“It takes much more than a revolution to change the situation for LGBTI persons”, says Mina Skouen, Senior Adviser for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issues at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
According to the Rainbow Europe Index, Armenia is still placed as the second worse country in Europe for LGBTI persons. This is despite the democratic reforms that followed the Velvet revolution in April, and genuinely free and fair parliamentary elections in December few months later.
Not revolutionary for LGBTI
However, recent events have proven that there is a huge gap between the idea of Armenia as a promising young democracy, and the access to democratic life for LGBTI-persons.
“The homophobia and transphobia that were there before the revolution will still wait for you at the other side. Therefore, it is necessary to support LGBTI human rights defenders in their work, so that they can feed their lived realities into the optimism of the revolution and demand legislative changes”, says Skouen.
One of the key challenges that should be addressed is to lack of legislation against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), and a LGBTI sensitive hate crime law. Strategies and plans for combating homophobia and transphobia within institutions and in society should also be developed.
Politicians increasing the stigma
“But the first step should be for the political elite to clearly and vocally support full and equal enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms for all – LGBTI included. This, we have not yet seen,” says Skouen.
According to Arman Sahakyan from the ”New Generation” Humanitarian NGO in Armenia, political parties attempt to manipulate the LGBTI issue to gain support and target the opposition if they seem to support LGBTI issues.
“The first time prime minister Nikol Pashinyan was bringing the issue to the table he said the LGBT issue had always been a headache for governments. This increased the stigma,” says Sahakyan.
His organisation was just targeted by hate groups propaganda and subjected to hateful attacks and threats. As the Armenian authorities did not take proper action in response to these threats, New Generation found themselves forced to cancel the 11th International LGBT Christian Forum event they were assisting to organise in Yerevan. A conference devoted to peace, respect, and love; something that should correspond well with the Velvet Revolution’s nickname “Revolution of love and solidarity”.
“The police fail to provide the protection for LGBTI persons, we are not considered equal to everyone else. LGBTI persons suffer from isolation, and many Armenian LGBTI persons are trying to leave for other countries,” says Sahakyan.
Senior adviser on Armenia at the NHC, Lene Wetteland, observed both the revolution and the December election and is disappointed in how LGBTI persons are still marginalized. She warns that the new government of Armenia seems to be turning more into a populist regime dependent on the support of the majority of the people and failing to take proper care of the minorities.
“What is even more disappointing is that the new government is not only not supporting these groups, but they are directly participating in hate speech and negative attention. In the election campaign, being an LGBTI activist has become a derogatory comment thrown at other candidates to underline how “bad” they are,” says Wetteland.
Also religious minorities have gained little improvement for their situation.
“Everything could be different”
“In order for the new government to not be considered too Western or liberal or non-Armenian, they have chosen to focus on being traditional Armenians, which means belonging to the Armenian-apostolic church, follow the expected gender roles in the nuclear family, and not being an LGBTI person”, Wetteland adds.
NHC has been cooperating with New Generation NGO for several years. One of the outcomes of this year’s cooperation is a series of videos called “Everything could be different”, where different situations of what LGBTI persons in Armenia have to face on a daily basis is highlighted, and how people could change this by responding differently.
“We are excited to be supporting these videos”, says Skouen. “They very much reflect the crossroad we see at the moment – will Armenia chose a path of genuine solidarity, or will it continue to accept what we see in these videos: that some LGBTI people feel forced to leave, some are forced to change and that things other people take for granted such as keeping your job despite expressing your true gender identity”.
“We are very pleased and honored to receive the support and assistance from NHC. They provide support financially, but also emotionally, to our fight for human rights to be respected in Armenia”, says Sahakyan.