Georgia has been seeing rising levels of government-led anti-LGBT discourse, a trend that is peaking as the country's queer activists celebrate Pride Week.
For several months now, the Georgian government and ruling party leaders have been actively scaremongering about what they see as Western trends of targeting children with "LGBT propaganda".
The phenomenon entered a new stage in June when pro-government media and government officials, among others, raised alarms over the contents of the local McDonald's franchise's Happy Meals for children.
The package came with a booklet from the Little People, Big Dreams series that includes illustrated celebrity biographies meant to inspire children. The one that touched the nerve of Georgian conservatives featured the biography of Sir Elton John, an openly-gay British musician.
The fact that the biography mentioned the singer's marriage to another man was seized on by Georgian officials as proof of "LGBT propaganda" being purveyed among children.
"In the booklets, they sneaked LGBT propaganda to children," Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party told reporters on June 21.
And the McDonald's drama was only the beginning. Next came Sulakauri Publishing, one of the country's largest publishing houses and owner of its own bookshop chain. Starting in late June, the company saw a sudden rise in conservative attacks - both on social media and directly at their office - accusing them of various sorts of "propaganda."
One of these books, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, also a compilation of real biographies of women by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, and an international bestseller, was similarly identified as "LGBT propaganda".
Another is a collection of fairy tales by 17th-century French author Charles Perrault. It has been labeled "incest propaganda," presumably for the tale Donkeyskin.
"I think, this fact, too, was alarming," Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said about Sulakauri Publishing during his parliamentary address on June 30 - after lashing out at "LGBT propaganda" that has already "entered kindergartens" in the West and attacking McDonald's "campaign" as "unacceptable".
The Georgian literary community rallied around Sulakauri Publishing, which vowed to withstand the attacks in the name of protecting the freedom of expression.
But the growing instrumentalization of what is viewed as "political homophobia" has become a matter of wider concern.
Some see the attacks on Sulakauri and McDonald's as a prelude to the revival of an "anti-LGBT propaganda" bill which was proposed by government allies in parliament in spring but not supported by the ruling party at the time.
With the advent of Pride Week, the idea has returned to the discourse, its main advocate being the Georgian Orthodox Church. Garibashvili, too, did not rule out new legislation during his last parliamentary address.
(Salome Zourabichvili, Georgia's more liberal-minded but figurehead president, pledged to veto the bill, should it pass, though her veto can easily be overridden by the ruling force.)
The ruling party is likely pursuing several other aims, including rallying conservative voters for the crucial parliamentary elections due to be held in fall 2024. Indeed, the rhetoric has been actively used to target not only queer activist groups but also discredit political opponents and a wider spectrum of younger critics.
The rhetoric has also helped Georgian leaders maintain their close ties with the European and American right. There have been reports that Hungary's right-wing government might use its veto power to push EU member countries towards granting Georgia membership candidacy later this year.
Safety concerns for Pride Week
The intensifying attacks have raised concerns about the safety of Pride Week events organized in Georgia during July 2-8.
There has been no attempt to stage any public pro-LGBT events since the brutal homophobic pogroms two years ago, and this year's events are closed. Nonetheless, various conservative groups have threatened to disrupt Pride Fest on July 8, the event culminating the week.
Graffiti calling for an anti-LGBT gathering on the same day has proliferated on Tbilisi's streets recently. And have been reports that Georgia's two largest commercial banks blocked the accounts of violent groups trying to raise funds for their anti-Pride mobilization.
The Georgian public "will do everything, in peaceful ways, to prevent this debauchery, this attempt to organize a massive Sodom and Gomorrah," proclaimed Vato Shakarashvili, a conservative politician close to the ruling party at a July 6 briefing.
(Shakarashvili, just like Prime Minister Garibashvili before him, cited "official statistics" in France and the U.S. about the "dramatically increased" number of young people identifying themselves with the LGBT community, attributing it to propaganda.)
Tbilisi Pride, the group organizing the events, has had to issue safety recommendations amid fears of violence.
Last year, police detained over two dozen right-wing activists in an effort to protect similar privately held Pride celebrations.
But the organizers of the anti-Pride pogroms on July 5, 2021 have never faced justice. This, coupled with the widespread belief that the government is working in tandem with these violent groups, has significantly reduced LGBT people's sense of physical safety.
Nini Gabritchidze is a Tbilisi-based journalist.