Elska, a project dedicated to sharing the bodies and voices of LGBTQ communities around the world, has put the spotlight on Tbilisi, Georgia for its latest edition. Inside, readers can get to know a cross-section of ordinary gay, bi and queer men from this most beautiful corner of the former Soviet Union, presenting them through intimate photography and personal storytelling.
“I imagine that making a gay publication on Tbilisi, a place few in the wider world know much about, might seem like an odd choice, but it’s a city I have always wanted to feature for this project, one of my top five favourite cities in the world” says Elska editor and chief photographer Liam Campbell. “However, the reason it took us until our forty-fourth issue to come here is because gay life in Georgia is notoriously difficult. Despite a rather progressive post-Soviet government that passed many ‘European’-standard laws to protect the LGBTQ community, a highly conservative and Orthodox society has had other goals, meaning that regardless of the legal situation, local gays have felt little safety. To name just a few examples, a local LGBTQ magazine had its offices raided by police for bogus charges, the same happened to a community centre, and several Pride marches have seen their attendees greatly outnumbered by violent counter-protestors. Yet the LGBTQ community kept marching anyway, they kept creating more spaces, and in greater numbers every year. With this spirit I decided that if local gays could find the courage to assert their existence, we could at least back them up by highlighting that homosexuals do indeed exist in Georgia and deserve our attention.“
Inside ‘Elska Tbilisi’ and the companion zine ‘Elska Ekstra Tbilisi‘ fifteen local men are introduced. Each was photographed in the streets of this intoxicating town and in their homes, revealing their style, their mood, and their bodies. Each also wrote a personal story, penned themselves, bringing you even closer to them. The tales they contributed touch upon a variety of subjects, such as Omo T’s meditation over whether his thirtieth birthday means he should finally settle down; Nika J’s childhood recollection of the day Russia started bombing his country in a war that resulted in the occupation of 20% of Georgian territory; Dmitrii G’s piece on the hardships of fleeing conscription into the Russian army to fight Ukraine by moving to a country that is hardly welcoming towards Russians like him; Nika P’s recount of a visit to a traditional bathhouse on a day when a fight broke out; and Iakob M’s recollections on how dance saved him from bullying during high school.
‘Elska Tbilisi’ is 196 pages and is available from a select group of shops around the world as well as for order online from the Elska website. In addition, the comparison zine ‘Elska Ekstra Tbilisi’ is available, including four more local men and their stories, as well as hundreds of pages of outtakes and a behind the scenes diary from the making of our Georgian series. The list of stockists and details of the subscription service can also be found on the Elska website: www.elskamagazine.com.