Out in the World: US imposes visa restrictions on some of Georgia's leaders following anti-LGBTQ legislation

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday June 10, 2024
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Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili. Photo: Courtesy Georgia Parliament
Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili. Photo: Courtesy Georgia Parliament

The United States struck back against Georgia's Dream Party's "Russian-styled" anti-LGBTQ legislative assault last week with its first round of visa restrictions earlier this month.

On June 3, Shalva Papuashvili, speaker of Parliament, and lawmakers from the ruling Dream Party overruled Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili's veto of a "foreign agent"-like bill. The next day, Papuashvili and party lawmakers followed it up with a comprehensive package of anti-LGBTQ bills.

The foreign agents law requires media, nongovernmental organizations, and other nonprofit groups to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

The LGBTQ legislative attack comes not only in Pride Month, but was also ahead of the European Union elections last week. Georgia's elections are forthcoming in October.

"The United States remains deeply concerned with the Georgia Dream Party's anti-democratic actions as well as its recent statements and rhetoric," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at the top of his June 6 press briefing. The visas were restricted under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the secretary of state to exclude, under certain circumstances, any applicant whose entry or proposed activities in the U.S. would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the U.S.

"These actions risk derailing Georgia's European future and run counter to the Georgia — Georgian constitution and the wishes of its people," Miller continued.

Miller did not disclose the number of restricted visas or if the individuals were notified. He only told reporters, "This first tranche of visa restrictions comprises members of the Georgian Dream Party, members of parliament, law enforcement, and private citizens."

Georgian Dream deputy Irma Zavradashvili defiantly responded to the visa restriction on social media. "I don't know whether this 'sanction' concerns me personally or not, but if it concerns or applies to me in the future, it will once again assure me that I and all the Georgian Dream deputies did everything right," Zavradashvili wrote, as reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "Sanctions cannot stop a righteous cause!"

The legislative move defied weeks of protests against the package in the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. It also moved the former Soviet Bloc country closer to Russia and away from the European Union, only six months after it was handed E.U. country candidate status.

A poll conducted by international research company Edison Research found more than 90% of Georgians support joining the E.U., and 83% support membership in NATO.

However, Politico Europe reported recent polls showed Georgia's government is expected to win October's national elections against a disunited opposition.

Brussels, the seat of the Council of the European Union, warned Georgia's ruling party that its candidate status was threatened by the country's anti-LGBTQ bills and demanded the government do more to protect human rights, including the rights of marginalized communities, reported Politico Europe.

Now pressure is growing for the E.U. to suspend Georgia's candidate status in the union, reported Civil.ge.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, who took office in February, and leaders of the Georgian Dream Party expressed confidence that Georgia is still on track to become a member state of the E.U. by 2030, reported Politico Europe.

Last month, Politico Europe reported that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned foreign aid was threatened and clearly stated Washington was reviewing its bilateral ties in the face of Georgia passing the foreign agent law. Imposing sanctions on Georgian Dream politicians for "undermining democracy" was also an option, he said at the time, and Miller reiterated to reporters last week.

The U.S. is one of Georgia's main backers for the country's integration into Western institutions and provided the country with $390 million in aid over the past several years, reported RFE/RL.

French-born Georgian President Zourabichvili, who is not a member of the Georgian Dream Party, urged the government to follow through on key reforms — including improving human rights protections — mandated by the council for the country's membership in the E.U., Politico Europe reported.

Facing Russia

Instead, on June 3, Papuashvili and lawmakers from the ruling party overrode Zourabichvili's veto of the controversial Transparency of Foreign Influence bill, making it law.

The Georgian Dream Party said the law was necessary to defend against "pseudo-liberal" values that undermine traditional family relationships in the conservative country, reported Reuters.

Georgia's Justice Ministry will implement the process for organizations, media outlets, and individuals who receive funding from abroad to comply with the new law and submit their financials for 2023 in 60 days, Papuashvili announced on June 3, reported RFE/RL.

Papuashvili told reporters organizations and individuals reporting foreign finances will make it clear what the money funded.

"We will learn that it sometimes is spent for radicalism, for some organizations that have been involved in terror and threats lately," Papuashvili said, reported RFE/RL. "Unfortunately, the foreign finances are linked to such organizations these days."

Not done yet

Papuashvili and the Georgian Dream Party took more action against Georgia's LGBTQ community, introducing the so-called Protection of Family Values and Minors package to Georgia's Parliament June 4. The package includes 19 bills and amendments to 18 laws in civil law, labor law, and education laws in the country targeting Georgia's LGBTQ community, reported Novaya Gazeta Europe and Yahoo News.

The package of bills proposed anti-LGBTQ propaganda, including teaching about LGBTQ issues in schools and depictions of same-sex couples or transgender people in media and advertising. The bills also ban same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption, gender-affirming identity and surgery, LGBTQ assembly, and more, reported Yahoo News.

The Bay Area Reporter has covered the masses of anti-LGBTQ demonstrators and violence at Tbilisi Pride and other LGBTQ events in the past. Last year, Tbilisi Pride was canceled after a mob of an estimated 5,000 anti-gay protesters clashed with police protecting the Pride marchers, reported the Washington Post.

Novaya Gazeta Europe reported the package will need to undergo its first reading during the spring parliamentary session, which ends in July. Following this first hurdle, parliament is anticipated to pick up the package again for its second and third readings in the fall.

The package's final readings in the fall, when Parliament resumes, butt up against Georgia's October elections, reported Novaya Gazeta Europe.


LGBTQ Georgian groups condemned the package, reported Reuters, and inspired demonstrations for weeks in May.

Politician and entrepreneur Mamuka Khazaradze, the leader of Lelo for Georgia, a centrist political party, called the foreign agent law a "betrayal of the future!" reported RFE/RL.

He praised the United States' actions against the Georgian Dream politicians.

"America has once again reaffirmed its unwavering support for the Georgian people," Khakaradze wrote on social media, urging his compatriots to use their vote at upcoming parliamentary elections in October to bring in change, reported RFE/RL.

Levan Khabeishvili, the head of the leading opposition United National Movement Party, also praised the U.S.'s move, reported RFE/RL. He also said the adoption of the law will also be followed by economic repercussions, calling it "just the beginning."

"Lawmakers who voted for the 'Russian Law' and police officers who dispersed peaceful demonstrators came under sanctions, and this is just the beginning," he told reporters, asking them, "What kind of investor will enter or stay in such a country?!"

Khabeishvili thanked the U.S. for "supporting the Georgian people!"

The State Department remains hopeful that Georgia will make a U-turn away from its recent undemocratic, anti-human rights, and anti-LGBTQ turn.

"It remains our hope that Georgia's leaders will reconsider their actions and take steps to move forward with their nation's long-stated democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations," Miller told reporters. "But if they do not, the United States is prepared to take additional actions."

Not waiting

Some LGBTQ Georgians aren't waiting for their country to enter the E.U. Politico Europe reported hundreds of thousands of queer Georgians in recent years have taken advantage of the visa-free travel regime offered by the E.U. and have left.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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