Monday, November 10, 2014

Exploring Homophobia in Georgia: Part 1

Homophobia is defined as a hatred of gay and lesbian individuals that results in cognitive, affective and behavioral attitudes and can be marked with emotional reactions such as fear, disgust and anger (Wright, Adams, & Bernat, 1999, O’Donohue & Caselles, 1993, Rozin, Haidt, & McCauley, 2008). In recent years, the Georgian population has shown itself to be homophobic in many ways. CRRC data from the 2011 Caucasus Barometer survey shows that the level of homophobia in Georgia is higher than in most European countries and comes close to African countries with 88% of the population claiming that homosexuality can never be justified.

The upcoming series of five blog posts, Exploring Homophobia in Georgia, will look at different aspects, statistical predictors, and possible outcomes of homophobia using CRRC-Georgia’s data from the survey on the events of May 17, 2013, in order to better understand its causes and suggest policy interventions. Although homophobia is often presented as a problem which only affects LGBT individuals, our aim is to show that homophobia is a problem for society at large, since the spread of homophobic attitudes signals intolerance and ignorance, and can prevent the country’s political, economic and social development, not to speak of the protection of human rights. Today’s post provides an overview of problems that may be caused by homophobia.

The events of May 17th (International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia) in 2013 and 2014 in Tbilisi demonstrated that homophobic attitudes can easily transform into physical or symbolic violence. While the Georgian Orthodox Church condemned the violence which occurred on May 17th, 2013, the church was also clearly a central actor in these events, with a number of its priests committing acts of violence against presumed homosexuals or defenders of their rights.

These events have also demonstrated that strong and widespread homophobic attitudes can threaten not only individual human rights in Georgia, but also the country’s aspirations to become a democratic country and join the EU. Not only were the rights of several dozen Georgian citizens violated by compatriots on May 17th, 2013, but in the lead up to the signing of the anti-discrimination bill, the whole of Georgia’s future within the Euro-Atlantic community was put at risk.

Widespread homophobic attitudes can also be dangerous for a country’s economic prosperity, as Richard Florida convincingly argues in his famous 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life. He shows that gay-friendliness can be an economic driver, and that cities that do not welcome differences (including sexual differences) are losing the economic development race.

Finally, homophobia is probably most dangerous at the societal level as it promotes the spread of hatred and aggression in society. As a result of rejection by their families and society, LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit suicide compared with their straight peers. Each episode of LGBT victimization, including physical or verbal harassment and abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior among youth by 2.5 times on average. More importantly, homophobia and its spread are indicators of deeper problems in society such as intolerance and ignorance.

Even though the need for action is evident, the issue of homophobia in Georgia remains unaddressed and understudied. The first step in fighting homophobia is understanding its causes in the local context and the factors that lead to its development (predictors). As an attempt to understand public reactions to the events of May 17th, 2013, CRRC-Georgia surveyed the population of Tbilisi at the end of May 2013 (referred to as the May 17 survey throughout this series of blog posts). A representative sample (542 respondents) of Tbilisi adults was interviewed. The results show a number of controversial trends that require further research.

With the goal of better understanding the causes of homophobia in Georgia, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) funded the research project, "Homophobia in Georgia: Can it be Predicted?" CRRC-Georgia data from the May 17 survey in Tbilisi was examined thoroughly, and major predictors of homophobic attitudes were identified.

In the upcoming blog posts we will discuss major findings on the relationships between homophobia and gender, religion, education and liberal values and present evidence-based policy recommendations.

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