Georgia: Time for Homosexuality to Come Out of the Closet?

Published: February 15, 2011

A grisly murder in Tbilisi’s Courtyard Marriott Hotel is focusing attention on the issue of homosexuality in conservative Georgia.

Twenty-six-year-old French engineer Stéphane Cohen, an employee of the French transportation company Systra, was knifed to death on January 27 in his room in the posh hotel. Cohen was in Georgia to help the Tbilisi government set up a city tram system. A 17-year-old Georgian male, recorded on hotel security cameras, has confessed to Cohen’s murder.

Police say robbery was a possible motive – the detained suspect ran off with Cohen’s laptop computer, mobile phone and camera – but declined to comment further to given the case’s “sensitive” nature and the ongoing investigation.

While questions remain about the circumstances surrounding Cohen’s murder, Tbilisi café owner Irakli Kutateladze, who describes himself as the dead man’s close friend, told that the Frenchman met his suspected murderer through, a dating site actively used by gay Georgians. Other members of Georgia’s gay community confirmed that they saw Cohen’s profile on the dating site.

Unlike Cohen, who had his own picture posted on his profile page, most of the 285 Georgians registered on the website use fake identities to shield their true names. “Steph told me he was going to meet that kid, even though I advised him against it,” Kutateladze said, adding that the victim, as a foreigner, did not fully realize what type of person he was meeting.

Police have not stated publicly how Cohen and his murderer first met.
Homosexuality remains a taboo topic in Georgia, where deviations from traditional Orthodox Christian values are frowned upon and public discussions of sexuality are shunned. An estimated 91.5 percent of Georgians think that homosexuality is never acceptable, according to a 2009 survey by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers. Rare media attention to the topic of homosexuality has done little to change public perceptions.

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