“Every day, I’m in touch with people who could be homophobic. It’s because of my strong way that people are very kind and polite, there are no problems in the street,” – says Anastasia Pirveli, a Georgian and openly LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) singer. With fiery red hair and impeccable style, her strength commands presence as she strides into the Fabrika lobby. We have met to discuss her musical career, LGBT activism and plans for the future.
Born in Batumi as the son of the head of the police department, Anastasia was musical from a young age. She started playing the piano aged six and won singing competitions before coming out openly as transgender. Perhaps surprisingly, being transgender has never been an issue for her. “I was raised in the right way,” she tells me, “of course my family had their ideas and preconceptions, but they supported me.”
Anastasia’s belief in acceptance is deep-rooted. In January, she became the first ever LGBT performer to appear on a Eurovision qualifying show in Georgia by participating in Sakartvelos Varsk’vlavi (GeoStar), the Georgian version of the Idol franchise. Although judges praised her performance of ‘I wish you love’, it highlighted the difficulties of balancing a singing career whilst being transgender; focus can easily shift from her singing talent to her gender. “I think they used me for ratings,” says Anastasia.
Despite not progressing to the next stage, Anastasia’s performance was a big statement and a historic first in Georgia, an otherwise socially conservative country. Only in 2013, a small gay rights protest was met violently by thousands of anti-demonstrators. The LGBT community is still stigmatized, and transgender persons face difficulties in Georgia: although support networks exist, many in the LGBT community are forced to hide their sexuality and attacks are not uncommon. “There are many incidents. Some people are beaten and killed,” Anastasia says. “But I’ve never had a problem.”
Anastasia wants to make a positive difference not just with her image, but also her actions: “I’m really involved in the LGBT community here, doing training for people who maybe don’t have so much access to information or support and helping people who can no longer live at home because of a lack of education.” She works together with LGBT groups to provide identity training and help people to overcome the difficulties of being LGBT in Georgia. “This is our mission: to make Georgia better and to be activists,” Anastasia says. “I can call myself an activist against hate. It doesn’t matter what gender someone is.”
Georgia is witnessing many changes as an energetic young generation fights to have their voice heard. The Bassiani protests in May 2018 showed the strength of their voice and how acceptance is becoming more mainstream. Anastasia shows me a video on her phone from a recent shooting for a music video with rapper Bera Ivanishvili, the son of prominent Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. “The whole video is about acceptance and people who are a bit different,” she says.
Anastasia has many projects planned for the coming months, both in her work as an activist and her singing career. She is looking to record new songs and continue to promote her music. “I focus on the future,” she says. As much as she is using her visibility through music to promote LGBT issues, being transgender doesn’t define her and her career is still at the forefront of her mind.
Before meeting Anastasia, it could be easy to presume that she is a marginalized victim in society because of her gender. However, her self-belief and support have helped her to rise above potential problems. Her attitude is a strong act of defiance towards difficulties and rejection in Georgia. “I’m the same everywhere,” she says, “I’m confident.” And no one could ever believe otherwise.