August 17, 2011

Interview with the president of PINK Armenia

Original post at the Neutral Zone

- Dear Mamikon, what is the overall situation with the LGBT community in Armenia today? What are the key challenges of the community?

People in Armenia still live with taboos and stereotypes and in many cases they mix tradition, religion, customs, habits and reality. In the past LGBT people were hiding because of intolerance, hate and ignorance, and the society thinks that we didn’t have gays at all and that this is something modern and European. In general, today people call whatever they don’t like ‘a European value’, for example gender equality, women’s role in the government and so on, but let me bring an example. What was Europe doing when at the beginning of the 20th century Armenia had women in the parliament and women diplomats? So human rights protection is a universal value and it belongs to Armenia as well.

LGBT still live with a fear and most of them are in closets. The majority doesn’t know anything about sexual orientation and gender identity, even they think that “having a different sexual orientation is immoral,” Neo-Nazi groups even say that heterosexuality is also immoral. These things show that the lack of education and knowledge makes people aggressive and they start to oppose anything they do not understand.

- What are the attitudes: in the society, families, workplace, media toward LGBT? Any changes in this respect in the last 5-10 years?

Our research on LGBT rights and violations in 2010 says that discrimination mainly starts in families and goes wider to schools, workplace, healthcare services, actually everywhere. The media usually promotes hate toward the LGBT community and we don’t have any laws to stop hate speech. Nowadays it is possible to find a few tolerant electronic media or newspapers, but the majority is homophobe, especially TV.

For example “Iravunk” daily often promotes hate crime and they present it as freedom of speech but actually freedom of speech and human rights violation are two different things and in civil and developed counties hate promoters are punished by law. On TV they use the theme of homosexuality for jokes, teasing it as an abnormal and immoral behavior. During the last 5-10 years LGBT people became more or less visible and LGBT issues are on the top of the discussion list. Whether the reaction of the society is positive or negative, the visibility of LGBT issues brings small changes.

-What is the relationship between the law and the LGBT community? Is the law discriminatory or does it protect the LGBT rights?

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 2003 but we don’t have any laws to protect LGBT people, to prevent violence, discrimination or hate speech. There aren’t any anti-discrimination laws in Armenia.

-Are there cases of violence against the LGBT community?

There are many cases of violence against the LGBT community, but mainly they are not registered as violence against LGBT or those cases are not registered at all. Cases of violence can be found everywhere, but for the most part they take place in schools, healthcare sector, police stations and army.

-Are there any positive developments?

The latest positive development was the Ombudsman’s cooperation with PINK, when we signed the Memorandum of Understanding and he announced that he and his team are ready to protect the rights of all people in Armenia and cooperate with human rights organizations. Another positive development is the existence of tolerant journalists and a few newspapers that cover LGBT issues.

The existence of networks and coalitions that support human rights brings positive changes into the society. One drop in the lake is not a big deal but later those drops will make a river and it will run to the lake.

- Is there anything else that you would like to add?

The Armenian Church, as they say, should be tolerant, spread peace and respect, but they are one of the main institutions that spread hate and intolerance against LGBT people. The topics they touch or present always come back to homosexuality and start to blame. In a recent case we had in Armenia, when the representatives of religious minorities and the Armenian Church had a conflict, during the press conference the priest talked about that conflict and religious minorities for a couple of minutes and then the whole press conference was related to homosexuality. On the other hand, it was the journalists who provoked the priest asking irrelevant questions, but the priest replied to their questions with pleasure blaming gays.

In Armenia, people still don’t know all the terms regarding LGBT issues. Many Armenians even think that gays are those who wear dresses, have make-up and behave like girls. As I mentioned, the lack of knowledge and information doesn’t let them to recognize the difference between gay/lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

By Phil Gamaghelyan