By Vic Gerami
I recently saw a post on the Facebook page of an Armenian woman with whom I am apparently ‘friends’ with, praising Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s modesty and friendliness. It was a photo of Pashinyan taking a selfie with young Armenians during his recent visit to San Francisco.
The first thing that came to mind as I saw the photo and the woman’s comment was how misleading it was. Let’s keep it real. Pashinyan was in America for the same reason Armenia’s Minister of Diaspora visits the USA-to lobby for money, political clout and to galvanize the Armenian-American community on his side. I don’t necessarily find fault for this; however, would Pashinyan be as ‘modest’ and ‘friendly’ if a group of queer Armenians from GALAS (Gay & Lesbian Armenian Society) wanted a selfie with him. Better yet, what if members of PINK or Right Side NGO in Armenia asked him for a photo?
So, I wrote a comment under the posted photo that read, “I wish PM Pashinyan would extend his friendliness to queer Armenians too.” Lacking originality and not surprisingly, I received a DM from this person telling me something that queer Armenians have heard for years “I am supporting LGBT rights, in Armenia and in the world. But we need to be realistic. Our culture and old mentality… Give time to the new prime minister. You think he can survive if he says it openly? Look at the crazy people in the U.S. We have a long way to go.”
Let me break this down for her and for many Armenians in Armenia, USA and elsewhere in diaspora. If you don’t remember anything from this article, remember this: The LGBTQ Rights movement is about one thing and one thing only-THE RIGHT TO BE AVERAGE-period. We don’t want special rights, better rights, more rights or anything else. BUT we want the same rights as our cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.
To her comment about being realistic: I AM realistic. No one I know is asking Pashinyan to go to a gay bar like the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, or light the Armenian Parliament with rainbow colors like President Barack Obama or preside over EuroPride like the President of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen.
But we expect his administration to enforce the law against perpetrators of anti-LGBTQ hate-crimes as they would for any other type of crime. 9 queer Armenians were dragged out of a house by 30 townspeople in 2018, including the former Mayor, beaten, two hospitalized, but there was never an official investigation or an arrest. Earlier this year, a gay man was ambushed, jumped and gay-bashed, but the authorities taunted him and said that ‘his kind’ was not welcomed in Armenia.
Yes, my FB friend, I, along with many other queer Armenians are very realistic, perhaps too realistic. Sadly, our expectations are very low. To make things worse, Pashinyan stood in front of Parliament and called LGBTQ Armenians ‘headaches.’ Criminals who get away with hate crimes, whether against LGBTQ or women are emboldened when the authorities are complicit. They are further encouraged when their PM calls the victims ‘headaches.’ Shall we discuss the case where a trans woman’s throat was slit and she was set on fire in her own apartment by a man who had sex with her but was later afraid that someone would find out?
Enforcing the law of the land is not a queer issue and not a favor to LGBTQ Armenians, rather a legal responsibility of the leader of the nation. To the point about time, why has Armenia barely started to address domestic abuse just now? How many women for decades were told to ‘give it more time’? Who bares the burden of all the women who were beaten, hospitalized and in some cases murdered by their husbands, boyfriends or male companions? Time? LGBTQ Armenians have been waiting VERY long and very patiently. We, too, have only one life to live and we want to live freely, openly and with the same freedoms afforded to you and all our heterosexual cisgender compatriots. As queer Armenians are asked to give it time, Armenia is running out of time to abandon some of its so-called ‘traditional values’ that are no longer working for it and its people.
Armenia’s corrupt hierarchy which includes the oligarchs, their cronies, the religious establishments, most politicians and their affiliates, have been using a dozen or more phrases as weapons in their campaign to keep people oppressed, misinformed and docile. They include ‘traditional values’, ‘propaganda’, ‘Western values’, ‘George Soros influenced’, and several more. The masses suffer from poverty while these people, including the higher-up members of clergy live in gaudy McMansions lavished with marble, steal from donations sent to Armenia from diaspora non-profits.
They preach about traditional values so they can continue their choke-hold on Pashinyan and corrupt politicians, promoting institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, wife-beating, corruption, mafia-style oligarchy, while Etchmiadzin benefits from it all. Where is the Church’s outrage over the alarming domestic abuse rates in Hayastan? Clergies’ deafening silence speaks for itself.
I was recently attached on Facebook by a homophobic young Armenian guy for posting an article I had written about a recent gay bashing in Armenia. He said, ‘how are we supposed to accept gay people in Armenia when the birth rate is so low?’ So, I replied, ‘Has it occurred to your that a lot of people are leaving Armenia due to lack of human rights? Has it occurred to you that hopelessness for a better future for those not in the top %1 is causing people to not have children? How is that helping Armenia’s population problem?’ Not having a rebuttal, he changed the subject in his reply and wrote, ‘so is it OK if a gay person hits on a straight guy? And if I say something, or hit him, I’ll be called a homophobe.’ So, I asked him, “When was the last time you hit on a girl? Did you know for certain that your advances were welcome prior to your action? In fact, were you sure that she was heterosexual and not a lesbian?”
If a guy can freely hit on any girl, disregard her wishes and sexual orientation, then he cannot get mad because a guy gives him a compliment. The same rules should apply to everyone-period. To the homophobic guy on Facebook and the woman who DM-ed me, LGBTQ people want the right to be average. What Pashinyan does for heterosexual cisgender Armenians, he should do for the LGBTQ. When a gay person is murdered, then investigate it, don’t sweep it under the rug, don’t turn a blind eye, and don’t call him a “headache.” That guy has a family too, he was born to an Armenian mother, and the blood flowing through his veins is not thinner than yours and certainly not less Armenian.