TOGETHER RESISTING, SUPPORTING, HEALING
I don’t like the likes of you, but what about the Constitution?
33-year-old Ashot had health issues. He had a sore throat, and the home treatment wouldn’t help him. He applied to the district polyclinic. To his great amazement the doctor said: “I won’t diagnose you!” “She looked at me, at my appearance and said if I examine you, I will no longer have any patients. They’ll say I’m serving faggots. So, they’ll be disgusted to come to me, and besides I don’t like the likes of you.” Ashot tried to argue stating that the person who’s taken the Hippocratic oath shall not have a discriminatory attitude and besides, what made her assume that he was homosexual. “The doctor said – Boy, from the way you’re dressed, your tattoos, go, go away from here! And don’t use your throat for other things so much, so it won’t hurt,” Ashot recalls and tells that he went out of the doctor’s room hardly holding his emotions.
“I was normally dressed, sure, I hadn’t gone ther naked. I just like dressing freestyle, I use different color combinations,” Ashot says and adds that one’s clothes and tattoos cannot determine the person’s character or identity. Offended Ashot called his journalist friend and the latter informed the Ministry of Health about the case. “In result, I was examined by the best doctors of the Republic. But can you imagine how many people like me may not have any acquaintances that would help them and their rights may be violated,” Ashot states.
He says that many people from circle of acquaintances don’t know about his orientation and he thinks that even if they learnt about it, nothing would change in his life. “I am like that. Maybe that’s a disease, maybe a lifestyle. But those stereotypes, disgust must gradually change. Do I bother the heterosexuals like that? Friends, I am like this.” Ashot says.
There are many articles beautifully established in the supreme law of Armenia – the Constitution. According to the 1st clause of Article 3 the human being shall be the highest value in the Republic of Armenia. The inalienable dignity of the human being shall constitute the integral basis of his or her rights and freedoms. According to the Article 23 Human dignity is inviolable. According to Article 29, Discrimination based on sex, race, skin colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion, world view, political or other views, belonging to a national minority, property status, birth, disability, age, or other personal or social circumstances shall be prohibited. However, the human rights established by the Constitution are often violated, which leaves Ashot and many-many others in a desparate situation. New Generation Humanitarian NGO tries to support and ensure the protection of the members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities.
May 17th is celebrated annually around the world as the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. The international community celebrates this day since 2004 to bring the public attention to the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people face all over the world.
The date of May 17th was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
This year New Generation Humanitarian NGO organized a meeting-discussion titled “LGBTI community in Armenia. Issues, progress and opportunities” to mark this special day. Representatives of Diplomatic Missions in Armenia, international organizations, state agencies, local NGOs, community-based NGOs and LGBTI community, journalists, human rights defenders activists and other stakeholders participated in the event.
NOTE-1։ What do the terms homophobia, transphobia, biphobia mean?
Homophobia – fear, hatred and disgust towards homosexual people or people perceived as homosexuals and towards homosexuality. Negative stereotypes and prejudices lay at the roots of homophobia.
Transphobia– fear, hatred and disgust towards transsexual, transgender people or people percieved as such. Negative stereotypes and prejudices lay at the roots of transphobia.
Biphobia- fear, hatred and disgust towards bisexual people. Negative stereotypes and prejudices lay at the roots of biphobia.
Let’s celebrate the power of love
Shombi Sharp, UN Resident Coordinator for Armenia, John Gallagher, Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Armenia, Elizabeth Kuhse, US Deputy Head of Mission, Jan Plesinger, Deputy Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, George Monsanta, Deputy Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Armenia, Werner Thut, Deputy Ambassador of Switzerland to Armenia, Izabella Eriksson, Deputy Ambassador of Sweden to Armenia, Laura Fracassa, representative of the Embassy of Argentine Republic to Armenia congratulated the members of the Armenian LGBTI community on the occasion of May 17. They said that this was the day of celebration together with speaking up about rights and fighting for their protection and the brave people shall be congratulated. Though discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender inequality are prohibited by UN Conventions, however stigma, violence and hate speach still prevail in the world, including Armenia. Jan Plesinger mentioned that according to the 6 criteria in Europe, Armenia is 47th out of 49 countries with discriminatory attitude towards the LGBTI community, which is not a good result. It is commendable that Armenia has adopted the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Violence (Lanzarote Convention), but much remains to be done. The representatives of diplomatic missions expressed a conviction that the new government formed after the early parliamentary elections in Armenia in June will adopt the necessary legislative packages that will eliminate discrimination.
Prerevolutionary and postrevolutionary Armenia
According to the current authorities the Velvet Revolution of 2018 changed a lot of things. Did the LGBTI community members feel any revolutionary, i.e. radical change. According to New Generation Humanitarian NGO Sergey Gabrielyan “the revolution has not had much impact on the public opinion. Moreover, not much has changed on the institutional level. Extremely homophobic, transphobic moods continue to prevail in Armenia. Surveys made among different layers of the society have shown that many people still make calls for bruning, killing, annihilating LGBTI people, hate crimes continue to be conducted and remain unpunished,” Sergey Gabrielyan said. According to him one of the reasons of this is the legislative gap that the state has not passed the Law on Ensuring Equality Before the Law, which would enable the LGBTI people to apply to court and establish that a violation had occured. At the same time he also mentioned that the adoption of the law in the format developed by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia would not make any significant changes if the judicial system was not changed. Every year New Generation Humanitarian NGO publishes a report which records the human rights violations and manifestations of discrimination of the current year or/and the previous years․ “We have an analysis which draws a comparison between the hate speech prevalence on the online platform of 2018 and 2019. Simultaneously, every year we submit the hate crimes registered by our NGO to the OCSE ODIHR. The documented cases are also regularly reported to a number of international structures,” Sergey Gabrielyan notes. The interviewee also states, “the state apparatus tries to refrain from creation of an intolerant environment trying to take the minimum the discriminatory attitude and calls for violence against LGBTI people in their institutions. The community will be speaking, will be fighting, the community is strained and we must reach to the point when each of us has equal rights,” Sergey Gabrielyan says.
NOTE-2։ From January 2020 to April 30 2021 New Generation Humanitarian NGO provided 648 legal consultations. 165 cases of discrimination and human rights violations were registered. 14 of these cases are examined at the domestic court instances of the Republic of Armenia. 3 cases are lodged at the ECHR. The organization provides the beneficiaries with legal consultation, attorney’s services in case of necessity and court representation.
I am proud and brave․․․․
Transgender woman Seda Ghazaryan is proud with her identity and is not ashamed of it. She found the strength to tell the members of her family about her identity when she was 17 years old. “I realized I couldn’t live in falsehood and double life. I wanted to look in the mirror and see my real image, as I imagine myself,” Seda says. She has passed through a lot of difficulties, has been living apart from her family. Seda says that other people and the very members of her family thought that she’d be cured of her illness with the passing of the years. “They used to say that it’s curable, you’ll forget about it. I lived separate from them and didn’t speak with anybody for two years. But in the 3rd year my mother told me that she wanted me to achieve my dream – to reassign my sex. And I wish all the members of our community to have such good relations with their relatives as I and my Mom do.” Seda concluded.
Nora Aghazaryan uses real and online platforms to raise the awareness of the society. Of course, her open speech leads to hate speech and calls for violence against her but it won’t stop her. “We must fight proudly, break the stereotypes and we must realize that we too can become good doctors, cooks, pedagogues and people of other specialties. We must be proud and not afraid to speak up about our gender identity so that they treat us the same way as the heterosexual people,” Nora is convinced.
Hmayak Avetisyan stated that he had been fighting against discrimination and violence still from childhood. According to him it is very dangerous and requires courage to protect the human rights of LGBTI people in Armenia. “Let alone openly living such life, coming out to one’s relatives, friends,” Hmayak says. He is convinced that no change is made in an hour or a day just with one movement. “If we are advocating, then we must be brave and ready to the fact that our path is going to be full of many dangers. But we must reach to the point when one’s sexuality doesn’t change an attitude because it is only one component of our identity, we have other merits as well.” Hmayak is convinced.
Continous and constant․․․
According to the words of New Generation Humanitarian NGO projects coordinator Alina Mirzoyan, the work of the Organization is not limited to only public events. It is continuous and pretty much around the clock. The activity of the organization aimed at the fight against discrimination and violence, human rights protection and legislative reforms includes strategic litigations, legislative initiatives, advocacy interventions in order to achieve the adoption of an anti-discrimination legislation that will directly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected grounds from discrimination.
In particular, the adoption of the law draft on Legal Recognition of Gender Identity and additions to the N 276-Ն Decision of the Government of the Republic of Armenia of March 27, 2008 is advocated, the Draft for amendments and additions to № 06-Ն Decree by the Minister of Health of Armenia of February 7, 2003 is also on the agenda which envisages the removal of permanent restriction for blood donation of homosexual men established by subclause a) of Clause 15 of Article 1 of the Appendix 2 of the Decree. “The interventions of awareness raising and fight against the anti-LGBTI rhetoric also include media-campaigns, social videos, information-educational materials,” Alina Mirzoyan mentions.
God loves everyone
Human rights defender Arman Sahakyan does not avoid defending the interests of LGBTI community members. Many human rights defenders are of course afraid of stigma and discrimination. “I cannot understand those human rights defenders. You can not approach human rights selectively, you must protect everyone without distinctions”, Arman says. He admits that his work and activism resulted in “loss” of friends and relatives. “I raise the issues of LGBTI people also on Mass Media, that’s why my relatives tell me not to speak openly but if not we, then who, and if not now, then when? This is also a struggle”, the human rights defender is convinced. Arman Sahakyan says he was considered an enemy of the nation by “Iravunk” newspaper because of his work, and the case is now examined at the ECHR. All of this does not break the human rights defender and he will go on in the same spirit. He reminds the community members of the words of a european speaker, “When you feel abandoned and rejected, stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself that you are beautiful”. “Yes, everyone is beautiful in their own way. It is not about our physicals or appearance. We have inner beauty. Stand up and tell yourself that you are beautiful, strong and you have equal rights to life”, the human rights defender states. And as the self-rejection comes from religion as well in Armenia, he also reminds, ”God loves everyone…”.
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.