How LGBTQIA+ Topics Were Left Out of the Human Rights Action Plan

Gracia Lam / The New Yorker

In the first working version of the National Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights, nothing is said about LGBTQIA+ specific topics. Moreover, LGBTQ+ people as a social group are not mentioned anywhere. At the end of October, a multi-page working version of the action plan was sent to the organizations a day before the meeting.

The action plan combines 4 directions of priority:

  • Protection of human rights in the administration of justice;
  • Right to health;
  • Equality and minority rights;
  • Rights of internally displaced persons and refugees.

The action plan mentions various vulnerable social groups, describes activities, talks about changes that should be made for a more equal and dignified life, and sets a number of goals, on which different agencies are supposed to work on in the next 2 years.

The only social group that is not even mentioned in the action plan is the LGBTQ+ community. Nowhere in the document is it mentioned, admitted that queer people are oppressed, there are challenges in the direction of equality, which need to be actively worked on. It is clear that the specific needs and challenges of LGBTQIA+ have been completely ignored. Given the political homophobia in the country, it was even expected that these specific challenges would be avoided.

First There Was the National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights

The National Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights is based on the National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights, which was approved by the Parliament in March 2023. The national strategy is a 6-year document, based on which 2-year action plans are created.

Not so long ago, the European Commission recommended the granting of candidate status to Georgia and published an extensive report. The document describes a number of issues that Georgia should work on. Among them, it is emphasized that the National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights did not contain instructions on the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, and the process of developing the document was inconsistent and non-inclusive.

“The development of an action plan based on the national human rights strategy is underway, and in early November, the civil society was involved in the consultation. This consultation process should continue to ensure broad and inclusive engagement, and civil society and international partners should be more involved in the process,” the report states.

The presentation of the first working version of the action plan was preceded by this report – however, observing the development of the process, it is clear that the government is missing international requirements and is trying to get out of the background with the fake involvement of civil society in the process of developing the strategy, and subsequently the action plan, while at the same time leaving the LGBTQIA+ social group behind the document.

The legal expert of the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), Elene Kaikhosroshvili, in a conversation with Aprili Media, notes that the organizations tried to be effectively involved in the process of developing the strategy, and subsequently the action plan, but this did not happen.

“We had many attempts to be effectively involved in the development of the human rights strategy document, not just formally. Nevertheless, in August 2022, when all organizations have a shortage of human resources, the government administration sent a finished document. However, it must be said that there was not even one organization working on LGBTQIA+ issues in this correspondence, this document was made available to us through a donor organization. We had only a few days to get acquainted with the document, which, of course, was not enough, and considering that this document was completely new, we were not involved in the process of its development”, – says Elene, noting that after getting acquainted with the document, the they also attended a scheduled meeting with civil organizations, where donors, LGBTQIA+ and other social groups’ rights organizations expressed concern about the omission of LGBTQIA+ issues, although these opinions were not included in the final document of the strategy.

Anna Aptsiauri, project coordinator and legal officer of the Equality Movement, says in a conversation with us that they have not received any feedback regarding the recommendations prepared on the first working version of the strategy, and Niko Tatulashvili, the adviser on human rights issues of the Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, has left the joint letter of the organizations unanswered.

“LGBTQIA+ organizations sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister’s adviser on human rights issues, which also remained unanswered. In addition to the obvious lack of cooperation and openness, we did not receive a single explanation about the lack of reflection of the recommendations we sent or, in general, the disappearance of the LGBTQIA+ community from the strategy,” says Anna.

Although most of the reservations were not fulfilled, LGBTQIA+ issues were mentioned in the 2018-2020 Action Plan. According to the co-director of Tbilisi Pride, Mariam Kvaratskhelia, the recent changes are even more alarming in light of the previous circumstances.

“We got the picture that even the records from the previous time were removed from the existing strategy. The new strategy and action plan reflect all social groups except LGBTQIA+”.

What We Should Know About the National Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights

The government administration sent the first, extensive working version of the action plan to non-governmental organizations one day before the meeting. The meeting was held because of the initiative of Niko Tatulashvili, who noted that the main goal is to make the process as inclusive as possible, so that together with all interested parties, they can reconcile their positions and adopt an action plan that takes into account the interests, goals and tasks of all interested groups. According to him, the meetings would continue and all interested parties would be listened to.

Aprili Media tried to contact Niko Tatulashvili several times during the preparation of the article, but without any results. He did not respond to phone calls and messages.

The representatives of the organizations working on LGBTQIA+ rights unanimously note that the 1-day period for familiarizing with the first working version of the action plan was not enough to get familiar with its content.

The civil society organizations addressed the government in a joint letter in June and expressed their willingness to be involved in the process of developing the action plan. However, in the end, we got a situation where non-governmental organizations were summoned to review the already prepared document and were not even given a reasonable time to review the plan developed without their involvement.

“When the work on the action plan started, we were asked to forward the issues on which the civil sector worked together in a coordinated manner. They took out the issues we sent them — left in what they liked, dropped what they didn’t like, and sent us the first working version of an action plan that completely ignores the needs of LGBTQ+ people. The action plan has many pages and one day was not enough to get to know it, therefore, we did not go into the discussion of the content at the meeting, but we noted that the process was rushed, the document problematic and unacceptable, where the challenges of the LGBTQ+ social group are completely invisible”, Mariam Kvaratskhelia notes and says, That they didn’t listen to the argument that explained the omission of LGBTQIA+ issues.

According to Elene Kaikhosroshvili, the lack of significant involvement of organizations in the development of the action plan and the accelerated process show that the government administration does not see this process as democratic.

“The process of creating the document cannot be democratic if the people who are the target group are not involved, if you do not take into account the knowledge that exists in LGBTQIA+ community organizations regarding the needs and challenges of queer people. The document has not yet been approved and we are waiting to see what happens. We’ll see if at least a part of LGBTQIA+ issues will be included in the final version”.

Requirements and Expectations Related to the Action Plan

Due to political instrumentalization, society sees LGBTQIA+ issues as a problem and does not perceive it as a constituent part of human rights. The national action plan for the protection of human rights should focus on an equal vision, which does not exclude any social group.

According to Elene Kaikhosroshvili, some of the issues certainly overlap with LGBTQIA+ people, but queer LGBTQIA+ specific issues are completely neglected, which is problematic.

“The current action plan sees the LGBTQIA+ community as a victim of discrimination or violence, and outside of this context, it ignores that the citizen, as a person, has needs specific to themselves,” says Elene, and highlights a number of issues that could not be/were not included in the action plan – “For example, access to quality healthcare and labor, trans-specific healthcare issues, legal recognition of gender should be mentioned. Moreover, in this regard, we also have the decision of Strasbourg, which instructs the state to develop a mechanism for legal recognition of gender)”.

Mariam Kvaratskhelia tells us that they demand that the state see the needs of all its citizens, social groups, including LGBTQIA+ people.

“We do not ask for privileges. We want the state to see the needs of all citizens. Among them, when talking about protection from violence and discrimination, when vulnerable groups are mentioned, the LGBTQ+ group should not be left out. The state should see that LGBTQIA+ people belong to a historically oppressed group and this should be written in the action plan, otherwise the state itself is discriminating. Protection of rights is a long process, but it has to start somewhere. Despite this, we see that steps are being taken back again and again,” Mariam tells us, noting that if LGBTQ+ issues are not reflected in the action plan, it will be a statement that the government does not care about queer people and chooses homophobia.

Anna Aptsiauri points out that the action plan is a kind of guide for the government and government agencies, which can become the basis for a number of legal, political or institutional changes, and the vanishing of LGBTQIA+ people from the document will significantly complicate the advocacy of necessary legislative or institutional changes at various levels.

“In the action plan, at least, there should be a unified vision of the state to overcome homophobia, hate crimes or hate speech; vision of timely, quick and effective response to cases of organized violence; the vision of the fight against so-called ultra-right violent groups; ensuring the safety of gatherings and demonstrations; trans-specific health issues”.

Sequential Neglect of the LGBTQIA+ Issues

The international community calls on the authorities to take steps to protect LGBTQIA+ rights and ensure equality. And now, together with the recommendation to grant the candidate status, we have a published report, which also talks about LGBTQIA+ issues. However, the growing queerphobic rhetoric, political homophobia and apparent attempts to silence LGBTQ+ issues from high-ranking politicians make it difficult to determine what expectations there may be for an amendment to the Action Plan.

Our respondents recalled a number of cases that indicate that the authorities are consistent in their queerphobic actions and are trying to further push back LGBTQ+ issues and limit queer people’s access to a decent life.

Elene Kaikhosroshvili recalls the decision of 2017, when marriage was defined by the constitution as the union of a woman and a man for the purpose of creating a family. According to her, there was no need for this at all, because such a definition already existed in the Civil Code.

“Since the definition of marriage, the effectiveness of the relationship between us and the state regarding LGBTQIA+ issues is decreasing more and more. This situation has reached its peak in recent years.”

Anna Aptsiauri talks about the gender equality concept document and notes that despite their involvement in the development of the concept, the final version was changed.

“The document submitted to the vote was changed without any additional consultations or explanations. Finally, the concept paper says nothing about the queer group. In addition, it defines “gender equality” narrowly/exclusively as equality between men and women.

Mariam Kvaratskhelia talks about the violent attacks of July 5, 2021, whose organizers were not punished, and which was followed by the raid of the Pride Festival area on July 8, 2023.

“On July 5, after the injuring of journalists and activists, we didn’t even get an effective investigation, moreover, homophobic rhetoric is also voiced by government officials. Effective actions, and preventive ones, would have been there if the events of July 8 had not happened, but the police simply stood aside this year too. Instead of the government thinking about complex problems, it is creating an image of its own citizens as an enemy, it has made a scapegoat out of queer people, and if it succeeds, it will not be surprising if they to try to limit the rights of other social groups in the future.”

The homophobic rhetoric of government officials became even more frequent after the March 2023 protests, when the parliament had to reject the Russian law.

According to Elene Kaikhosroshvili, based on the statements after the March actions, it is clear that the government considers the instrumentalization of LGBTQIA+ issues as part of the election strategy.

“We have to somehow manage to prevent election actors from manipulating homophobia. They will definitely try to do this, but the main thing is not to deepen the polarization. The public reacted a little to this, let’s see that they are just trying to bring controversy. They try to achieve the goal at the political and institutional level, as well as with the help of the media. “LGBTQ+ people are deliberately singled out as an oppressed group,” says Elene.