Armenian Gays Face Intolerance, Discrimination
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||5 July 2010|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRS Issue 549|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Armenian Gays Face Intolerance, Discrimination, 5 July 2010, CRS Issue 549, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c7f94ee1a.html [accessed 18 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
When I was commissioned to write an article about Armenia's gay community, I did not anticipate the problems I would face finding people to talk to. It took me a month to arrange the meetings I needed, each of them laboriously set up via a mutual friend.
My first contact was Argam Babayan, who was to be the focus of my article. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals tend to lead hidden lives in Armenia, and I had never met a gay man before, so I was as nervous about the meeting as he was.
I was due to meet Babayan at his home, which made me all the more worried, and the unlit stairway of his apartment block did not help matters. But it all turned out well – he was open and helpful, which helped me overcome many of the prejudices I felt.
At first it was strange talking to him, as I had never met a man with dyed hair or such a flamboyant style before, but I soon learned he had more serious reasons than I had to be concerned.
"Yesterday I was humiliated. I'd left home and was waiting for a bus when one lad from our courtyard came up to me and started shouting and swearing, and then he hit me," Babayan told me.
"I wanted the ground to open up under me and I was so overwrought that I just went back home. There were a lot of lads in the courtyard, but they did not lift a finger to help me, though they all know me and know that we live in the same building.
"Now I am scared – they could kill me in broad daylight and no one would do anything about it."
Once I had met Babayan, I was plugged into the gay network. Each time I wanted to meet someone, a mutual friend would call them, tell them I was trustworthy, get their permission to give me their number, and then give it to me. It was a laborious process that shows the suspicions they feel about outsiders in a city where the police take no notice of their problems.
My second interviewee, Vahan, had two phone numbers, one of which was only intended for his closest friends. I did not know this, however, and phoned him on it. He was very cagy and demanded to know how I knew his number.
"A mutual friend gave it to me," I replied, worried he would refuse to give me an interview because of my mistake. "He gave me two numbers, and I thought I could phone on either."
Fortunately, Vahan forgave me and we met in a café, where Vahan told me about being a bisexual and living in one of Yerevan's most conservative districts where he can never reveal his secret.
"It is good that my workmates know about my orientation and relate to me well. But I needed a lot of time before I came out to them," he said. "I began by chatting about the, sounding out people's opinions to figure out whether it would change how they related to me if they knew about it."
Vahan then offered to become a "mutual friend" for my third interviewee, Ashot, who represents a group called We are for Social Equality, and finally I had all the material I needed for the article.
What pleased me most about working on this story was that not only did I overcome my own prejudices and make new friends in the gay community, but I also learned a whole new system for making the contacts needed to meet them.
Link to related article: Armenian Gays Face Intolerance, Discrimination by Sara Khojoyan, CRS Issue 549, 5 Jul 10.