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(Why Do They Hate Us?… with Gio D from Istanbul)

I took an instant liking to Gio. As soon as I met him I had this odd feeling that there was something different about him, and as it turned out, he was Georgian. I was excited to shoot a Georgian – I really want to do a Tbilisi or Batumi issue one day, but the level of homophobia in Georgian society is precariously high, too high for an Elska issue since it could endanger the boys just by being in an issue. 

I know because I previously worked on a PhD where my research topic was on homophobia in Georgia. I even spent months there and learned the language. When I got back to England I wrote and published two books on Georgian grammar, and even got a job as a cook in a Georgian restaurant in London where the rest of the kitchen staff only spoke Georgian. So Gio and I spoke a bit of Georgian together during our shoot and we bonded. I was shocked when he filled out his model release form and wrote “18” as his age so our bond was more of a bit of a big brother – little brother, or even father – son one.

Being so young and LGBT can be a lonely and confusing thing, especially in a country like Turkey with its own societal homophobia, although Istanbul is practically San Francisco compared to Tbilisi. So I was happy to stay in touch with Gio after the shoot, happy to offer any advice, support, or just a virtual hug from time to time.

He wrote me on the day of the Orlando shooting, saying he was feeling really sad. “Why do they hate us?” he asked me. It’s a really hard question, one that I could attempt to begin to answer using an overcomplicated explanation involving politics, religion, and culture. But it’s not an answer that he really needed. You can’t explain away hatred. I just wanted to show him that we need to stick together, support each other, stand up for ourselves and not cower. Coming out can be hard in a place like Turkey. You can lose friends and family over it. But at the same time, we as LGBT people can become a new family. Gio is my brother. I’m here for you, mate.

See more of Gio D and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (06) Istanbul

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