Showing posts with label Georgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Georgia. Show all posts

May 7, 2020

The Virus is Now in Rural America and It's on Overdrive

 The Terrell County Courthouse glows near downtown Dawson, Ga., on Friday, April 17, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. Of the 20 counties with the highest death rate in America, six of them are in rural southwest Georgia, where there are no packed skyrise apartment buildings or subways. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

 (AP) — 
The reverend approached the makeshift pulpit and asked the Lord to help him make some sense of the scene before him: two caskets, side by side, in a small-town cemetery busier now than ever before.

Rev. Willard O. Weston had already eulogized other neighbors lost to COVID-19, and he would do more. But this one stood as a symbol to him of all they had lost. The pair of caskets, one powder blue, one white and gold, contained a couple married 30 years who died two days apart, at separate hospitals hours from each other, unaware of the other’s fate.

The day was dark. There was no wind, not even a breeze. It felt to some like the earth had paused for this.

As the world’s attention was fixated on the horrors in Italy and New York City, the per capita death rates in counties in the impoverished southwest corner of Georgia climbed to among the worst in the country. The devastation here is a cautionary tale of what happens when the virus seeps into communities that have for generations remained on the losing end of the nation’s most intractable inequalities: these counties are rural, mostly African American and poor.

Nellie "Pollye Ann" Mae and Benjamin Tolbert, a couple married for 30 years, are laid to rest at Cedar Hill Cemetery on Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. Both Nellie and Benjamin Tolbert died two days apart from each other in separate hospitals from COVID-19. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

This story was produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.


More than a quarter of people in Terrell County live in poverty, the local hospital shuttered decades ago, and businesses have been closing for years, sending many young and able fleeing for cities. Those left behind are sicker and more vulnerable; even before the virus arrived, the life expectancy for men here was six years shorter than the American average.
Rural people, African Americans and the poor are more likely to work in jobs not conducive to social distancing, like the food processing plant in nearby Mitchell County where four employees died of COVID-19. They have less access to health care and so more often delay treatment for chronic conditions; in southwest Georgia, the diabetes rate of 16 percent is twice as high as in Atlanta. Transportation alone can be a challenge, so that by the time they make it to the hospital, they’re harder to save.

At least 21 people have died from COVID-19 in this county, and dozens more in the neighboring rural communities. For weeks, Weston’s phone would not stop ringing: another person in the hospital, another person dead. An hour before this funeral, Weston’s phone rang again, and this time it was news that another had succumbed to the virus—his own first cousin, as close to him as a brother.

The Rev. Willard O. Weston Sr. of Sardis Baptist Church reacts to a phone call in which he learned of another COVID-19 death. "Who? Man, no. Oh, wow, OK. Alright, I'll call you back. Some more bad news, somebody else has passed," said Weston, on Friday, April 17, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Willie Johnson, 66, left, Horace Bell, 60, center, and Eugene Davis, 58, right, lower a burial vault into a grave at Cedar Hill Cemetery on Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

From left, Ronald Costello, Robert L. Albritten, Cordarial O. Holloway and Eddie Keith wait for the end of a funeral at Cedar Hill Cemetery on Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Cordarial O. Holloway wears a protective mask as his tie blows in the wind after a funeral at Cedar Hill Cemetery, on Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

A shovel sits in a freshly-covered grave at the Cedar Hill Cemetery on Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Some here had thought that their isolation might spare them, but instead it made the pandemic particularly cruel. In Terrell County, population 8,500, everyone knows everyone and every death is personal. As the mourners arrived at the cemetery, just the handful allowed, each knew others suffering and dying.

The couple’s son, Desmond Tolbert, sat stunned. After caring for his parents, he’d also rushed his aunt, his mother’s sister, to a hospital an hour away, and there she remained on a ventilator. Her daughter, Latasha Taylor, wept thinking that if her mother survived, she would have to find a way to tell her that her sister was dead and buried. 

“It’s just gone haywire, I mean haywire,” thought Eddie Keith, a 65-year-old funeral home attendant standing in the back who was familiar with all the faces on the funeral programs piling up. “People dying left and right.”

Usually, on hard days like this, he would call his friend of 30 years, who was a pastor at a country church and could always convince him that God would not give more than he could endure.

But a couple weeks earlier, that pastor had started coughing, too.

Mortician Cordarial O. Holloway, foreground left, funeral director Robert L. Albritten, foreground right, and funeral attendants Eddie Keith, background left, and Ronald Costello place a casket into a hearse on Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

As Georgia and other states rush to reopen, some out-of-the way places might believe that the virus won’t find them. Many here thought that, too. But it arrived, quietly at first then with breathtaking savagery.

The cemetery on the edge of town staggered graveside services, one an hour, all day. The county coroner typically works between 38 and 50 deaths a year; they reached No. 41 by mid-April. They ordered an emergency morgue.

Of the 10 counties with the highest death rate per capita in America, half are in rural southwest Georgia, where there are no packed skyscraper apartment buildings or subways. Ambulances rush along country roads, just fields and farms in either direction, carrying COVID-19 patients to the nearest hospital, for some an hour away. The small county seats are mostly quiet, the storefronts shuttered, some long ago because of the struggling economy, and some only now because owners are too afraid to reopen.

These counties circle the city of Albany, which is where authorities believe the outbreak began at a pair of funerals in February. Albany is also home to the main hospital in the region, Phoebe Putney Memorial, which serves an area of 800,000 people spanning more than 50 miles in every direction, many of them with little other access to care.

The hospital saw its first known coronavirus patient on March 10; within a few days, it had 60 and the ICU was full. Two weeks later, patients began flooding in from farther-flung rural communities. Helicopters buzzed from the top of the parking garage, flying patients to other hospitals that still had room to take them. They burned through six months of masks and gowns in six days, said Phoebe Putney president Scott Steiner. Then they were competing for supplies against wealthier, more politically powerful places; they paid $1 each for surgical masks that typically cost a nickel and were losing about $1 million each day.

The patients were very sick. Some died within hours. Some died on the way, in the back of ambulances. The region is predominantly black, but still African Americans died disproportionately, Steiner said. African Americans accounted for about 80% of the hospital’s deaths.

Black people have been dying at alarming rates across the country: the latest Associated Press analysis of available data shows that African Americans represent about 14% of the population in the areas covered but nearly one-third of those who have died. 

By nearly every measure, coronavirus patients are faring worse in rural Georgia than almost anywhere else in America, according to researchers at Emory University in Atlanta. Although New York City had thousands more deaths, the per capita death rate in these Georgia counties is just as high.

“They are vulnerable people living in vulnerable places, people who are marginalized on a variety of measures, whether we’re talking about race, whether we’re talking about education or employment, in places that have fewer resources,” said Shivani Patel, an epidemiologist at Emory. Then COVID-19 arrived: “It’s like our worst nightmare coming true.”

Dr. James Black, the medical director of emergency services at Phoebe Putney, was born in this hospital, grew up in this region and is proud of how they’ve managed with the odds stacked against them. He hasn’t had a day off in two months. The question now, he believes, is whether society decides, in the wake of the virus, to continue neglecting its most vulnerable people and places.

Graphic highlights the impact of coronavirus in 10 hard hit southwest Georgia counties. )AP Graphic)
“I think that history is going to judge us not only on how well we prepared, it’s not going to just judge us on how well we responded,” he said, “but what we learned from it, and what we change.”

Georgia has lost seven rural hospitals in the last decade. Nine counties in rural Georgia don’t even have a doctor, according to the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals; 18 have no family practitioner, 60 have no pediatrician, 77 without a psychiatrist. 

A tattered U.S. flag whips in a heavy wind on Sunday, April 19, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Desmond Tolbert, 29, of Dawson, Ga., walks alone through the hallway of his parents' home, where he also lives, on Saturday, April 18, 2020, after both his parents, Nellie "Pollye Ann" Mae and Benjamin Tolbert died a few days apart from COVID-19 in Dawson, Ga. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Ezekiel Holley, the longtime leader of Terrell County’s NAACP, said health care is what has left him “banging his head against a wall.”

At first Holley thought a virus would be one thing that did not discriminate. He opened the newspaper, scanned the faces in the obituaries and knew every one of them.

“Then I thought, why are low income people and people of color dying more than anyone else? This is the richest nation in the world, why doesn’t it have a level playing field?” he said. “Tell me that.”


At first, Benjamin Tolbert just felt a malaise; he had no appetite. Within a couple days, he could barely stand.

His son, Desmond, took him to the hospital in Albany. By then it was full, and he was sent to another hospital an hour south. Benjamin’s wife, Nellie Mae, who everyone called Pollye Ann, got sick the next day. She was routed from the Albany hospital to another an hour north.

Everyone in town knew Benjamin, 58, as a hard worker. He had worked for 28 years at a Tyson Foods plant, and yet he always found more work to do, washing his car, tending the lawn. He and his wife had been together 30 years. He was mild-mannered, but she found a joke in everything. She was a minister, she played the organ, sang gospel and danced, wildly, joyfully.

A pair of chairs belonging to Nellie "Pollye Ann" Mae and Benjamin Tolbert, who both died days apart due to COVID-19, sit in their bedroom on Saturday, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

“Oh my goodness, she was a dancer, and the dances were so hilarious, you would just fall out laughing watching her dance and laugh at herself,” said their niece, Latasha Taylor, whom they loved like a daughter. Benjamin would hang back, but Pollye Ann would pull him up and he’d dance along with her.

Both were diabetic, Pollye Ann had had heart valve surgery, Benjamin had been on dialysis. Pollye Ann’s sister, Katherine Taylor Peters, often got dialysis treatments with him. They were a close-knit family: Peters lived just blocks away.

Shortly after the Tolberts got sick, Peters called her daughter and said she too had an incessant cough and was struggling to breathe. Latasha was working hours away, so she called her cousin, Desmond, and asked him to check on her.

He put her in his car and drove her to another hospital an hour from home. They soon sedated her and put her on a ventilator.

Much of the rest is a blur for Desmond and Latasha: calls from doctors and nurses, driving hours among three hospitals, begging to see their parents but being told it was far too dangerous.

“I couldn’t see them, I couldn’t talk to them,” said Desmond, 29, who had lived with his parents all this life. Suddenly he was alone.

And all around them, neighbors were getting sick.

“So many people, it’s a feeling you can’t even explain. It’s like a churning in your stomach,” said Taylor. “People you’re normally waving at, speaking to in passing, at the pharmacy, you’re never going to see them again.”

Desmond was on the phone with a nurse as his mother took her last breath. Two days later, the call came from his father’s caregivers. Benjamin never knew that his wife got sick. She didn’t know her husband was on his death bed. They were apart, far from home, without their son at their sides.

The only solace he can find is imagining them meeting again on the other side, and that neither had to live without the other one.


Eddie Keith, 65, of Dawson, Ga., poses for a portrait outside of his church on Sunday, April 19, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. Keith lost his pastor to COVID-19. Keith has worked at Albritten's Funeral Service for around 35 years and was the person to retrieve his pastor. He felt like he'd lost a brother. "Why God? Why God? Why God?" Keith thought as he retrieved his pastor. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Eddie Keith had known this couple all his life, he knew their phone number by heart, where they lived, where they worked, their mothers and fathers.

“They knew me real well,” he said, “as well as I knew them.”

He has worked for the funeral home for 35 years, and part of his job is to pick up the bodies. He got a call about Pollye Ann’s passing, and when a hometown person dies someplace else, he considers it his duty to bring them home to Dawson.

Sometimes he talks to them as he drives, sometimes he sings.

When the second call came about her husband, two days later, he wondered if what was happening in his city might be too much to bear. He’s used to death. But now people were dying one right after the next, too quickly to reckon with each in real time.

Keith is a deacon at a country church down a dirt road just outside of town. His pastor, Rev. Alfred Starling, always told him that God doesn’t make mistakes, and Keith wanted to be reminded of that now, because Dawson’s people kept dying, and Keith kept retrieving them. But the next morning he was picking up a body in Tallahassee when the pastor’s wife called. He’d gone to the hospital with a bad cough, and he hadn’t made it.

They’d known each other 30 years. Once, years ago, he’d complimented his pastor’s necktie. After that, every time the pastor bought himself a tie, he bought Keith one too. It became a symbol of their love for each other. “He would always look out for me,” he said.

Keith pulled off the road and sat there a half an hour.

“Why God? Why God? Why God?” he thought, and he caught himself. He was always taught not to question God, so he asked for forgiveness.

A wooden cross made from a tree stump, known by some locals as a symbol of hope, sits outside of Phoebe Putney Memorial hospital on Monday, April 20, 2020, in Albany, Ga. The patients were very sick. Some died within hours. Some died on the way, in the back of ambulances. The region is predominantly black, but even so, African Americans died disproportionally, said Phoebe Putney Memorial's chief executive officer Scott Steiner. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Eddie Keith, 65, of Dawson, Ga., locks the church doors as he leaves on Sunday, April 19, 2020, in Dawson, Ga. He visits his pastor's church a couple times a week. Keith says as he loaded the body of his pastor into the hearse, he talked to him, "I didn't think you'd leave me so early," he remembers saying. "I thought we were going to grow old together." (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
There were three funerals the next day, and he left just after to pick up his pastor’s body.

He talked to him: “I didn’t think you’d leave me so early; I thought we were going to grow old together.”

He thought of his pastor’s favorite spiritual. “Good news, good news,” the pastor would sing and walk from behind the pulpit, a little strut in his step. “I’m going to lay down my burden, store up my cross. And I’m going home to live with Jesus, ain’t that good news.”

He sang it to his pastor as he drove him home.


By time the Tolberts’ funeral arrived, so many had been lost to COVID-19 that Rev. Willard Weston had gotten used to delivering his eulogies through a mask. Gloves. Hand sanitizer. Don’t touch, don’t embrace, no matter how much you want to.

“At this pace, you don’t get a chance to really take a deep breath from the previous death, and then you’re getting a call about another,” he said. He’d found himself on his knees in his bathroom, trying to scream out the sadness so he could keep going.

He put on his suit and tie.

He walked outside, looked up to the sky and pleaded with God to find the strength to deliver a double funeral.

“Lord, how can I go and do this?”

In normal times, the Tolbert family’s funeral would have drawn a packed house. Pollye Ann was a minister at Weston’s church. She could deliver testimony like no one he’d ever seen: she was like a freight train, he recalled, slow at first then faster, faster, faster. People were drawn to her.

Instead it was just him and a handful of mourners in the cemetery, staring at the two caskets. He read from scripture and told their son, Desmond, that he’d never walk alone.

He worried his instinct to comfort with an embrace would overtake his knowledge that he couldn’t, so he walked away and got in his car. He felt guilty. He prayed for God to take that guilt away. Because there was more to do. The next Saturday, he would have three funerals, back to back.

A couple weeks later, on a Friday afternoon, he was preparing to leave his empty church and head home for the weekend without a single funeral planned for the first time in weeks. It felt hopeful. Then his phone rang again.

“Man, no. Oh, wow,” he said, and his shoulders slumped.

“Some more bad news. Somebody else has passed.”


(AP Photos/Brynn Anderson)
There was some good news too.

Pollye Ann Tolbert’s sister survived weeks on a ventilator. She still tested positive for coronavirus and remained in isolation, so her daughter Latasha could only talk to her by phone.

The first thing she asked when she woke was how her sister and brother-in-law were doing. Latasha paused. Her mother repeated the question. It felt unreal. Mail still arrived in the mailbox for them. Their house was just as it was the day they left for the hospital. She and her cousin had washed the linens and wiped the surfaces to rid it of virus, but were otherwise too paralyzed to move a thing.

“I had to tell her that while she was sleeping, her sister and brother-in-law left us forever,” Latasha said. “They’re already buried, they’re in the ground.”

Peters told her daughter that the last thing she remembered was a doctor on the phone, telling her that her sister wasn’t going to make it. She thought she would die too, if not from COVID-19, then from grief.

She had hoped it was all a bad dream.

Then she woke up.


AP writer Katrease Stafford and data editor Meghan Hoyer contributed.

December 25, 2019

The Film About Love Has Shaken up Georgia....Love?

                              Georgian police officers stand guard in front of the Amirani cinema as far-right activists protest against the premiere screening of an Oscar-nominated Swedish-Georgian gay film in Tbilisi on November 8, 2019

"When I told my mother I was gay, she said I wish you were dead or had never existed at all. It's better not to have a son than to have someone like you."
Lasha, in his early twenties, has his arm around his partner Beka's waist. They are sitting together in a secluded park in Tbilisi.
These are not their real names because in Georgia gay couples often fear for their safety.
Discrimination against sexual orientation is illegal, but in reality, homophobia is commonplace in Georgia's conservative society. And frequently, gay people are victims of violence.

Media caption Then We Danced: The film that sparked protests
"If you are dressed differently people will start shouting 'pederasts' - to avoid it we have to blend in," Lasha explains. The term "pederast" is widely used in former Soviet countries to insult homosexuals.
"We have to lead a double life. We hide our faces every day in order not to cause aggression among people in the streets," adds Beka.

How the film was condemned as 'insult to Georgia'
Plenty of aggression was on display at the recent opening night of Georgia's first feature film about gay love.

A crowd of about 500 men tried to force their way into a cinema in Tbilisi's city center to disrupt the screening of the Swedish-Georgian production, And Then We Danced.
Georgian police officers stand guard in front of the Amirani cinema as far-right activists protest against the premiere screening of an Oscar-nominated Swedish-Georgian gay film in Tbilisi on

Police, many of them in riot gear, formed a line between protesters and the cinema entrance.
Protests at Georgia gay film premiere
Filmgoers were verbally, and in some instances physically, assaulted. Many of the protesters were wearing far-right insignia from the organization Georgian March. Twenty-seven people were arrested.
A woman is hurt during an anti-LGBTQ protest in Georgia in NovemberImage copyright Reuters
Image caption

Some people were hurt during the protest outside the cinema

Levan Vasadze, a well-known campaigner against LGBTQ events who was at the rally, said the film about two Georgian male dancers in love was an insult to the nation: "Shame on Georgia and on the government for allowing this historic shame on our dignity and Georgian traditions."
But Giorgi Tabagari, a leading voice in Georgia's LGBTQ community, argues the film is already helping to change public attitudes: "After criminals and drug addicts, we are at the bottom of the list when it comes to social acceptance. The film is having a huge impact on the Georgian public."
Giorgi TabagariBBC
I have seen a lot of public figures from culture, cinema and politics debating the issue. This was not the case two to three years ago
Giorgi Tabagari
Gay rights campaigner

The Georgian Orthodox Church, the most trusted institution in the country and a leading voice against the LGBT community, distanced itself from the violence.
However, the Church said the film was an attempt to change "the consciousness" of the Georgian public and ultimately legalize "the sin" of homosexuality.

The church is shaken by claims of homosexuality
Yet the Church has become embroiled in a homosexual scandal of its own. Just a few days before the film's release, the Georgian public was stunned when, on live television, a bishop accused senior clergy of engaging in homosexual acts.

A cross is held up outside the cinema showing the film And Then We Danced
Image caption
A cross is held up outside the cinema showing the film And Then We Danced
Bishop Petre Tsaava had just been ejected from the Holy Synod, the Georgian Orthodox Church's Executive Council.

He told reporters that the reason for his expulsion was because he had exposed a culture of "pederasty and homosexuality" among the Church leadership.
Georgia's Orthodox Church has denied all the allegations. Archpriest Andria Jaghmaidze said that any such behavior in the Church was "impossible" and told the BBC that anyone found guilty of misconduct would be suspended from the priesthood.
Father Andria Saria has no problem with homosexuality but believes there is no place for gay priests
But the BBC has spoken to a priest who says homosexuality is commonplace within the Church.
Father Andria Saria is among a small circle of priests who have chosen to speak out against what they say is hypocrisy within the clergy.

"We have many problems in the Church and one of them is homosexuality. It's the main problem that has become an open wound that needs to be treated," he told the BBC.
"We are not against individuals and their lifestyles, but when it comes to a person who wants to be part of the Church, the Church categorically forbids priests being homosexuals and we are fighting precisely against homosexuality becoming a norm in the Church."

'They're trying to destroy the Church'

In a statement, Georgian Orthodox Church spokesman Archpriest Andria Jaghmaidze said it was "impossible" for there to be any gay priests and that anyone found guilty of such misconduct "would be suspended from the priesthood".

Outside Tbilisi's Sameba Cathedral, many churchgoers believe the allegations are part of a power struggle between senior members of the clergy.

"Never in my 51 years of life could I ever have imagined [homosexuality] was possible in the Church," said Lamara Didebeli.
Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II is the most revered public figure in Georgia in charge of the Church since 1977
Aged 86, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II is the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the most revered public figure in Georgia

"They're trying everything to destroy the Georgian Orthodox Church but they won't succeed as long as our patriarch is alive."

Fellow churchgoer Giorgi Dundua admitted his surprise but said that even if it was happening it should be resolved within the Church. "We don't have the right to judge," he said.
Tamar Gurchiani, a human rights advocate and law professor at Ilia State University, believes Georgian society is largely in denial about homosexuality in the Church.

"Hate and homophobia is so strong that people don't really care about the facts and they don't want to find out the truth. Maybe it's because there are so many people in the government and in the Church who are themselves closeted."
Sameba Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi

For Lasha and Beka, the gay couple in the park, the idea of homosexuality in the Church is not news at all, just as homosexuality in society is a reality that has to be accepted.
"Priests are ordinary people," says Lasha. "Gay people exist everywhere, and of course they are in the Church as well. But in a country like Georgia, where this topic is taboo, they're hiding inside their clerical clothing."

They believe that as times change their country will become more comfortable with homosexuality and more gay Georgians will come out.

December 20, 2019

A Whole Nation Goes On a Frenzied Over A Gay Film~~The Answer: Ultra Nationalists


It will seem like these people just got television and still don't understand it......?....?....? But no they have been watching it for a while but maybe they don't have more pressing problems...?.....?....?
No, they have plenty of problems and one of them is the Ultra Nationalists

Catherine Pilishvili 

Senior Associate, Europe and Central Asia Division

Conflicts around gender and sexuality are often indicators of social tension. A recent public clash over the screening of a film in Tbilisi gives insight into the fault lines of contemporary politics in Georgia.
Georgia’s democratic gains have been seriously tested by the ruling party backtracking on electoral reforms. Politics is growing increasingly polarized, and last month the gulf between the far-right and progressive values erupted in a violent confrontation outside a cinema where the story of a romance between two men unfolded on screen.
The film And Then We Danced, which plunges viewers into the world of the Georgian National Ballet, is by Swedish-born filmmaker Levan Akin, (who is of Georgian descent), and is Sweden’s “Best International Feature” entry for the 2020 Oscars.
And Then We Danced opened for a limited, three-day screening on November 8, prompting a fervent backlash from far-right and religious groups, who reacted to the gay theme as a threat to their way of life and to Georgian tradition.
Traditional dance is fundamental to Georgia’s heritage and the National Ballet is a source of national pride. Any Georgian describing traditional dance will tell you how they’re moved by the beating drums and dancers’ movement. It hits your soul. It’s the sound of home.
Akin’s film is a commentary on masculinity and tradition in Georgian culture. As the film’s opening sequence eloquently explains, “Georgian dancing is based on masculinity. There is no room for weakness.” The plot follows a young dancer as he grapples with traditional ideals of masculinity, his passion for dance, and his growing desire for his male rival.
Akin approaches culture and tradition as dynamic, not static, and encourages the audience to rethink gender norms in light of his expansive and inclusive vision of tradition.
As the film was screened in November, protesters took to the streets. They attempted to stop moviegoers from entering the cinema and tried to storm the area but were held back by police who had the area cordoned off. They burned an LGBT flag while a priest recited a prayer, set off firecrackers, and threw smoke bombs at moviegoers. Protesters chanted “long live Georgia” and “shame,” some holding crosses and religious icons.
The Interior Ministry deployed police at the cinema to protect public safety and free expression.
Ana Subeliani was hospitalized after being struck by a stone outside the cinema, where she stood in solidarity with the rights of LGBT people. She described being suddenly hit by “a heavy object to the head.” She felt extreme pain, with blood gushing from her head, and even though she had lost an eye. Describing it as the “most aggressive protest of this kind” that she had seen in recent years, Ana told me, “As soon as we showed up, homophobic protesters surrounded our group and insulted us. They are focused on demonizing and marginalizing LGBT people.”
Ana’s Facebook post detailing the incident soon attracted media attention.
One person is facing criminal charges for the attack on Subeliani, while 27 others were detained by police on misdemeanor disobedience charges.
The controversy surrounding Akin’s film echoes the violent disruption by thousands of protesters, including Orthodox clergy, of a gathering in Tbilisi marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia in May 2013. Police evacuated LGBT activists to safety but failed to contain the mob, who threw stones and other objects at a van carrying the activists and injured a journalist.
As the country stepped closer to the EU, Georgia adopted anti-discrimination laws in 2014. However, homosexuality remains highly stigmatized and is at the epicenter of “culture wars” between progressives and conservatives, with antigay elements backed by the massively influential church, at times with hateful rhetoric. Georgia’s ombudsman says that LGBT people experience abuse, intolerance, and discrimination in every sphere of life.
Protecting minority rights is a cornerstone of democracy. But the government is falling short on its obligations. As Georgian authorities look for allies in this polarized political environment, they should be mindful of the high stakes and real fault lines on human rights and should not condone or encourage violence against LGBT people and their supporters. More needs to be done to deter and condemn homophobic statements by public officials. Tiptoeing around ultra-nationalists, and sometimes portraying their statements as legitimate speech encourages further homophobia and violence.
“I made this film with love and compassion,” Akin said after the violent protests against his film. “It is my love letter to Georgia and to my heritage. With this story, I wanted to reclaim and redefine Georgian culture to include all, not just some.”
These are the values the Georgian government should embrace and protect.

July 15, 2018

Georgia's Lawmakers Anti LGBT Antics Is Cost Them Much in $ Business $

By Jeff Graham   –  Executive Director, Georgia Equality 

The anti-LGBT antics of some Georgia lawmakers have made national headlines for several years, and their relentless pursuit of archaic and discriminatory policies is yielding another, and not unexpected, economic consequence. CNBC announced July 10 that Georgia dropped from number two to number seven on its 12th annual scorecard of "America's Top States for Business.” A drop by in position by five points should be of concern to us all.

This is an incredible time to live in Georgia - and we can stop this backward slide before it’s too late. One of the most immediate ways we can course-correct is by telling our lawmakers that, rather than spend yet another year gridlocking over discriminatory measures that would harm our state, they could finally advance a comprehensive civil rights law that protects Georgians from all walks of life.

At a moment when states are struggling to maintain a competitive edge, Georgia lawmakers should be doing everything in their power to entice businesses to invest in the state. The future success of Georgia’s economy relies on its ability to attract businesses to relocate to the state and to attract the best and brightest talent. A statewide civil rights law would send the message that Georgia is truly open for business to all.

Georgia ranked particularly low in CNBC’s Quality of Life category, scoring a ‘D’ in a category that includes the health of the population, environmental quality, and inclusion - namely, a state’s anti-discrimination law and the ability of cities to set its own standards. Georgia is one of only a handful of states that lacks any statewide civil rights law. And for the past several legislative session, lawmakers have clashed over anti-LGBTQ bills, including 2016 legislation that Governor Nathan Deal vetoed which would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers. Despite the business community rallying in opposition to that License to Discriminate and rightly praising Governor Deal, some lawmakers continue to target LGBT people, recklessly ignoring the economic consequences.

Georgia lawmakers’ anti-LGBT bills have taken a toll on our state’s brand, imperiling not just our ability to attract job-creating giants like Amazon, but also threatening our state’s tourism industry – which brings in about $50 billion annually and is responsible for about 400,000 jobs. And the lack of comprehensive nondiscrimination protections takes a toll on those already living and working here. A 2017 report from the Williams Institute found that the stresses and stigmas of vulnerable legal standing impacts the productivity and well-being of LGBT Georgians in the workplace. According to that study, reducing those stresses by even just a quarter among Georgia’s LGBT workforce would gain the state’s economy upwards of $147 million in revenue. 

We all know that North Carolina paid dearly for its deeply discriminatory HB2, which cost the state approximately $630 million in lost revenue in just the first year after it passed. Major corporations, including PayPal, Deutsche Bank and CoStar withdrew expansion plans, which included millions of dollars in investments and hundreds of jobs, from North Carolina. Indiana’s economy and world-famous “Hoosier hospitality” was damaged after its religious exemptions act was signed into law. Since the law’s passage, the state lost more than $60 million in economic opportunities, including the loss of at least seven conventions. 
But what’s become increasingly clear is that it’s not enough to merely avoid greenlighting discrimination. The CNBC report is one early indicator that our state’s progress isn’t set in stone, and the failure of lawmakers to update our laws could cost us dearly in the years to come.

Last year, we made progress toward advancing a bill that would protect all Georgians from discrimination – including both LGBT people and people of faith. The idea that treating people fairly and equally under the law somehow erodes religious freedom is, frankly, false. We believe in open and welcoming dialogue with all Georgians – dialogue that focuses on what we have in common. We can all agree that discrimination is wrong, and that common-sense policies that protect Georgians from harm can lift all of us up, strengthen our communities, and ensure Georgia can continue growing into one of the most competitive states in our 21st century economy.

Supporting equal opportunity is the right thing to do, and the impact it has on our economy’s bottom line is impossible to ignore. Strong businesses lead to strong communities. When everyone can live their lives free from discrimination, our communities are stronger and our state is a healthier, more vibrant place to live, work, and raise a family

February 28, 2018

GA. Would Rather Get Rid of Marriage Than Obey The Law of The Land

Georgians Fight Fellow Georgians on Gay Marriage
Politicians in Georgia would rather get rid of Marriage than accept the Law of the Land and marry gay and lesbians

Couples – gay or straight — looking for a marriage license in Pike County, Ala. won't get one from local probate judge Wes Allen.

"We have not issued any marriage licenses since Feb. 9, 2015," Allen says.

That's when a federal judge struck down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage. The state's then-Chief Justice Roy Moore told local officials they weren't bound by the federal court ruling. That threw Alabama's marriage license system into chaos. Some offices closed altogether.

For Allen, the decision came down to his religious beliefs.

"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and firmly believe that biblical world view," he says. "And I couldn't put my signature on a marriage license that I knew not to be marriage."

As many as 12 other judges adopted similar policies after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Some, like Allen, closed their marriage license division. Others will sign the license but quit performing marriage ceremonies.

Now Alabama and several other states are considering doing away with marriage licenses altogether. Alabama's legislation comes after the state became a flashpoint in the debate over same-sex marriage.

After counties began refusing licenses, they braced for lawsuits. But no one has sued — that could be because Alabama's marriage law says probate judges may issue marriage licenses, not shall.

"Alabama's been one of the toughest states when it comes to access to marriage equality because of our marriage code and because the way it's written for judges to choose to issue licenses or not," says Eva Kendrick, state director for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBT rights.

She says access depends on where you live. Metropolitan areas like Birmingham and Montgomery are open for business, but remote rural areas are more of a patchwork, forcing people to travel elsewhere to get a license.

"In those counties, Alabamians did not have equal access to marriage," says Kendrick.

The state Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would get rid of marriage licenses altogether. Instead, couples would submit a form affirming they've met the legal requirements for getting married and then record a marriage contract at the probate office.

"Basically we're getting Alabama out of the marriage business," says Republican Rep. Paul Beckman, who is sponsoring the bill in the Alabama House, where it has passed the Judiciary Committee.

Republican state Sen. Greg Albritton has tried for several years to change the system to a marriage contract.

"It allows the probate judge to not be the gatekeeper by order of the state of say who can marry and who can't," Albritton says.

Albritton says he's a traditionalist who believes marriage should be between one man and one woman. But he says since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Alabama's system hasn't worked.

"I disagree with that opinion. However, they make the law," says Albritton. "I'm trying to accommodate that and trying to find a way that we can accommodate as many people and hurt no one."

But not everyone agrees that the legislation does no harm.

"I just think it cheapens the value of the most sacred relationship in the world," says Republican Phil Williams, the lone senator to vote against the bill.

"When you take marriage and you reduce it to a mere contract, it's almost like you're just doing nothing more than recording the deed to your property at the courthouse," he says. "You're just taking the contract down there and the probate judge is just the clerk."

He says probate judges have greater responsibility, for instance, they're charged with making sure that couples are old enough and able to consent to marriage.

The bill is facing more opposition in the Alabama House. Democratic state Rep. Merika Coleman says the change isn't necessary if public officials would just do their jobs.

"It's unfortunate because there are some probate judges .... that do not want to adhere to the rule of law," says Coleman. "So because of that, now some legislators in the state of Alabama want to get out of the business of marriage in the traditional sense."

She's concerned the new system might not be recognized by other states or the federal government.

"Specifically on Social Security and with military benefits they ask for a marriage license," she says. "They do not ask for a marriage contract."

But the concept of a marriage contract is being considered in other states. Similar legislation has been proposed in Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Montana.

June 20, 2017

What You Need to Know About Today's Georgia Special Election

Jon Ossof, 30f. (Wiki)

Political junkies around the United States will be getting their fix Tuesday with a pair of special elections to replace House seats left open by presidential appointments. The nation's politicians and political pundits will pay particularly close attention to the race for Georgia's sixth congressional district, where polling shows a very tight race between Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, and Republican Karen Handel, 55, in what many are watching as a referendum on President Trump and his policies.

Why is there a special election in Georgia? 

The House seat was left open by Trump's appointment of former congressman Tom Price as secretary of health and human services. The first round of the special election was held April 18. Ossoff won 48% of the vote, far more than Handel's 19%, which earned her second place.
Because no one got more than 50% of the vote, a June 20 runoff between Ossoff and Handel was triggered. 
Why the election matters 
Ossoff's strong showing in the first round, and in the polls since then, has Democrats optimistic he could represent the first sign of a coming Democratic wave in the wake of Trump's turbulent first few months in office. With questions swirling around ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and the lack of major legislative accomplishments, many pundits believe an Ossoff win could panic Republicans into thinking their current approach isn't working. They say that could set off a stampede of GOP lawmakers, hurrying to distance themselves from the president.
A win for Handel, on the other hand, could be interpreted by Republicans as evidence that their support among their base remains strong, leading them to cleave closer to the president and his agenda. (The same has been said for special elections in Kansas and Montana this year.)
With so much on the line, the Georgia race has shattered fundraising records with total spending expected to come in over $50 million. That would make it the most expensive House race in American history.
An Ossoff win would certainly be an upset for a seat that has been in Republican hands since 1979 and was previously held by former House speaker Newt Gingrich. But polling remains tight and the administration has thrown its full support behind Handel, including a fundraiser with Vice President Pence and a tweet from the president urging people to "vote now for Karen H." 

What do the polls show? 

The latest Real Clear Politics poll average shows Ossoff narrowly ahead of Handel with 49.3% to her 47.8%.
That's less than the margin of error and FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver cautions that "Georgia 6 is a tough district to diagnose." While Mitt Romney won the district, which is comprised of wealthy suburbs of Atlanta, by 23 points over Barack Obama in 2012, Trump only defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.5 points in 2016.

What time are the polls open? 

The polls open at 7 a.m. ET and close at 7 p.m. ET. The first results are expected to come in about 7:30 p.m.
More than 140,000 people voted early in the election so far, according to Georgia Secretary of State Biran Kemp.
“Tomorrow will be a pivotal day for voters as they elect new representation to serve in Washington, D.C., and all eyes are on Georgia to see the results of this hotly contested race," Kemp said in a statement.

What about South Carolina? 

Lost in all the focus on Georgia's special election is the race for South Carolina's fifth congressional district between Republican real estate developer Ralph Norman and Democrat Archie Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs business manager.
There has been less national attention on that race because Norman is widely considered a heavy favorite. If Parnell were to pull off an upset, it would be a clear signal that Trump and congressional Republicans have reason to be concerned about 2018.

How have the special elections gone so far this year? 

Greg Gianforte showed no signs of an anti-Republican swing, winning Montana's May 25 special election to fill its own open House seat despite assaulting a reporter on the eve of the election. Gianforte's win came on the heels of fellow Republican Ron Estes' April 11 win to fill Kansas' House seat left open by the appointment of CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

How many seats do Democrats need? 

Even if Ossoff and Parnell were to win, the Democrats would still be far short of the seats needed to win control of the House. Going into Tuesday's elections, the Democrats were 24 seats short of a majority.

May 14, 2015

Georgia’s Gay Rights Win EU Case Which Blocked Pride in ‘12

A gay rights activist clashes with an Orthodox Christian activist in Tbilisi on May 17, 2012.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has ruled that Georgian authorities failed to adequately protect gay-rights activists and should compensate victims of attacks aimed at blocking a gay-pride event three years ago. 
The ECHR issued its ruling on May 12, according to which the Tbilisi-based LGBT (lesbian, gays, bisexual, and transgender) group Identoba and more than a dozen activists were found eligible for compensation of between 1,500 and 4,000 euros ($1,675 to $4,465) from the Georgian government for its "failure to provide adequate protection."
The case stems from an incident in Tbilisi in May 2012, when activists tried to hold Georgia's first-ever gay-pride march to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.
Orthodox activists blocked their way, and some of the gay activists were verbally and physically assaulted. 
In addition to a violation of the right to free assembly, the ECHR also ruled that there was a violation of Article 3, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment, in conjunction with the European Convention on Human Rights' Article 14 banning discriminatioin.
In 2013, a group of LGBT rights activists faced larger-scale violence when thousands of antigay demonstrators, led by Orthodox clerics, attacked a small group of LGBT activists who wanted to mark May 17 in an area adjacent to Freedom Square in downtown Tbilisi. At least 28 people were injured in that incident. 
Fearing homophobic violence, LGBT rights groups in Georgia have since avoided public events to mark UN-sponsored International Day Against Homophobia. 
In an apparent attempt to counter International Day Against Homophobia, the Georgian Orthodox Church introduced what it calls Family Day, also on May 17. 
In 2014, the day was marked with a large rally, led by the Orthodox clerics, which took on an antigay tone and challenged newly adopted domestic legislation against discrimination.
Article posted By RFE/RL in

October 31, 2013

Sandra Day O’Connor Officiated a Gay Ceremony She Also Is Responsible for Anti-Sodomy Law to Continue

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, photographed in July 2012
Officiator of the first gay marriage at the Supreme Court, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images
On Tuesday, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor officiated a same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court, the first gay wedding to take place in the court’s halls. (It wasn’t the first officiated by a justice, though; Ruth Bader Ginsburg beat O’Connor to that honor.) The event serves as a heartwarming confirmation that O’Connor’s shift to the left has continued through retirement—but it’s also a poignant reminder that the justice’s early retirement cut short what might have been an evolution from Reagan conservative to gay-rights luminary.
O’Connor’s jurisprudence wasn’t always so friendly to gays, of course. In 1986, O’Connor joined Justice Byron White’s five-member majority in Bowers v. Hardwick, the court’s first gay-rights case. Confronted with the constitutionality of Georgia’s anti-sodomy law, White infamously declared that a constitutional right to gay intimacy is “at best, facetious.” In dissent, Justice Harry Blackmun chastised the majority for its “almost obsessive focus on homosexual activity”—but with O’Connor on board, the court had its five votes, and sodomy laws survived.
Yet just 10 years later, O’Connor performed a somewhat unexpected about face inRomer v. EvansRomer dealt with a Colorado constitutional amendment forbidding local governments from enacting nondiscrimination statutes designed to protect gay people. Many gay-rights groups anticipated defeat after O’Connor, by then a frequent swing vote, remained alternately quiet and cagey during oral arguments. (Her most substantive questions pertained to the amendment’s breadth.) Court watchers were surprised, then, when O’Connor joined Justice Anthony Kennedy and four liberals to declare that the amendment was “a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense”—the first time the court had ever extended constitutional protections to gays.
This was not the O’Connor of the Bowers court. But even after RomerBowers remained on the books—until the blockbuster case of Lawrence v. TexasLawrence, like Bowers, dealt with an anti-sodomy statute. But unlike the law in Bowers, the Texas statute challenged in Lawrence specifically targeted “homosexual conduct,” while leaving heterosexual sodomy perfectly legal. Once again, Kennedy took the lead in Lawrence, penning an eloquent (if occasionally orotund) encomium to human intimacy that directly overruled Bowers. O’Connor, too, voted to overturn the Texas statute—but she refused to join Kennedy’s opinion overruling Bowers and thereby tacitly revoking herBowers vote. Instead, O’Connor held that an exclusively anti-gay sodomy ban violated the Equal Protection Clause by “mak[ing] homosexuals unequal in the eyes of the law.”
In one sense, the distinction represented an irksome refusal by the justice to concede her Bowers mistake. But ironically, O’Connor’s opinion also laid the groundwork for an alternate gay-rights jurisprudence—one conceivably stronger than that laid out by Justice Kennedy. Kennedy sees gay rights primarily as a Due Process issue: The Due Process Clause of the Fifth and 14th Amendments guarantees all people “life, liberty, and property,” and Kennedy has held, most recently in U.S. v. Windsor, that the “injury and indignity” inflicted by certain anti-gay statutes are “a deprivation of an essential part of ... liberty.”
Those are strong words, and thus far, they’ve provided satisfactory results. But “equal protection of the laws” is a firmer mandate—with sharper teeth. Had O’Connor remained on the court for long enough to confront the next round of gay-rights cases, she might have had time to hone her analysis, to develop her jurisprudence so that gays must be afforded the same constitutional protections as women or blacks. Instead, her retirement subtracted one pro-gay vote and added a rudely anti-gay one, ushering in an era of nail-baiting 5-4 gay-rights opinions. It’s impossible to know whether O’Connor’s gay-rights jurisprudence would have evolved so quickly had she remained on the bench. But it’s also difficult not to pine for a different version of the story, one that ends with O’Connor overcoming her Bowers error to emerge as the court’s true champion of equality.
Mark Joseph Stern is a Slate contributor. He writes about science, the law, and LGBT issu

August 20, 2013

Former USSR Georgia is Having The Birth Pains of The LGTB Movement

David  David Shubladze, a founder of LGBT Georgia, says that thousands of Georgians -- gay and straight -- signed a petition demanding judicial prosecution of the priests who led the anti-gay mob on May 17, 2013.  
As we know from our own experience in this country the start of any civil rights movement in which 
the status quo is pushed for change is painful for everyone involved. The Orthodox church in Georgia after the collapsed of the Soviet Union have become an assimilation of the Roman Catholic church 70 years ago. No one could question it and what ever the pope said it was not for discussion. That’s how it was in Georgia.  They warned the gay community not to hold any pride march, no public anything.  They had to stay hidden or there was going to be violence.

 Imagine not telling you are going to burn in hell but that they going to stone you to death. The love of god was certainly very fluid with them. The gay community said fuck you guys we are marching. They came out and were stop by the police because of the violence, but a few days latter they did the march and this time they completed it. The church was not all that powerful, the gays were not going to be stop because it was their life’s they were fighting for and they have had enough. 

They also see places like NY, California and many other states here in the Us and other nations in which gays have not retreated an inch. They see that and they learn to get results as well. They were supported by local Georgians for justice in which they could see that was being done to the gays was not Christian and more important it was civil. Breaking all the laws of the land by having the priests coming out to beat up people. Only two got arrested but that was enough because they thought they had carte blanche.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Adam Gonzalez~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

Gay rights have spread in the West, but a backlash is taking hold in the former Soviet Union.

Russia’s new ban on gay propaganda is sparking Western calls for boycotts of Russian products and events. In Georgia, the Georgian Orthodox Church led thousands of the faithful to block a gay rights rally last May here in Tbilisi, the nation’s capital.

They carried signs, they sang hymns and they carried stinging nettles to thrash gay people. Then they broke through police lines.

Chanting "Kill them, kill them," protesters mobbed a minibus in which gay activists took refuge.

No one was killed that day, and injuries were fairly light. Now, Georgia is taking stock.

Shalva Kekelia was one of 200 Orthodox priests there. He said most priests tried to prevent violence.

"We told the gay people that they should go, because we couldn’t keep the crowds from attacking them," he said, referring to warnings prior to the May 17 march. "But they refused and were really aggressive. So we couldn’t do anything to stop it."

Homosexuality as sin

Father Shalva said homosexuality is a sin that must be kept out of sight in Georgia.

For us it’s absolutely unbelievable, said the priest, the father of three children. "We understand that there is a freedom for everyone to do what they want, but we don’t want them to preach homosexuality, because it’s a sin."

Like many Georgians, Shalva sees tolerance for homosexuality as a foreign import. "In Europe they always try to teach us what to do," he said in the quiet of his 100-year-old church off Tbilisi's busy Rustaveli Avenue. "Why do they think that we are that stupid, that we don’t know what we have to do?"

But, only a few blocks away, David Shubladze, a founder of LGBT Georgia, sits at a garden café. He said Georgia has its own, homegrown tolerance.

"There were manifestations to support us that were organized, not by LGBT people, but by normal Georgian citizens," he said, referring to a petition drive. "They gathered 15,000 signatures, and gave it to parliament so that they would investigate the May 17 violence."

Citizen support for LGBT

When a ruling party congressman questioned the signatures, people posted their photos on a Facebook page, some with notes saying: "I signed and I am real."

Due to public pressure, a taboo was broken: Two priests went on trial, charged with using violence and threats to interfere with a demonstration. One was acquitted. The other is to go on trial this week.

Alexander Rondeli, a Tbilisi think tank director, said the aftermath of the anti-gay violence is positive.

"What happened is not bad because after that the taboo about impunity of criticism of the Church was lifted," said Rondeli, president of  the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. "And now many people criticize that. Before the Church was taboo. We could not discuss what church was doing."

Georgian Prime Minister Bizdina Ivanishvili said that his government protects minorities.

Three days later the same group was able to have a peaceful rally," he told VOA in an interview at his Estate in Ureki. "The police acted in a very sharp and distinct way, and those who were agitating crowds and forcing them against minorities were punished. It was a very clear-cut example of how government acted in defense of those minorities."

As this traditional society moves into the 21st century, Georgia’s new generation can be expected to grapple with more and more societal change.

James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

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