I live with my partner. In Yerevan. That might sound exceptional to some, but that’s just the way it is. We sometimes hold hands in public (especially if we’re rushing across the street in oncoming traffic). If we get any odd stares, it’s usually directed at my partner who gets odd stares anyway, even when she’s alone, from the way she looks. When we’re together, people ask her where she’s from, assuming I’m the one who’s from here and she must be from somewhere else.
Public displays of affection are limited, naturally, but then again you don’t see many heterosexual couples making out either. (I find that, in general, sex and sexuality — gay or straight — are taboo.)
When my partner goes to the doctor and he or she asks her if she’s having sex, she says no. Because we all know what is meant by that question: are you having heterosexual (a.k.a. penetrative) sex? Though I have yet to come across a doctor who clarifies the sex question. And it’s too bad really because how can you diagnose or treat someone if you’re not getting the full picture?
Actually, before asking the sex question, doctors often want to know your marital status: are you married? (And don’t think for a moment that this question might mean are you married to your same-sex partner.) As if from your response the doctor can assume that you’re having sex (ha!). But just to be sure, Doctor asks whether you’re sexually active after he or she has satisfactorily received a response to the marital status question. *sigh*
When we travelled in the region together, hotel and B&B staff assumed we were friends and so gave us a room with two separate single beds. But being an artist and a writer, we’re often inclined to be creative ;)
You should know that there’s no Pride Parade in Yerevan. [And no one I know has attempted to do what these activists did in Moscow this year. Though there was a symbolic gay wedding in Armenia a few years ago.] There are no rainbow flags on storefront windows proclaiming “Queer Dollars Welcome Here,” or banners advertising the next local queer event. There are no gay couples kissing in the street though I swear I’ve seen straight men more affectionate with each other in public than anywhere else I’ve lived. And unfortunately the odd gay man that might be depicted in a TV series is usually portrayed in a negative way.
There’s no law that specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, though thankfully there are a few NGOs that work with the LGBT community (in terms of support, advocacy, education, resources), as well as educating the mainstream public on what it means to be LGBT, explaining/educating on terminology and history, outlining human rights.
And of course, we are here. And there are many of us. Unfortunately, the ignorant views (often guided by religious beliefs and/or “family values”) makes it harder for us to come out and even threatens our safety.
Take for example British-based Armenian band VO.X who, in their latest video, label homosexuality a “perversion.” But, hey, they’re just expressing their personal opinion, right? Wrong. Even worse, VO.X has not only changed the settings on their video on YouTube so that comments are no longer allowed, but also added a description which says that this video is about Armenia ONLY (caps their’s) and the views and opinions expressed therein are “purely and subjectively Orthodox Christian and as such, within Armenia’s context, do not violate human rights.”
Are you kidding me?
I could go on and on about this topic, but others have already written extensively on it and so for more information, read blogger ArtMika’s post here, along with his follow-up post here, as well as Global Voices coverage here.
Armenia might have endorsed the UN statement against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in December 2008, but it doesn’t mean it has any laws that actually protect LGBT people from discrimination. [See this Wikipedia article on LGBT rights in Armenia that also includes a brief history... in case you’re ever confronted with the argument that it was Europe who “brought” the notion of same-sex relationships to Armenia — ha!]
The truth is, it’s not easy being queer anywhere. And yes, I agree that it’s especially not easy being queer in Armenia. But please don’t for a moment think that there aren’t any LGBT folks here, or that we can’t live our lives here like everyone else.
Life is full of contradictions. You don’t have to go far or look too hard to see the diversity that exists in the lives of those around you... even on these ancient lands.