By Apraham Niziblian
As an Agoump rat, I grew up in a very Armenian and traditional household and community here in Montreal, attending Sourp Hagop Day School, participating in the AYF as a local and Central Committee executive, and later joining the ARF ranks—as the Karabagh movement was at its most critical moments. All this was done, however, while I hid an important part of my identity. I constantly feared how the community would deal with me as an Out AYF-er or ARF-er. I always feared the worst! So I preferred to hide.
Of course, as a teenager, I realized that I was different. When most of my childhood friends spoke of their sexual desires, I could not understand why mine were different. As my friends looked at Samantha Fox, I preferred ogling Madonna’s back-up dancers. I eventually came to the understanding that it was simply human nature, and that I could not change this part of myself, not that I ever wanted to!
My strong Armenian activism and identification with the ARF and the ANCA, coupled with my profound desire to change the status quo, eventually took me to Washington, D.C., where I lobbied for many of the issues we know and love the ANCA for—mostly for supporting the Armenian nation and every single Armenian, no matter their political and social views, and regardless of their sexual orientation.
As I decided to come out—on the cover page of the Denver Post—I faced a dilemma. Face the music (as I thought I would have to) or leave the high-profile position in the ANCA in Washington (basically, run and hide from the community). In the end, I decided to stay because it was so the right thing to do. Not a single event made me need to reconsider that decision. I knew as the first gay Armenian occupying such a position with an important Armenian American organization, I would have to answer some hard questions. I had many discussions with LGBT youth who interned or passed through the ANCA doors, whether AYF-ers or later ARF-ers. It was a naturally safe and welcome place where everyone was accepted—everyone!
While I was working in the ANCA, Aram Hamparian, my boss, as I still love to call him, and Elizabeth Chouldjian and Chris Hekimian, my colleagues, all devoted ARF members, were nothing short of supportive. As the gay marriage debate under George Bush’s first term was becoming more and more divisive, I found it surprising that the whole ANCA team, locally and nationally, regarded my sexual preference as a non-issue. They made me realize that the ARF, the ANCA, and Armenian society at large (in the diaspora and in Armenia) need every single last Armenian—and supporter—to advance our cause. This will only make us stronger as an open society, inclusive of every individual!
Though some individual Armenians, including some ARF-ers, still have issues with LGBT people in general, I need to say that the ARF Gomidehs in D.C., Montreal, Paris, or anywhere I have been, including Armenian and Artsakh, have never once shown any intolerance with regards to my sexuality.
Today, I remain an active member, participate in meetings and activities, and am never made to feel that I do not belong within the ARF structure.
Unfortunately, some elements of Armenian society are not going to accept this position, as they did not accept that bars in Armenia should be a safe-space for all free-thinkers and people of various sexual orientations. I unconditionally condemn this attack on liberty, as I know the ARF has and will again anywhere, anytime any form of intolerance occurs. I believe that our nation has not only the capacity to accept every single person, and embrace the difference, but also the obligation to do so.
Today, as the debate (finally) rages on the place Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual Armenians should have in our communities, I find there is much need for people who are out and active in our communities (and we are legion) to come forward. We can change things when and if we decide to take our place in society, not run from it.
Apraham (Apo) Niziblian is a student-at-law at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is also a former ANCA government relations director.