other despite our differences, and this continues to this day. Family may not give a person as much as school and friendship, therefore, I believe that public schools are of special importance, and teaching is the profession that should raise citizens and create a society based on correct values.
Coming out happened at the age of 20-21. When people start asking questions you either pretend or answer. In my case, I answered. I never like leaving any room for gossip. I already had a blog at that time, where I used to write about issues that interest me to this day- about people, who differ due to their circumstances, this has always been the subject of my interest. Even whenI look at my childhood paintings, there are no typical men and women, I made abstractions where I almost never assigned gender. People had no gender, and I liked that neutrality.
I met other queer people back then. There was Facebook and open or anonymous blogs, and these were the spaces where queers wrote their own stories, and it was a way for me to become friends with them. There were spaces where we gathered; this strengthened our psychology at the time; new relationships were formed; one meets new people, and the anxieties they have disappear. We empowered each other, even without realizing it. We left these meetings with a different attitude than we had in society. We were happier and more free, as if we left our masks outside and the boundaries that others had put in place were temporarily abolished.
We were mostly teens, who generated some kind of content online, and this was a way to widen our vision, it was as if I had put on pink glasses. The government at that time was also intolerant, although there were also queer-friendly people who made such a position with public statements, so I had illusions that, yes, there are problems in some part of society, but they can be solved. I thought that what I saw in people even on May 17, 2013 was unimaginable .
I faced reality for the first time on May 17, 2012, when I was doing an internship at Radio Liberty and covering the May 17 march. A parishioner of a certain church saw the procession and a counter-demonstration was organized in half an hour. I could see how queer activists started disappearing – the police, who were supposed to neutralize the counter-demonstrators, tried to silence the queer activists. However, on the second day, it was still possible to hold some kind of rally.
Then it was May 17, 2013, which still haunts me to this day. Then, in fact, seconds saved our lives. I was there as an activist. Perhaps we should have been more organized, but we did not fully understand the risks that were on the other side.
“It was the most difficult experience of my life – I could see a huge crowd coming towards us and even though they were holding crosses in their hands., they were ready to do unimaginable things to us”
Then the state and the church decided to show their strength. In this case, the queers were mere conduits and excuses for the conflict between these two powers. Different groups are used for this purpose periodically, in the 90s this group was ethnic minorities and the public’s contempt was directed towards them. At that time, thousands of Georgian citizens, representatives of the ethnic minority, left the country and went through the most difficult history. Subsequently, this propaganda was transferred to queers and a new demon was created. Dictatorial regimes need an enemy icon that is often changeable and a tool to control the masses. Our governments are not far from it either and choose this type of politics. The state did not protect us there, and it was deliberate, concerted behavior.
It was the same on July 5th, which was orchestrated by the security services. Whenever we get involved in public activities, we can feel state security services breathing at the back or our necks. They wiretap us and tail us with cars, this is the same agency that controls these violent groups. These groups are called skinheads, Georgian march, Alt-info. They are just projects created by the government to control the masses and spread propaganda.
More than activism
Georgian queer activism has been developing before my eyes since 2011. There were meeting spaces before, but they became public in 2011, when we planted flowers on Mtkvari. Since then I have participated in all activities in some form.
“Queer activism is very heavy in the sense that there is always a counterbalance to the state fighting you.”
Instead of being focused on consolidating the community and strengthening it, you have to react to many issues that you would not have to react to if the state was supportive. Therefore, we are still talking about almost the same topics that we talked about for the first time when I got into a queer organization. More precisely, we can no longer talk about what we used to talk about – marriage equality, the right to adopt, the experiences of other countries in this regard. Today, these topics are taboo for queer organizations. Based on the current reality, today queers have to deal with severe socio-economic problems, and all these are secondary tasks. When your basic needs are not met, you can no longer afford to dream of equal rights.
Internalized homophobia is very common. I think we need to help each other grow stronger and the best way to overcome this internalized homophobia is to share our experiences. Every story is different, one person’s path may not be an example for another – there are different experiences in regions, ethnic minorities, disabled people, different families, but sharing it has some effect.
Societal stigma isn’t just about queer people. When I saw that other groups had similar barriers, I started to fight for my rights and other people’s rights, to stand in solidarity. For years, I have been working on the issues of disabled people in a working and activist way, on which I have accumulated a lot of knowledge. I believe that solidarity is the way that makes society, community much stronger. On May 17, I also saw disabled people at demonstrations, and this mutual solidarity of different groups, sharing of each other’s experiences, I think is very important.
The experience may be different, but the problem is always the same. For me, this is also a form of activism, when you don’t think that you should only fight for your own rights – you should fight for others too, it strengthens the community and helps you grow personally.
A person is not created to serve the state, the state is created to serve a person and it should be equally oriented towards all people. There should not be privileged and less privileged groups. When it comes to human rights, socio-economic problems, the state should be an instrument to fulfill people’s goals and dreams.
We are different people and it is with this difference that we strengthen each other, our wealth is in diversity.
I think that Georgian culture is also tolerant, even in “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”, even in Georgian legends we can see many such ideas that became valuable for Europe after the Renaissance. With our value system, we are no different from the developed society. Those stereotypes, which are taken as national values today, are twisted.
Queerness is not a set concept and we should be involved in all activities of society, including politics. I think queer politics is important and relevant in current reality For me, the political union Droa was a combination of a value system in which I saw myself, opportunities and a way to change, because the priority for us is the person. Today, as the social politics’ secretary of this party, I am working on studying the needs of various groups, which will be reflected in the party documents as well as in the election programs that we are going to present to the voters.
We want to have an evidence-based politics: we consult research from various organizations, public defender reports, conduct surveys and in-depth interviews to then propose our solutions to the electorate, among whom we want the queer and disabled communities. Election programs should be person-centered and voters should know in advance, precisely, how they will improve their lives, it should no longer be reduced to slogans. These slogans are also very often just poetry with less content. The main driving force for us is people and offering new ideas and beliefs to these people.
The first steps must necessarily be changing socio-economic politics. Queer people face barriers to education, employment problems, especially when they come out, many employers shy away from hiring them. Also, a disabled person may have a university degree, but the company refuses to hire them just because they do not have adapted bathrooms. People may not be able to use many years of work because there is no state policy to make spaces available for everyone and not just for specific people. Even health politics, where queers face a lot of discrimination. You have to go to specific places to get any services, and you’re constantly looking for a queer-friendly doctors, which is unbelievable. People are leaving the country, many of my friends are emigrating, and on the path of integration into the European Union, such a large flow of emigration is a big problem for the country.
Georgia should be the center of gravity in the region. It should be a free country where all people can realize their potential. It is impossible to live in this country otherwise.
Every day is a new opportunity
I would tell queer people not to spend their time thinking that something will not work out for them and that their identity will be a barrier. Yes, we all go through tough times, but it makes you stronger. Giving up on yourself is a bigger problem than learning to love yourself, even in small steps.
Not everyone has to be out loud about their sexual identity one day, but everyone should have spaces of comfort. People should never give up on their goals and dreams, and every day is an opportunity to take one step closer to that dream.