Protests for and against LGBT rights in Moldova and Georgia

On 17 May a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights march took place in Moldovan capital Chisinau. Around one hundred people participated. Next to this group, the same amount of people hold a protest against gay rights. This happened in Georgia as well on the same day, due to a newly adopted anti-discrimination law.

17 May march Moldova
The march of 17 May is the third time a gay-rights parade was successfully held in the country. Other attempts were either banned by authorities or broken up by demonstrators. During this protest demonstrators were present as well, while orthodox groups organized a counter protest and their participants jeered the marchers. The police prevented further disrupting and detained several protesters.

The march was part of a weeklong “Rainbow Over the Dniester” LGBT festival, which includes several other events. 17 May is a symbolic day: on 17 May 1990 the World Health Organization removed homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Moldova and LGBT rights
On 12 July 2013 a new ‘anti-propaganda’ law came into force in Moldova, which happened rather secretly; “politicians specifically sought to avoid debating the bill in public.” The law forbids “distribution of public information aimed at the propagation of prostitution, paedophilia, pornography or and any other relations than those related to marriage or family.” If people do not follow this law, a fine up to €480 can be imposed, next to a possible suspension of activities ranging from three months to a year. One month before the law came into force the European Commission for Democracy argued that this law breached the European Convention on Human Rights, which is legally binding on Moldova. The government made clear to Moldovan LGBT organisation GENDERDOC-M that “the law would not infringe freedom of expression with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity”, However, the European Commission did not find this sufficient enough. After three months the Moldovan Parliament decided to annul the law. One plausible reason for this could be the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, that was hold one month after the annual. During this meeting the EU decided whether it initiates an Association Agreement with Moldova.

17 May march Georgia
On 17 May demonstrators against LGBT rights in Georgia marched towards the Holy Trinity Cathedral in the capital Tbilisi. The group carried a banner with the line: “May 17th is the day of family strength.” The group was protesting against a newly adopted anti-discrimination law on 2 May, which also includes “protection against discrimination on the ground of gender identity and sexual orientation.” The bill will go into force after President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who is in favour, signs the bill. Although the bill sounds promising, human rights organizations were criticising it because they see it as a “significantly watered down version of the draft originally developed by the Ministry of Justice” because “it no longer envisaged efficient implementation mechanisms, including financial penalties for perpetrators.”

The Orthodox Church is not amused with the bill and wants “gender identity and sexual orientation” to be removed. Church members warned lawmakers of political consequences for not heeding Patriarchate’s calls, during a parliamentary session on 29 April. Outside were street rallies on this day, led by priests.

On 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) the Orthodox Church protested again, in favour of “family strength”. Around one hundred people gathered outside the old parliament building to demand the authorities to revoke the anti-discrimination law.

People in favour of LGBT rights did not protest, which has to do with an event of last year that turned violent. On 17 May 2013 clashes broke out, which the police failed to prevent. Due to these events LGBT groups decided to not hold an event this year. Several local human rights organizations shared their concerns about this violence. They further argue that violence against various minority groups, including the LGBT community, has increased.

In other Eastern European and Caucasus countries marches took place as well. There have not been reported much violence or disruption (yet). In Armenia the LGBT rights group PINK Armenia published an open letter to officials, including the president and prime minister, about their concerns about homophobia. They further called for actions “to ensure constitutional rights of all citizens”.

Although in theory the LGBT community has equal rights in Moldova and Georgia, implementing and committing to these rights is sometimes difficult for the authorities. Furthermore, among a large part of society LGBT rights are not commonly accepted (yet). Implementing rules just because the EU requires this in order to keep working on Association Agreements is not enough; to make actual improvements it is of great importance to raise public awareness and create a dialogue within these countries.

By Laura Ritter

Sources: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Gay Armenia, The European Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights I, The European Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights II, Civil. ge I, II

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