LGBTI migration and the other side of it
A large part of the representatives of the LGBTI + community in Armenia are moving or at least trying to move to Europe and other continents.
What are they leaving for, what are the reasons?
How do LGBTI + people who left Armenia survive and try to arrange their lives abroad?
Unfortunately, there are no sources that have conducted an in-depth study of the history of LGBTI+ migration, there is only approximate data starting from the 1900s. In many countries, homosexuality has been considered a mental disorder or a sin that time so it also has been a valid reason for deporting people from the country (for example in the USA, Australia, etc.).
In Armenia, homosexuality was included in the criminal code as a crime in 1961, and in 2003 it was finally decriminalized with the adoption of a new code (source 1, source 2). However, public opinion and attitude towards people with “non-traditional” sexual orientation and different gender identity still remains bad.
What challenges LGBTI + people face in Armenia is a very large topic, but the fact is that as a result of those challenges they are leaving Armenia in search of a safer and more secure future for themselves and their generations.
“The reason for leaving Armenia was the serious problems I faced because of my sexual orientation, this is how Arthur (the name was changed by his wish) who now lives in the Netherlands starts the interview. The first and most important thing was the impossibility of getting protection from the government. There came a time when different circles uncovered my orientation, and I no longer felt safe. I was afraid of revenge including physical violence and I was sure that I could not get any protection from the government. Secondly, I was afraid that I would not be able to make a career in my field anymore. I worked in such a competitive field that some people used my sexual orientation against me to harm me. And third, I realized for a moment that I could not have a normal personal life in Armenia. I mean long-term relationships and living with your loved one. I knew several gay couples who lived together, but in general the situation in Armenia is such that it is very difficult or impossible to build a relationship.”
In general, same-sex marriage is legal in 29 countries, 16 of which are on the continent of Europe, and the population of which with is over one billion. Ava also lives in one of those countries.
Ava left Armenia in 2017․ During our interview, to our question what induced her to leave Armenia Ava answers: “Everything that is happening in Armenia, the attitude of the people and living in danger. But the first and biggest reason was that living in Armenia I had to do sex work, because for most trans women there, sex work is the only way to survive. I could not bear it and I thought that I should leave whenever I have an opportunity. And even after the difficulties, hard moments, I never looked back, because I never wanted to go through it all again.”
Ava had her last sex job in Armenia, now she arranges her life in Belgium studying nursing at university and singing jazz-pop-rock in a Music Academy. “I studied nursing in Armenia as well. And even though I graduated anyway everything was awful ․ During the last year, people “discovered” me, called my “work” number over the loudspeaker in the presence of professors and asked for a price for my services, as a result of which they later wanted to expel me from college. But I was so lucky that I was one of their best students, and someone did not allow them to kick me out. In any case, it would be impossible to find a job or continue my studies there, as I had not been able to attend classes properly for the past year. Then it turned out that the Armenian medical diploma does not even pass here. That’s why I decided to learn from scratch again.”
And when asked exactly how, when and what discrimination she was subjected to, Ava smiled and answered ․ “Every day and almost everywhere. The most severe cases were the physical attacks. I was attacked a lot, beaten, my nose was broken, a beer bottle was broken on my head, once I was attacked and beaten by 20 people. It is not a single case, there have been many. Or I rented a house, and then the landlord’s criminal son, who had previously been in jail for stubbing someone, came and attacked me and my girlfriend, pushed her down from the stairs. We fled from there.
Ava notes that due to the existence of sex education in Belgium, the topic of LGBT is not unfamiliar to people, which contributes to a more tolerant atmosphere ․ “The difference with Armenia is, first of all, that there is a law and people realize that they have no right to discriminate against you because of being trans. “They can look, whisper, or migrants from other countries can leave some strange comments, but the case does not lead to violence, you do not live in fear here.”
And according to Eurostat statistics, in 2019, Belgium ranks second among the countries that provided asylum to refugees, rebating only to Germany.
In general, the flow of LGBTI refugees to Europe from various countries, including Armenia, began to increase in 2013, due to the fact that at that time the European Court recognized gender-minority as a social group whose members have the right to apply for asylum in EU countries.
And why a social group, and why was it considered much more difficult to get asylum before that?
The decision was made on the basis of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which deals with persons persecuted in the homeland because of race, religion, citizenship, social affiliation or political affiliation.
The LGBTI community was recognized as a social group after examining the cases of three asylum seekers from three different African countries: Sierra Leone, Senegal and Uganda. They were to be sentenced to life in prison for their sexual orientation, particularly homosexuality. Based on the above-mentioned convention, the Court of First Instance of the Netherlands could not decide whether these persons are members of one of the groups mentioned in the convention or not. Then the issue reached the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) and a change was made in the convention․ The LGBTI community was recognized as a social group. This was announced by the Court of Justice of the European Union in its press release.
And there the flow began.
But it is also difficult abroad to overcome the psychological traumas of the past and start a new life. The vast majority of people who are forced to emigrate are not only unwilling to live in a different culture and speak a different language, but also face the same discrimination from other refugees and even government employees.
Ava made the decision to emigrate and did it in just one month․ “I did not know at all what was waiting for me. I found myself in a new place, where everything from the schedule of the shops to calling a taxi was done differently. It was very difficult because I was trying to understand first what was happening and what was going to happen. And I lived in a refugee camp for about a year with about 3-400 people who had also just arrived, bringing their culture and the problems that had caused them to leave their countries. And they, of course, had a very discriminatory attitude. And I did not know anyone at all here and even in the neighboring countries. During the first year I was completely alone.
There was no time left in Armenia to work on your own traumas, something bad was constantly happening all the time․ All you had to do was try to stay alert and take care of yourself, avoid the next beating, solve some problems, go to the police, where nothing was done. And when I was left alone, and those problems seemed far away, I had time to think, to understand what had happened to me, as a result of which my traumas immediately came to the surface. It was also very difficult to work on myself, to put up with the past and try to start a new life ․․․ And besides whole new culture, new people, new language, new rules: life had to be created from scratch.”
The clash of old and new cultural norms is unavoidable in the life of migrants. The chain of complications associated with moving to a new country can last from a few months to several years. But hope for the future makes you overcome everything․
“I was in such a bad psychological state when leaving Armenia,” says Arthur, “everything here seemed tolerable and overcomable to me compared to Armenia.” The first difficulty is related to the waiting situation for living in a refugee camp and getting a residence status. The living conditions of the camp are good, but I could not always avoid the feeling of loneliness and conflicts with some other camp residents. After receiving a status and an apartment, you face the second group of problems: cultural shock, the need to learn a language, understand the position of this society, etc. It takes years to solve it. After all, both in my case and in the case of the vast majority of homosexuals I know that came here from Armenia, life is arranged here successfully. The most important thing for me here is the feeling of security and peace that I did not have in Armenia after the age of 14-15. Here, homosexual refugees from Armenia, as a rule, are able to solve not only the problems related to integration into the new society, but also the psychological problems brought with them from Armenia. problems caused by widespread homophobia in Armenia. In particular, in 4-5 years I managed not only to get a good education and start my dream career here, but also to enter into a long-term relationship and even settle my tense relations with my parents left in Armenia.”
In the homeland, a person faces dangers threatening his life and health, and during the relocation, a person faces problems arising from changes, which are initially difficult to prepare for. Applying for migration is not like any other life decision, it is a turning point and it is like a flight to the unknownness. Unknownness, which, in fact, puts aside the feeling of constant fear and gives an opportunity to live.
If you have also emigrated because of barriers based on sexual orientation or gender identity or have experienced stigma and discrimination, your story can be very helpful to many others. We will be very grateful if you share your story with us. You can contact us by [email protected] e-mail address.
The compilation and publication of this material has become possible within the framework of the project on Capacity Building and Empowerment for Protection of LGBTI Human Rights in Armenia implemented by New Generation Humanitarian NGO with the financial support of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of New Generation Humanitarian NGO or the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.