Bullying, Witch Hunts and Opera: What Tamar Iveri has to teach us about ourselves

This post is for us in the LGBT community. Please read and comment.

The past few days have seen a mounting imbroglio over Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri. Iveri enjoys an international opera career in lyric soprano roles, and she has performed at a number of important opera houses including The Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and Vienna State Opera, to name a few. I don't know Iveri's singing, but from her track record, it appears she has had quite a lot of success and has returned to a number of companies, indicating she is likely pleasant to work with.

It seems Iveri has gotten herself into some trouble, however, over an open letter she wrote to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on May 17, 2013. It seems that some news travels slowly. It was only this past week -- over a year later -- that the contents of this letter were read, resulting in a good degree of outrage and name calling by the LGBT opera community. The letter (which has been reposted here), is a disorganized diatribe condemning Georgia's growing alliance with the West and asking President Saakashvili to guard against the West's "fecal masses”, mainly referring to gay people. The main theme is that although Iveri has gay friends and family, she believes that if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. The letter compares marchers in Tblisi's gay pride parade to cancer:

"the fact is that cancer metastases need to be removed in the beginning of the process... If you ignore it today.... tomorrow they will demand same-sex marriages, the day after tomorrow they will require rights for adoption. And I really do not want Georgia, a place that I am always happy to visit, to resemble certain blocks of Amsterdam."

Iveri's nostalgia for the Georgia she knows as a haven for conservative Georgian Christianity is clearly stronger than the affinity she has for her gay friends and family.

This letter was issued via Iveri's Facebook page and sat there for over a year.

Fast forward to June 2014. OUTRAGE. It seems that whoever had read her letter initially built up enough pressure in the press to lead an attack against Iveri, directed mainly at Opera Australia and her upcoming engagement as Desdemona there. The media attention caused Iveri to release an apology and explanation for the letter, which was written allegedly by her much more conservative husband. After a sequence of jockeying and petitioning against Iveri, Opera Austrialia and its sponsors, the Opera released her from her contract just today.

The end.

Or is it? 

There are two things that bother me a great deal about this episode. The first is the role of gender in all of this. Some of the insults that have been hurled at Iveri have been downright misogynistic. Here are just a few of the hundreds of comments on her Facebook page:

The negative anti-female language directed at Iveri is very troublesome and I hope to discuss it at a later date.

The second issue that is bothering me is one of bullying and witch hunting. It was not long ago in major cities in Western Europe and the American Northeast, West Coast, Chicago and a few other locations that gay men and women suffered a great deal of discrimination. We only need to look a few decades ago to be reminded that the LGBT community was the object of bullying on a regular basis. In the US today, we see young people committing suicide because of anti-gay bullying. Just last month a crowd on Atlanta's Metro looked on and cheered as two transgender women were attacked. And let's not forget to look outside the borders of the affluent West. Attacks against gay people are regular in Russia, and anti-gay legislation (often supported by American Christian organizations) is commonplace in Sub-Saharan nations like Uganda and elsewhere in the world.

So what do we LGBT people become if we turn the tables and bully Tamar Iveri? She is such an easy target. Her statements are so stupid and amount to career suicide. But really, if we cast stones, then how are we any better than her? How are we rising above intolerance? How are we LGBT people setting an example of how we wish to be treated?

Here are a few more of the hundreds of negative comments on her Facebook page:

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It seems to me that we humans love to hate people who are easy targets. We all can fall into a mob mentality and rail against someone with increasing scorn; it takes so little effort. If we wish to move beyond this hatred and reach a better place for ourselves, then we need to learn how to view others -- even those who say and do wretched things -- with patience and understanding. This is especially true for those of us who identify as LGBT. We need to serve as examples of the love we wish to see in the world. If we turn the hate back on people like Tamar Iveri, then we are a sad lot of folks indeed.

I, for one, need as much work at this as the next person.