Harassment, discrimination and oppression of people on the grounds of their gender identity and sexuality is definitely not new in a homophobic and misogynistic society. Because of these labels, queer people and women have to fight constantly in various fields, to avoid being insulted, excluded, killed, or threatened with it. Public declaration of gender identity, sexuality, and visibility in any form, in most cases, become the cause of acute aggression and hatred towards them.
For people who do not conform to the heteronormative world, many areas, including the labor market, are much more limited than, for example, the average statistical heterosexual cisgender man.
According to the 2021 data of the National Statistics Office of Georgia, 17.5% of the total population in Georgia is below the absolute poverty line. It is difficult for most of the population to join the labor market and fully or partially live up to their potential. Considering this and the existing practice, it is easy to understand that for the representatives of minorities, who are oppressed by the society on different grounds, it becomes almost impossible.
Discrimination, Bullying, and Humiliation — Queer People’s Experiences in Work Relations
People discriminated against on the basis of gender and sexuality have extremely limited job options and are forced to, first of all, hide their identity and extremely limit their gender expression, which deprives them of their authenticity and creates a full discomfort even in their existence, because they cannot express themselves as they really are. This discomfort and second-rate self-perception is a kind of prevention mechanism for queers to avoid harassment.
At the same time, they have to be employed in jobs which are dangerous and cannot fully ensure a respected existence, both financially and morally.
After starting a job of limited choices and ignoring dangers, you may have to face harassment and discrimination based on gender and sexuality while on the job. In some cases, people oppressed on the basis of SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) have to endure continuous harassment over the time, and sometimes they are forced to give up their jobs and live without income, because the harassers are usually privileged people, and, as a result of conflict resolution, people in higher positions almost never support queers.
Catalina Jorjeuli is a transgender woman who has experienced oppression based on her gender identity in many fields, including labor relations. Before the transition, she had to serve in the armed forces. According to her, she knew that this job was not ideal, because it was mainly staffed by people with conservative ideology. Nevertheless, with the encouragement of the people around her and the lack of other work options, she decided to start working there.
Catalina repeatedly received harsh remarks from the leadership in the armed forces for her gender expression, and oppression and discrimination from her team members.
“I served in the armed forces for 15 years. The form of service of my work there was based on a regular employment contract, but without a contract. They bullied me at work, pointed out why I presented my body “like a pederast”. When I finally fought back and spoke out about my gender identity, they gave me out to my family. Later, I publicly came out myself. This happened in 2021. I immediately felt indifferent attitude from the management. I was told that I would lose all my friends and be left alone. Besides, they couldn’t take responsibility for my safety outside of work if something happened from the side of my relatives.
I knew that the armed forces were made up of servants living under the strict conservative regime of Georgia, but at first I ended up there because of increasing pay, interest in the military, or encouragement from my family. Afterwards, it was very difficult to find other alternatives. It turned out that, I basically spent years in an emotional or moral war with the crowd around me, and in the end I had to force myself to leave the environment where I spent so much time,” Catalina recalls.
Catalina thought about the possibility of compensation for discrimination based on gender identity later, when she had already left the armed service for a long time. At the same time, Catalina recalls the reasons for which she was rejected in different companies. Although she is now employed, she is planning to leave the country because of the problems she faces based on her gender identity.
“When I was forced to leave, I no longer wanted to be there anyway. I was less informed then, I believe. Now, I think the organizations didn’t get me to see a decent lawyer to explain to me that I could fight for compensation because of I was forced to leave my job based on my gender identity.
All big companies seem to distance themselves from discrimination, homophobia and transphobia, but in reality I hear different stories from people who were fired because of their sexuality and gender identity, although this was not stated as an official reason.
Also, when I started looking for a new job as a transgender woman, everyone tried to not hire me for many different reasons. For example, in many supermarkets, I was told that they could not stop the fights and conflicts with customers and could not help us and so on. Apart from the police, I can’t think of anyone who trains their employees.
I finally started working and am currently a temporary cleaner in a bar. I think I’m pretty well protected by the bar in this case.
Before starting to work in a bar, I worked in one of the fast food chains for a bit. During my working there, with the middle managers, I felt that something was not right, and only there I did not come out as a transgender. I was still in the internship stage there, and when I noticed this, I just left the internship,” says Catalina.
Another respondent of April Media, conditionally Niki, who preferred to remain anonymous, is an agender person, although in many cases they does not focus on their gender identity and does not say that they are agender, because people get confused when talking about their gender identity. Most people have never heard the term agender. That’s why Niki often limits themselves to their sexuality when talking about themselves – they says that they are a lesbian.
For them, the first obstacle associated with employment is gender expression. Their expression as an agender person does not fit into the dichotomous norms that society has imposed on men and women.
“I mostly try to get a job in sales, administration and service. Currently, I can no longer be in the field of service, because I physically cannot. I would love to work as a waiter, but I can’t. Also, I always start a job with a contract.
In general, I am very nice to my team of coworkers and I do not like conflict. I try to work well with them. There were cases when they hired me and employed me, but later they didn’t like to hire me because of unknown reasons.
No one directly tells you that you know what, now I’m firing you because I don’t like how you look, your sexuality, etc. They always give you one reason or the other.
I remember once my then partner, who I was having problems, came to work. My boss got so angry about this that he told me, if this happens again, you will either have to quit, or I will fire you. I had to leave that job because of that.
Years of experience allows you to figure out how to talk to whom, what to say and what not to say. You can’t allow yourself to talk about things, which is already a very bad moment. So, at work, I had to be very detailed, pedantic and scrupulous about who I could talk to with regard to work processes and who I should run away from.
Generally, it is very difficult for me to find a job, because very often the first thing that gains the attention is your visuals.
In some places there is a dress code requirement too. So, you are forced to accept an unwanted job that you don’t really want to do. I had a similar experience a few years ago. I started working physically, as a result of which I “discovered” a hernia between my vertebrae, because my body could not take it anymore. Now I can’t do a physical job, and I’m forced to look for something which is not too physically demanding, but again and again, you just can’t start many jobs because the focus is on appearance. This is is a very big problem for me.
At one of the places, for example, they asked me to wear makeup. I was a consultant in one of the very famous stores. On the one hand, I understand that you may need makeup, but when you’re in sales, makeup doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you do and how you do your job. Because of this I was forced to leave. However, when I started the job, I asked them not to ask me for a dress code and make-up, and said that I would do my job in such a way that they would be satisfied. And their answer was that they really like the way I do my work, the clients are very satisfied, many like you, they praise you, and then there was a “but” about makeup,” Niki remembers.
Niki also faced an attempt of invasion of their personal space from a coworker in one of the companies.
“I faced direct discrimination in one of the companies. I used a rainbow as my Facebook cover photo. One of my coworkers, who is a young guy, asked me if I used a rainbow as my cover. I said yes. Why did you use it? I prepared for a battle here. Us, members of the queer community have all the arguments memorized like hallelujah. I told him that he had nothing to do with my cover photo and that this was my personal space. We finally got to the point where the boss intervened in our already serious fight. If he hadn’t stopped us, the guy probably would have hit me or I would have hit him.
I am still friends with my former colleagues from my old jobs. If you work with the same people for 2-3 years, you develop certain relationships. A few months ago, there was a case that one of the employees, who has helped me many times in my work, and I have helped her many times in her work, and with whom I had a very warm relationship, posted a very bad thing in the days before the Pride day, when protests against the Pride Parade were announced. This woman shared an Orcs post for some reason which said something like, “let’s join the anti-Pride protest.” I wrote to her about this and asked, do you realize that you are doing cruelty, when I know that you are a good person? You are encouraging people to hurt other people. If you don’t like something in people’s lives, don’t interfere at all, I said. I wrote very diplomatically because, as I said before, we know how to speak in these kinds of cases. She didn’t reply, and just blocked me. That was her answer. This made me realize that I was very, very wrong. I was glad that I didn’t trust her enough to talk to her about my personal life,” Niki says.
Even now, Niki has to work for a company whose CEO has a different view on fundamental values, but they continue to work there because this job is crucial to them. In addition, they cooperate with community organizations and are involved in activism, however, due to lack of time, it is difficult for them to attend meetings that are directly focused on the employment and empowerment of the community members. We are constantly in this mode as members of the community — we have to work in companies that are not safe for us, or the conditions are bad. Our “slogan” became – “I work, whether I want it or not”.
We have to work to save ourselves. Even now, I work in a company whose director is a Soviet relict, and sometimes I hear things that I strongly disagree with, but I still have to continue working.
I have been working with community organizations for a very long time, since about 2006. Because of that, I am aware of the services that the mentioned organizations offer to the community members. However, I’m physically unable to attend employment meetings because I’m have to be at work,” Niki says.
What Is Written in the Law and What Is the Role of the State?
According to a report published by EMC, the right to employment and labor is addressed in Article 6 of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. CESCR General Comment N18 emphasizes that “any discrimination in access to employment and retention of employment based inter alia on sexual orientation is prohibited.”
Also, according to the Convention N111 of the International Labor Organization, states must undertake to define and implement a national policy, the purpose of which is to promote equality of work and activity opportunities or treatment by methods appropriate to national conditions and practices, in order to eliminate any discrimination against individuals.
According to Keti Bakhtadze, a lawyer of the “Women’s Initiatives Support Group” (WISG) organization, effective mechanisms prevent discrimination in labor relations, and in EU member states there are not only fast legal mechanisms, but also a consistent policy against discrimination, and this is what conditions all people, including protecting the labor rights of queers.
As for the national legal environment, according to the EMC report, the principle of prohibition of discrimination in labor relations is the scope of regulation of Article 2 of the Labor Code, which prohibits discrimination in labor and pre-contractual relations due to sexual orientation or other views. It should be mentioned that gender identity and sexual characteristics are not clearly given in this norm, although we can still consider it as a part of the “other” category.
Keti Bakhtadze points out that both the labor legislation and, in general, the norms against discrimination in Georgia provide for the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, which means that in case of an appeal, both the court and the labor inspection and the Public Defender. Bakhtadze says that the justice in the country is generally not independent and fast, and queer people have even less access to it. The reason for this is that judges do not close court sessions, which is extremely problematic, because the majority of LGBTQ people living in Georgia have not publicly come out. In addition, one of Bakhtadze’s problems is the lack of appeal.
“The mechanism of the public defender is not effective, because his decision is of a recommendatory nature and is not mandatory to be implemented,” says Keti Bakhtadze.
She emphasizes that especially since 2018, since marriage equality was banned by the constitution, state policy is generally insensitive to the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the most important problems that LGBTQI people have to face are not part of the state at all. In addition, according to him, political homophobia has especially strengthened in the last two years.
“The state does nothing to reduce homophobia and transphobia, on the contrary, specific politicians strengthen the existing stigma and stereotypes and use them to gather political capital. So, it is impossible to talk about a specific important issue that needs a state action plan at this stage.
The main problem is that queer people avoid addressing it as much as possible. The reason for this is the high level of homophobia in society and the fear of coming out. LGBTQI community fears that if they use legal mechanisms to address their experiences of discrimination, they will become victims of secondary victimization. Besides, these mechanisms are inflexible and stretched over a long period of time because of which their ineffectiveness is also a reason for not applying.
In general, the state does not have a policy against the prevention of discrimination. Moreover, instrumentalization of various groups, including queers, is the order of the day. Political groups not only do not listen to members of the LGBTQI community, but also use issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity for their own agenda.
In our organization, there is a high level of compliance and consultation regarding this matter, but consultations stay as consultations. After we inform a person about the path they will have to take to restore the violated right, the vast majority of them refrain from using any mechanism. This information is also reflected in the organization’s research“, – says Bakhtadze.
According to the EMC report, it is worth noting the fact that none of the legal acts, including the Labor Code, provides for the employer’s positive obligation to provide a safe and healthy working environment for the employee, and therefore, does not allocate specific mechanisms of responsibility. The organization thinks that this is not the best practice, because international experience confirms that often the responsibility is not only with the harasser themselves, but also with the employer who knew (or should have known) about these facts and did not take adequate measures to prevent harassment and discriminatory treatment.
“When the employer knows that the employee has access to fast and independent justice, they protect the labor rights as much as possible and take into account the situation of the employees. In case of queer people, this general rule is added to the high level of homophobia and transphobia in society, which makes result-oriented work in this direction even more impossible, – says Bakhtadze.
Lika Gulbani, a representative of the queer-activist left-wing/trans community organization “Temida”, says that the lack of employment and decent working environment/conditions for the queer community is one of the biggest challenges, which affects the significant deterioration of their quality of life and is related to the limitation of access to other basic needs, including proper housing and essential medical services. Some community members, especially people whose gender self-expression or sexual orientation was declared from an early age, are forced to stop their education, which is one of the factors that complicates employment. In addition, systemic homo, bi and transphobia often manifests itself at the interview stage, and the employer rejects a queer person at the interview stage, whose experience and knowledge may completely match the employer’s requirements.
“Directly in the workplace, in labor relations, there are often barriers to access to resources, excluding queer people from the benefits that other employees might have. Also, the lack of an internal anti-discrimination policy is problematic, and in this regard, unregulated relations between the employer and the employee, as well as directly between the employees, which leads to the fact that LGBTQ+ people experience discriminatory and humiliating treatment from their own employees, and most of all this is due to their gender identity and self-expression, and/or their sexual orientation. The trans* community also faces additional challenges in this regard, such as hiding their gender identity and being forced to position themselves with a name and gender identity that is not desirable for them. If a trans* person does not hide his gender identity, there is a high probability that they will be removed from the workplace or become a victim of various forms of discrimination and degrading treatment. – says Gulbani.
What Is Written in the Studies?
Oppression may not only occur because of one sign, but may be multi-layered. Therefore, the experiences of oppressed people vary. Among them, the experiences of people oppressed in several different reasons are especially acute. For example, a subset of women who are less privileged than men might be queer women. An intersectional concept focuses on the multiple layers of oppression and aims to cover all the layers that oppressed people face in different ways in order to better understand their experiences. If we consider the issue from the mentioned approach, we will see lesbian, bisexual and transgender women as one of the most discriminated groups. Society oppresses them both on the grounds of gender and sexuality.
According to a 2023 report by the international human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, lesbian, bisexual and queer women, and non-binary people (LBQ+), are the targets of violence by security services, family members and others all around the world. The 211-page report, “This Is Why We Became Activists: Violence Against Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, and Non-Binary People,” is a sort of an investigation of violence and discrimination that is global and includes data analysis from 26 countries.
“Lesbian, bisexual and queer women around the world are leading human rights challenges. However, the extent of brutal attacks, legal discrimination, and sexual harassment that this community faces is largely unaccounted,” said Erin Kilbride, HRW’s LGBTQI and Women’s Rights Researcher.
The report identified 10 main directions of rights violations. Labor rights and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexuality at work are on the list.
LBQ+ activists from Argentina, El Salvador and Kyrgyzstan have drawn attention to the problem of employment of LBQ+ people with masculine expressions. According to them, they are forced to work in such services where safety norms are not controlled.
“Most of us got involved in sex work because the labor market is discriminatory, but when the police raid houses and other institutions, masculine lesbians are treated like men – they are handcuffed, kneed, and their shirts are pulled off their bodies with violence,” says a lesbian human rights activist involved in sex work, from El Salvador.
Oppression based on gender identity and sexuality in labor relations is one of the important challenges and painful issues for Georgia. This is revealed by HRW’s analysis in the local context: the organization published its annual report on the current situation in the direction of human rights in 100 countries, including Georgia, in January 2023. According to the document, violence against LGBTQ, and also against gay people is worrying. The document focuses on unfair labor conditions, as well as on improper investigation of crimes committed by law enforcement officers and illegal surveillance.
Another study, which covers both labor relations and other areas of legal status, was prepared by the “Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center” (EMC. The current name of the organization is “Social Justice Center”), authored by Lika Jalaghania. The purpose of the report is to show a complete picture of the legal status of LGBTI people, to analyze the existing legislative, institutional and legal situation and to develop recommendations based on complex assessments for the state and other institutions working on LGBTI rights in order to promote the protection of the rights of LGBTI people.
According to the research report, “Legal Status of LGBTI Persons in Georgia”, LGBTI persons are often subjected to discriminatory treatment in the workplace. The scale of unequal treatment is especially acute in the pre-contractual stage. Despite the prohibition of discrimination, we read in the document that the norm could not ensure the prevention of unequal treatment, because there is no perfect mechanism that would establish control over the employment process by employers.
The study also notes that LGBTI people face harassment practices from colleagues and employers at the workplace. And the provision of a safe and harassment-free space does not exist in the country, which creates a hostile working environment for LGBTI persons and forces them to leave the workplace.
“Labor relations are the part of social rights that often affects the enjoyment of other rights. The labor market for LGBT people is limited. Often their choice of work is dictated by spaces and places that seem safer or less normative to them, but many LGBT people do not have the opportunity to do so, and are therefore forced to work in an environment where they constantly have to hide their orientation and identity to avoid discrimination. and the practice of harassment by employees”, can be read in the study.
According to the document’s conclusion, the mentioned legislative and institutional problems require substantial understanding by the state — it is necessary to take into account the obligation to create an internal institutional mechanism for responding to facts of discrimination in the labor legislation, which will help the LGBTI community to protect themselves from unequal and humiliating treatment.
Community Organization Services that Promote the Employment and Empowerment of the Queer Community
Local community organizations are working to create equal rights and opportunities for queer people, as well as a respectful life, including labor relations. Services of these organizations include informing queer people about their labor rights, introducing them to job opportunities, legislation on non-discriminatory approaches in the workplace, and more. Implementation of the mentioned services are carried out both through various information campaigns, as well as through meetings and trainings.
The non-governmental organization “Equality Movement”, which works both on raising public awareness, as well as on strengthening the LGBTQ+ community and advocating its rights, offers queer people free services of a lawyer and a social worker.
According to the information published on the website of the organization, their lawyer works not only on cases of violence and discrimination due to gender identity and/or sexual orientation, blackmail, threats and domestic violence, and the realization of the rights to privacy, but also on cases of illegal restrictions on the realization of the rights of LGBT people, including discrimination in labor relations on the basis of SOGI. The organization is ready to provide free legal aid to queer people. In particular, providing consultations, preparation of legal documentation, protection of interests and representation in administrative bodies and courts of all instances, in civil, administrative and criminal cases.
Social worker services, in the case of referrals by queer people, aim to assess and monitor the incident, depending on the specific details of the case. In relation to labor relations and employment, the organization’s social worker in this service helps queer people to improve their potential, and later, to connect people who are interested in finding a job with relevant institutions, resources and services, which ultimately leads to their career growth.
- To receive free services, contact the organization on Facebook page or phone: 0322 47 97 48
The queer-activist left-wing/trans community organization “Temida” offers various services to queer people in relation to labor relations, and strives for the construction of a safe, equal and respectful political, legal and social environment for trans and queer people. Among them, work with representatives of the business sector to advocate for the elimination of discriminatory treatment in labor relations, introduction and enforcement of anti-discrimination policies; The organization is also ready to provide legal assistance to community members. This includes handling disability discrimination cases and providing legal support to the beneficiary.
Among the projects carried out by “Temida” is the employment consultant service, which includes individual counseling and follow-up in the basic stages necessary for career planning, such as resume planning, communication with the employer, the necessity of an employment contract and a strict definition of the employee’s rights.
The next project, “Respectful Employment Is Our Right” was a cycle of meetings, which was carried out with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“The purpose of the meetings mentioned above was to familiarize the members of the LGBTQ+ community with labor rights, anti-discrimination policy and the opportunities that exist in the country in terms of employment and professional development. In the framework of the meetings, in addition to getting acquainted with legislation and discrimination elimination/prevention mechanisms, we also focused on opportunities for people working in various fields to obtain formal and informal knowledge and employment. The organization continues to work in this direction, specific news will be posted on the social media pages of “Temida” in the near future,” says the representative of the organization, Lika Gulbani.
Currently, Temida is launching a new project aimed at empowering the trans and queer communities by providing important services for employment, including access to training programs and development of employment skills.
According to the information published by the organization, within the framework of the program, the participants will receive important services for employment, such as:
- Employment consultant support to develop skills needed for employment (including CV/resume development, cover letter preparation, preparation for the interview process with a potential employer, and mentoring);
- 3 sessions of career counseling, which will allow the participants of the program to effectively identify their abilities and interests for employment and with the help of a career counselor to develop an individual development plan important for employment;
- Provision of training and/or other activities services in accordance with the individual development plan developed with the help of a career consultant;
- Finding potential employers and promoting the employment of program participants.
If you wish to participate in the mentioned project, you can fill out this registration form.
“Tbilisi Pride” fights for LGBTQI rights and equality by putting the community’s challenges on the political agenda, empowering the community and changing public opinion. The main focus of the organization is to increase the LGBTQI visibility. Yearly Pride Week, video campaigns and public events are held for this purpose.
“Tbilisi Pride” does not provide legal service, but, it tries to inform and strengthen community members and their parents through various projects and series of meetings. For example: “proud families”, activist schools, camps, workshops on labor rights of LGBTQ people and so on.
- You can see the news on the Facebook page of the organization.
Women’s Initiatives Support Group (WISG)
The goal of the Women’s Initiatives Support Group (WISG) is to support equal participation of women in various areas of life and activities aimed at social change, and the organization’s mission is to popularize feminist ideas, promote the development of women’s activism and the formation of a safe environment.
WISG’s services include social workers, lawyers, psychologists and sexologists.
Specific to labor relations, the services of a social worker are important. A social worker is the first person who meets a person who has come to the organization to receive different services, assesses their needs and establishes a plan for changes, depending on their needs, directs them to specialists or services within the organization or outside the organization, and, if desired, is involved in this process. In addition, the organization helps community members acquire and employ employment skills, access physical and mental health services, identify and realize potential and resources, and more.
As for legal services, a lawyer provides legal consultation and further services in criminal, civil and administrative law cases, including cases of discrimination based on gender. This includes telephone, online or in-person consultation, legal services and representation in government agencies and courts. In addition, in the case of particularly important cases, the lawyer carries out strategic proceedings in the Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights and the UN bodies.
“Peripheria” is a community membership-based LGBT/queer regional organization that serves to promote the social well-being of queer groups, strengthen the political subjectivity of the community through sharing critical knowledge and safe spaces, community care and mutual support, creating alternative educational spaces, supporting activist mobilization, and looking for authentic opportunities to resist the shared oppression.
- You can get information about the organization’s services on their website, and news on their Facebook page.