Secrecy and risk among MSM in Tbilisi, Georgia
There is concern that the tremendous economic, social, and political upheavals that the Republic of Georgia has undergone in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union may have created an environment fertile for HIV transmission. Notably absent from official statistics and HIV-related research in Georgia is discussion of men who have sex with men (MSM) and, therefore, little is known about the MSM population or its potential to acquire or transmit HIV. Data were collected from 30 MSM recruited through a testing and counseling center in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Two focus groups with six men each and 18 individual in-depth interviews were conducted between October 2006 and February 2007. The study participants described a Georgian culture that is largely intolerant of sexual contact between men. In describing the various forms of discrimination and violence that they would face should their sexual identities be discovered, the MSM in this sample described a variety of behaviors that they and other Georgian MSM undertake to conceal their sexual behavior. Many of these could put these men and their partners at risk for HIV. Although official HIV rates in Georgia are still low, results from this qualitative study indicate that efforts to educate and to provide unobtrusive and anonymous testing and counseling services to MSM may be critical to the deterrence of an HIV epidemic in the Republic of Georgia.