"Let Him Live Free." How Parents Accept Their LGBT Children in Eastern Europe
21 June, 2019
Nana Pantsulaia (right) with her daughter Mariam. Nana fights for LGBT rights in Georgia. Her daughter was forced to leave for the US. Photo: family archive

Stereotypes, insults, threats, violence are an everyday occurrence for LGBT people in Eastern Europe. Denial of LGBT often comes not just from society, but also from the family. The more homophobic the society, the more difficult it is for LGBT children to find support from their parents.

Azerbaijan. No open support

“If it were just for me, I would have shouted to the whole world that my son was such (homosexual -ed.). I would have told all our relatives, acquaintances and let them decide for themselves whether to accept it or not. But, I fear for my husband, my daughters,” said the mother of Shamil, a homosexual (the name has been changed).

Azerbaijan is recognized as the most homophobic country in Europe, there are no open LGBT communities. As a rule, parents disown their LGBT children and kick them out of their home. But even those who have found the strength to understand and support their child, cannot do it openly.

Shamil no longer lives in Azerbaijan, he left after the “September pogroms”. Then the police detained representatives of the LGBT community on the street and took them to the police station. Over the course of several days, about a hundred people were arrested, insulted, beaten and raped. “I accepted his departure with understanding," says Shamil's mother. 

I thought, I’d let [my son] live free, live as he wants.

READ MORE: Parents disown their LGBT children in fear of public opinion (by Meydan.TV)

Belarus. Understand to accept

“Where have you seen a guy who understands LGBT people? Here, there is one in front of you!” says Oleg Gaevsky, 84-year-old father of lesbian, Stella. To accept the homosexuality of a child, you need to understand this phenomenon, Oleg believes.

In Belarus, the situation with LGBT rights has always been bad. Officials publicly insult LGBT citizens by calling them “fake”. Nevertheless, youths unite and fight for their rights, but their parents are in a different situation. Most often they have to endure the experience alone.

The reason for homophobia is that people simply do not understand the nature of the phenomenon. They need to be enlightened, Oleg says: “I will fight homophobia until I burst. How does one fight? You just need to [speak] to the people. They will understand everything.”

READ MORE: How parents in Belarus live after their kids come out (by Euroradio)

The daughter approves of her dad's fight for LGBT rights. She regularly sends him articles on the subject. Stella herself has not lived in Belarus for a long time; she has traveled the world and settled in San Francisco. Oleg believes that his daughter chose this city, because there, unlike Belarus, LGBT people live easily and freely.

Moldova. Parents help each other

“A bomb hit our house” – this is how Elena Anmeghikian describes the moment when her son Maxim confessed to her that he was gay. There was never the question of ending her relationship with her son, but it was hard to truly accept Maxim.

In Moldova, parents often perceive children's homosexuality as a tragedy, and society as a whole has a negative attitude towards members of the LGBT community. Elena was supported by other parents of LGBT children.

Her son brought her and her husband to the LGBT parents' mutual aid group. “From the moment they found support and understanding there, they continue to attend the meetings. This group helped them get rid of their feelings of guilt,” says Maxim.

I think [my parents] had the feeling that they did something wrong, perhaps that they didn’t bring me up properly, that maybe it was their mistake as parents.

Maxim left Moldova and now lives in England. Elena still continues to attend group meetings and is already helping other parents to accept their children.

Georgia. Parents become activists

“With the birth of every queer child, a queer parent ‘is born’ too,” believes Nana Pantsulaia. She not only accepts her daughter's homosexuality, but also actively fights for LGBT rights in Georgia. On May 17, 2013, Pantsulaia stood next to her daughter when a mob led by priests attacked people who had come out for a protest against homophobia.

In Georgia, a special law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. There is a law, but it is not effective, and discrimination continues, human rights activists believe. Georgian society itself remains extremely homophobic, they argue.

Mariam, the daughter of Nana, left Georgia and has been living in the USA for several years. “Here, nobody throws stones at me on the street, they don’t tear my hair out on public transport, they don’t slap me in the face in nightclubs, nobody tries to rape me because of my sexual orientation,” says Mariam.

[In Georgia], I experienced all of this the hard way, and more than once.

LGBT people find it difficult to live freely in Eastern European countries, so instead, they move to places where society is ready to accept them. Parents who remain at home may find life even more difficult than their LGBT children. But nonetheless, those families where parents accept their children, remain close and support each other.

READ MORE: LGBT individuals and their parents in Georgia (by JAM News)

People who worked on the project within the framework of Russian Language News Exchange: Dmitry Avaliani, Katerina Aleksandr, Olga Bulat, Maria Voitovich, Khatia Gogoberidze, Igor Ionescu, Svetlana Kozlova, Masha Kolesnikova, Andrey Mamay, Pavel Khodinsky, Alyona Churke and Meydan TV