28-year old Tsabunia Vartagava is a social worker. She works as a Zugdidi Resource Center Manager at the LGBT organization Equality Movement and Crisis Center Manager at the Sakhli Advice Center for Women. Tsabunia advocates for the rights of the LGBT community and victims of domestic violence thus she herself has often become a victim of threats and blackmails.

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I was born in the village of Kheta, Khobi Municipality. I wanted to be a journalist in my childhood. After finishing school I continued my studies at Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. One day I attended an introductory course to social work and discovered that I was capable do much more interesting and tangible job. Initially, I began to study the theories and continued with actually working with different vulnerable groups since my second year.

I got interested in LGBT activism unintentionally as well. While studying cultural diversities at the University, in the framework of one of the assignments I had to prepare a presentation on minorities. Topics were distributed in advance and it appeared I had to present the LGBT community. I used to be a girl arrived from a village to the capital thus I had no expertise in the relevant field then.

It was 2009. Inclusive Foundation was the only organization working on this issue. I asked the head of the organization to help me arrange a meeting with the LGBT community representatives. I met several people. Then I first realized how many obstacles these people had to pass through just because they were different.

I met with the middle-aged transgender man who told me how he was forced to marry just because of being biologically female. I met with a young man who had been beaten in the streets several times for not being as masculine as the society required from him. I listened to terrible stories of human oppression. I intended to attend the meeting just as a curious interviewer but I left as an LGBT activist. Then I decided I would always support different people.

10 years have passed since then but I have never changed my position. I believe I’ve helped many people. While working as a social worker at the National Probation Agency I used to be in touch with the children in conflict with the law. During this period of time, I helped many of them to realize the seriousness of their crime. A separate training module was developed by my participation. We trained social workers, psychologists, and probation officers to have ethical communication with LGBT community.

I often look back and remember one case when I appeared in the right place at the right time luckily for one person. I heard one family was abusing the child – they thought he was gay. As the boy was minor I approached the Social Service Agency and helped the social worker to do a better job to empower the boy.  That worker has worked much with the biological family. Usually, Social workers decide to separate children from families in a very extreme situation – when no other option is left. Unfortunately, this case ended with a similar decision. The minor was separated from the family and transferred to the Small Group House. This boy is an advanced person now. He lives in Tbilisi and does the job he has always dreamed of.

It is not easy to be an LGBT activist. I have faced numerous challenges due to my work. One distant relative has even told he would never forgive me embarrassing my surname and kill me.

During the massive protest campaign against the footballer Guram Kashia last year, I posted in social media that I was planning to support him at the stadium. As a result, I have received numerous blackmails in private messages. People with fake accounts swore at me and messaged they will kill me in the form of brutal death. I went to the police but the case is not investigated yet.

Fortunately, I am lucky with my family. My older brother is my great supporter. My parents have always trusted all my ideas and endeavors as well.

When I look back over the years I see that much has changed. During this period of time, the LGBT community became more visible: If previously people were saying that no Georgian gay existed, now everyone realizes that the LGBT community representative may be a Georgian person as well. The community has gone stronger and now fights for their rights. However, lots of work is still left to do in order to change the system and the attitude of law enforcement, social workers or doctors towards the LGBT community.

I know for sure that wherever I go I will always be an LGBT activist. I will always work on human rights. I have decided for myself that the human and his/her well-being are the major values in life.

Author: Manana Vardiashvili 

This article was prepared in the frame of the project ” Promoting new women leaders and ‘invisible women’ human rights activists” implemented by IREX Europe in partnership with Human Rights House Tbilisi, with financial support from the European Commission. The views in this article do not necessarily express the views of the European Commission.