For the first time, an LGBT Forum was held in Armenia. Yes, you read it right. An LGBT Forum. In Armenia. It was symbolically called “Rainbow.” Just a couple of years ago, organizing such a forum and then publicizing it seemed to be impossible. For me personally, participating in it would have been something I could have never imagined. But things change.
PINK Armenia took the responsibility of organizing the forum. Forty participants—both from the LGBT community and supporters of the community—gathered in the Lori region for two days to discuss numerous LGBT-related issues, and discuss strategies for visibility and dealing with hate and homophobia. The most important matter was how to build a sustainable LGBT movement in Armenia with solidarity from supporters and allies.
When I first saw the invitation to apply for participation, I had a brief “wow” moment, which disappeared after I read that the forum would be a private one. Nevertheless, I applied and later came to the conclusion that making it private was a rational step, taking into account how homophobic Armenian society is.
The two days that we spent in Lori—surrounded by the breathtaking autumn nature—were intense in terms of the profound and extensive discussions. As a result of these discussions, sessions, and activities, we could more or less identify where we are both as LGBT individuals and as a movement—what place we occupy in society, what our needs are, who our allies and opponents are, where we’d like to direct our movement, and what the most important issues are that we must tackle. To cut it short, we discussed vital existential questions.
For me, the working environment was a nice addition to the comradely atmosphere. There were many people I had never met before. What I liked the most was that there was a clear understanding that solidarity, inclusion, and equality within the community itself are what we absolutely must have. Sometimes, we had absolutely different understandings and approaches to certain issues—for instance, coming out and outing—but the differences weren’t obstacles for me to feel surrounded with love, understanding, acceptance, and respect. I wish I felt like that all the time.
At the end, we took two group pictures with a huge rainbow flag. One was for publishing: It featured only those participants who were ready to have their pictures published; and another was for our keeping, including all the participants. The majority of participants weren’t ready to have their picture published yet for numerous reasons.
Even though I didn’t have much time to become attached to the group both emotionally and mentally, I didn’t feel like going back home. It was partly because I knew that the very moment the news about the forum was published, the wave of extremely hateful, misogynistic, chauvinistic, and discriminatory reactions would spread through Armenian society.
I wasn’t wrong; it happened so. Nothing new, really. We, as a movement, and we, as individuals, have had our own experiences with hate towards everything LGBT related in Armenia. These reactions, in fact, are very good indicators for us and for the whole world. Apart from those usual hateful comments—such as “Burn them all” and “They are sodomizing our sacred lands and spreading perversions”—I’d like to point out some new rhetoric that I have observed in Armenia.
The first is connected to the Islamic State (IS). Yes, really, the Islamic State! There are those who do think that the IS should come to Armenia just to wipe out all LGBT individuals: kill them, burn them, behead them, you name it. They voice these opinions on social media. What is absolutely incomprehensible for me is that often the individuals who are inviting IS to come to Armenia and fight gays are against IS in other matters.
Another trend is connected to the fact that Armenia is a highly militarized state. The hate linked to this issue comes down to the opinions that LGBT individuals don’t deserve the protection that the Armenian military is offering citizens. LGBT people are perceived as a group of enemies from within. The type of discourse that claims, “Our soldiers don’t fight the enemies to let these perverts exist and spread,” dehumanizes LGBT individuals, and labels them enemies.
Last, I want to mention the “Gay is not Armenian” discourse. In fact, LGBT is just one of many groups that are perceived as completely foreign, hostile, and opposite to the so-called “sacred Armenian spaces” like church, family, army, religion, and traditions. Whatever it is that doesn’t fit in this concept of “sacred spaces” is automatically discarded as non-Armenian—as if being Armenian means bearing a certain number of very categorical imperatives by default. These “sacred Armenian spaces” are not inclusive at all—not only towards LGBT individuals, but other minority groups as well.
The hate that is massively generated is harmful for the LGBT community on multiple levels. In fact, one of the participants of the forum was followed and threatened just because she had an LGBT flag sticker on her phone. What people don’t realize is that LGBT individuals are present in those “sacred spaces” and have always been.
Unfortunately, we have to deal with these primitive and narrow concepts: We have what we have. But if that is the reality, if we still have to concentrate on nationality, traditions, and Armenian-ness in their worst manifestations, and if it matters that much, then gays too have to serve in the army and protect those “sacred spaces.” There are gay people who are religious, and there are gays who serve in church too. LGBT people are athletes that win gold medals for their countries. They work as teachers, drivers, politicians, doctors, and they can be your cousins, brothers, sisters, you name it.
If people don’t know about them, it doesn’t mean they don’t or can’t exist. They do exist in the best terms they can. I exist, I am happy, I have a person I love, family, and friends. Now some of us have to hide, but I am sure that is temporary. Because hate is temporary. Because love conquers hate.
A citizen of Armenia who has to hide