Saturday, 11 October 2014

LGBTnews.am (“Ծիածանագույն նորություններ”): Armenian LGBT news website launched

Recently launched LGBTnews.am Armenian LGBT news website is a welcome addition to Armenian LGBT related online resources.
 LGBTnews.am էլեկտրոնային լրատվական կայքը Նորվեգիայի Թագավորության դեսպանատան ֆինանսական աջակցությամբ իրականացվող ծրագիր է, որի հիմնական նպատակը ԼԳԲՏ համայնքին վերաբերող միջազգային և տեղական տեղեկատվության տարածումն է:

Կայքում առկա են «Հայաստան», «Աշխարհ», «Հարցազրույց», «Վերլուծություն», «Մշակույթ», «Իրավունք», ինչպես նաև այլ բաժիններ:

Կայքի թարմացումներին կարող եք հետևել նաև Facebook և Twitter սոցիալական ցանցերի պաշտոնական էջերում:
As of now, the website is available in Armenian language only, although I was told the English version may be coming soon.

It is nicely designed into rainbow colours and at time of launch contained sections on Armenia, world, interviews, reviews, culture and law. It is still work in progress, so if you have any feedback, you are welcome to leave it via website’s contact or FB page.

As Caucasus Equality News Network pointed out, “It is hoped that the website will be able to provide more accurate and reliable information on LGBT issues to Armenians. Currently very few Armenian news sources are friendly towards the LGBT community and Armenia has a strong culture of homophobic media and press. Another large problem very common in the Armenian media is bias towards LGBT individuals, as well as a lack of accurate information, sometimes purposefully incorrect information.”

LGBTnews.am is sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy.

Website: http://lgbtnews.am
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lgbtnewsarmenia
Twitter: coming soon

Friday, 26 September 2014

Armenia ambassador Vahram Kazhoyan joins UN Free & Equal initiative making stance against homophobia

Big respects to Armenia ambassador Vahram Kazhoyan who publicly supported the United Nation’s Free & Equal initiative by taking stance against homophobia.


*picture via Vahram Kazhoyan’s FB page, re-posted on this blog with permission

The message conveyed by the ambassador is simple and powerful, right to the point: “No to homophobia: Hate is not a family value!”.

He posted this picture made at the UN General Assembly on his FB page.

Free & Equal is a United Nations public education initiative for LGBT rights and equality. For more information about the initiative, see www.unfe.org/en/about

Vahram Kazhoyan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, is currently heading the Department of International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia. He is also Secretary General of the Armenian National Commission for UNESCO, and head of the Inter-Agency Working Group for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. In past (2001-2009), he was Armenia’s ambassador to Greece (and 5 other countries in the region). He was also assigned to country’s permanent mission to the UN in NYC in 1994-1996.

He is known as a loyal diplomat for his country, devoted to human rights, who genuinely wants to make changes for the better. Most importantly, he is a role model, as a person who raised his children with values of equality and respect.

“No to homophobia: Hate is not a family value!”. Indeed, it is not. Love is.

We need more fathers, like Vahram, and more ambassadors, like him.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Opinion: “The reality of gay Armenians and our collective shame”

I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised with the Armenian Chronicles. While it’s their recent LGBT related postings that primarily grabbed my attention, I quickly glanced other pieces too and some contained refreshingly challenging points of view.

Back to the LGBT related postings, the latest piece by Kyle Khandikian follows nicely previously posted by Shant Jaltorossian My Life As a Gay Armenian [x-post on Unzipped: Gay Armenia Armenian Chronicles: "If you are an LGBT Armenian, speak up”], and more specifically explores the very familiar to every Armenian issue of “shame”, or “ամոթ”, and how it affects and fuels a “larger system of oppression” in Armenian communities both in Armenia and Diaspora.
***
Selected extracts via the Armenian Chronicles below:


[…] The existence of gay men and women in our community has yet to be fully acknowledged and is a reality that many of us still approach with hostility. Why have we yet to come to terms with this reality? The answer is a difficult one, but one that I believe is closely related to our shared value of shame. 

I’ll never forget the words uttered with remarkable incredulity by one of my peers in high school as I sat on the floor in between the shelves of our school’s bookshop one afternoon. I overheard the tail end of the conversation, but it was all I needed to hear. “Gay Armenians? I’ll kill them.”

Violence is something not uncommon for those who identify as LGBTQ, but as the arc of morality bends toward justice for many in America, there are pockets of communities where to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer still means to live in constant fear for your life. The Armenian-American community is one such place where the closet door could not be shut tighter or locked up better. In the Republic of Armenia, the situation for LGBTQ people and other minority groups is deplorable to say the least, as noted in an Amnesty International report released last year entitled, “Armenia: No Space For Difference.” But what is striking to me is how a culture of shame still engrosses even the youngest and brightest minds of our communities here in America, and for those who must experience and live with that shame, how it is internalized.

The extent at which homosexuality and socio-cultural deviance is vehemently combated in our communities is exemplified by another personal experience. I had the pleasure of serving as the student body president of my private, Armenian Apostolic high school during my senior year. Every year the student council organizes a spring formal, and as per school policy, students are welcome to brings guests from other schools if they provide a signed note from the other school. When a male student brought back a note for his male cousin who attended another Armenian school and had many mutual friends at our school, homophobia reared its ugly, aggressive head. I was told repeatedly by an administrator that those things were “not natural” and that even though the students were cousins and not romantic partners, the rule was clear: boys do not bring boys to a school dance. This is the same school where “Yes On 8” flyers were distributed in 2008 in support of the California ballot proposition that successfully outlawed marriage equality in the state for five years, and where paper topics on the gay marriage debate were rejected in English language class because, to paraphrase a teacher, “it would anger the church.” There is something to be said about a community that chooses a clear side in a debate it has no interest in participating in. On most things LGBTQ, this community is largely silent.

There is a very false myth surrounding Armenian identity. It is the myth that we, regardless of religious creeds, national identities, political leanings, spoken languages, etc., are all Armenians. The truth, however, is that to deviate from the mainstream in this community means to be shunned and persecuted for not living up to fabricated norms and expectations. Identifying as LGBTQ is one such deviation, arguably the most abhorred by our fiercely patriarchal and heteronormative culture. Armenians are a diverse people, and that diversity does not suddenly end when it comes to sexuality or gender. There is an undeniable taboo surrounding homosexuality, and that taboo is just one part of a larger system of oppression that is fueled, in my opinion, by shame. […]

It pains me to say it, but we are an intolerant people. It is ironic too considering that intolerance has taken its most evil form against us: genocide. Our intolerance for things that are different or unfamiliar, I think, is closely related to the perceived shame it brings to the family and community. Emotion researchers have distinguished shame from other similar emotions like guilt by noting its external orientation; shame typically involves being negatively assessed by others and is most often felt in the presence of others, an important point for gay and lesbian Armenians which I will touch on later. […]

Ask yourself this simple question: how many gay Armenians do you know? The answer for almost all of us should be nearly none, because shame has left no space for them to exist openly. If we recall that shame is an emotion experienced in the presence of others, meaning that those of us who are prone to shame feel it most when we are with the communal group, and that in our culture shame is associated both denotatively and connotatively with words like “dirt,” where else do LGBTQ Armenians have to go but far away from the community? Perhaps I am pessimistic when it comes to this subject; of course there are openly gay Armenians, but none that we hear of. They are not a part of our community or our nation, because our community and nation has singled them out and excluded them as an Other, as gyot-s (faggots). There are no openly gay Armenians in our institutions or in our schools, none that are creating a culture that is welcoming and safe, who are fighting for our youth and shouting the good news from the tops of the iron ladder of hopes: that it is not shameful to be gay and that it will get better and that you can be Armenian and gay at the same time and that those two identities are not antagonistic even though everyone around you is telling you that they are…

I most certainly recognize the unique position diasporan communities hold as culture bearers around the world, especially having attended a school whose purpose was the preservation of the Armenian language and culture. But at what costs will we cling to certain aspects of our culture that no longer serve us, aspect of our culture that curse and destroy us? As diasporans we have the luxury of being able to move in and out of our community. We should not have to, but the option exists. But let it be a sobering reminder for those who continue to force some of us out that for our brothers and sisters living in Armenia and other countries where the closet doors remain firmly shut, that option does not exist. They must live in constant fear for their lives. That is truly shameful. 

I was in Turkey three years ago where I attended Istanbul Pride. To see a gay pride parade in a country that has struggled for almost all of its existence to strike a balance between Western modernity and religious tradition was remarkable in itself, but something else caught my attention, something that was so surprising that I struggled at first to make sense of it. Among the sea of pro-gay signs held by marchers were ones in Armenian! One of the signs was simple and clear: hos enk varjuhvetsek («Հոս ենք վարժուեցէք»), meaning “We are here, get used to it.” It is happening in even the most unlikely places. It is time we let go of our shame.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Armenian Chronicles: "If you are an LGBT Armenian, speak up"

Good to see growing number of LGBT Armenians in Diaspora who speak up and make a stand.

*via Armenian Chronicles

Growing up in an Armenian household was not easy for me...for the obvious reasons. As a gay Armenian man, I often feel that I do not have an outlet to properly express myself. While there are certainly exceptions, the Armenian society at large turns a blind eye to the reality that there are LGBT Armenians all around them.

I often wonder just how many of the Armenians that I have met were gay, but were in hiding. Perhaps due to unrealistic expectations, many LGBT Armenians remain in the closet, mostly to the detriment of their well-being. LGBT Armenians are often reserved and do not make a stand on the matter. I have always been one of those quiet, brooding types – no more.

While I have watched non-Armenian gay friends live happy, fulfilling lives out in the open, I have sat on the sidelines. Why shouldn't I aim for the same sort of life? I, for one, have thus far only come out to cousins and friends, but not the elders. Well, the cat's out of the bag, huh? [...]

While I cannot necessarily speak for the Armenian society at large, I can draw inferences based off the community in the greater Los Angeles area. Many Armenians – the traditional ones, anyway– have ingrained notions of heteronormativity. To them, any deviation from the norm is an aberration and to be denounced. Every Armenian man is expected to marry a nice Armenian woman, whether or not they actually want to. Then, the woman in this relationship is expected to bear grandchildren and be happy about it. This culture propagates a “one size fits all” mentality that everyone will do what their parents did, ad infinitum. [...]

The intersection of Armenian society and LGBT culture is a complicated one. I felt compelled to become more open and true to myself after attending this year's LA Pride, where I came across a booth promoting GALAS – the Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society. It felt good to see fellow gay Armenians speaking freely about who they are. I was doubly proud that day – as a gay man, and as an Armenian. Admittedly, I am not a member of GALAS, but they have inspired me to be more open in my life.

If you are an LGBT Armenian, speak up; we're here to listen. No matter how often your aunt pesters you about “not having a girlfriend” or “settling down and having babies,” know this: you are who you are, and there's no changing that. Take pride in yourself, in your identity, and your heritage. If you are an ally, we thank you. If you are a bigot, I hope that one day you will realize that your words can leave behind irreversible emotional damage. Put aside your petty issues, stop perpetuating hatred, and learn to love your fellow Armenians.

"Red Dress" LGBT-themed Georgian short film



This film is produced by Identoba - Georgian LGBT rights group, based in Tbilisi. Via personal story it reflects events last year when homophobic mob, led by Georgian orthodox church priests, attacked LGBT rights activists in Georgian capital Tbilisi, marking IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia).

*thanks to @Tabagari for the link

Monday, 21 July 2014

Yerevan Diaries: downtown bar with safe sex message


*"Use of condoms is the best method to prevent AIDS and other STDs" - reads this educational message in one of downtown Yerevan bars

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

PACE questions Armenia on LGBT rights. How Socialist International member ARF Dashnaktsutyun fights for equality and gay rights?

Last week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) co-rapporteurs Axel Fischer (Germany, EPP/CD) and Alan Meale (United Kingdom, SOC) were in Armenia on a fact-finding monitoring visit. As PACE website informs , main focus of discussions were “recent political developments, constitutional reform, alternative service, gender equality, religious and sexual minorities as well as Police and justice reform.”

I am very happy to see that finally LGBT rights are on PACE agenda in relation to Armenia.

According to very little information that was publicised, they indeed discussed LGBT rights with the Armenian side, in particular during meetings with political parties represented in the parliament.

In an interview with 1in.am, former ARF Dashnaktsutyun MP Rubik Hakobyan, who now represents opposition Heritage party, could not hide his unease when recalling discussions on the topic. Without explicitly stating his position or elaborating on discussions, he however made it clear where he stands when it comes to equality and human rights for all (not on the side of equality), by immediately referring to ‘traditional values’, importance not to “impose” on Armenia “European values systems and standards”. I never trusted Rubik Hakobyan, and I believe he is a liability for Heritage party. Despite having some questionable members, Heritage party is perhaps the most gay friendly among political parties in Armenia. To remind, back in 2009, they organised roundtable discussion on intolerance, xenophobia and homophobia in Armenia. And in 2012 Heritage party head Raffi Hovhannisyan was the only head of political party who visited firebombed gay friendly DIY bar, in a show of solidarity (read also this reflection)

What was more interesting - raises eyebrows - was a statement by current head of parliamentary
faction of ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Armen Rustamyan. While again avoiding to answer to the question on discussions about gay rights, he made some interesting remarks, worth noting for future reference:
Head of the ARF-D faction Armen Rustamyan (pictured) informed Epress.am that the co-rapporteurs wanted to know about the existence of political prisoners in Armenia and the protection of the rights of LGBT people. […] On the matter of LGBT rights, Rustamyan said that the ARF-D is a member of Socialist International and is guided by the same principles. "Questions about LGBT people can be posed to those political parties that haven't expressed a position. The ARF-D is a member of Socialist International," he said.

(AM) ՀՅԴ խմբակցության ղեկավար Արմեն Ռուստամյանը (լուսանկարում) Epress.am-ին հայտնել է, որ համազեկուցողները ցանկացել են իրենց կարծիքն իմանալ Հայաստանում քաղբանտարկյալների առկայության և նույնասեռականների իրավունքների պաշտպանության վերաբերյալ։ […] Նույնասեռականների իրավունքների մասին հարցին ՀՅԴ-ական պատգամավորը պատասխանել է, որ իրենց կուսակցությունը սոցինտերնի անդամ է և նույն չափորոշիչներով էլ առաջնորդվում է։ «Միասեռականների մասին հարցեր կարող են տալ այն կուսակցություններին, որոնք դիրքորոշում չեն հայտնել։ ՀՅԴ-ն սոցինտերնի անդամ է»,- ասել է Ռոստամյանը…
Seriously, Armen Rustamyan? Are you saying that Armenia’s ARF Dashnaktsutyun is guided by the Socialist International’s principles about LGBT rights? To recall: MPs of ARF Dashnaktsutyun party bail out neo-nazi attacker of DIY bar. Dashnak MP Artsvik Minasyan supports arson attack, effectively encouraging terrorism in Armenia (see also links in the comments section of that post). These MPs were never reprimanded, they never ever apologised for their disgraceful behaviour and remain in high ranking positions within the Armenian branch of the party.

Now let’s check the Socialist International's principles re LGBT rights. Principles, that according to ARF Dashnaktsutyun party parliamentary head Armen Rustamyan, they are guided with. Here we are: Ethical charter of the Socialist International
“To respect and reinforce the fundamental human rights, be they individual rights (respect of private life, freedom of thought, belief, education, sexual orientation and right to equal treatment etc.), social rights (freedom of trade unions, right to strike, social protection etc.) or political rights (freedom of association, universal vote). 
To foster gender equality in every area of private and public life, including within our parties, in decision-making positions in all fields and at all levels. 
To fight against all forms of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, language, religion, philosophical or political beliefs. 
To fight against all ultra nationalist, fundamentalist, xenophobic and racist trends and to refrain from all forms of political alliance or co-operation, at any level, with any political party inciting or trying to inflame prejudices, ethnic or racial hatred.” Adopted in 27-29 October 2003 at the XXII Congress of the Socialist International, São Paulo.
If we follow these principles that all members of the Socialist International must adhere to, ARF Dashnaktsutyun (supposedly) respects and reinforces the fundamental human rights, including based on sexual orientation, and fights against all forms of discrimination, including based on gender and sexual orientation. I am not even going into the part of fighting “against all ultra nationalist… trends” etc.etc. Basically, it’s the best party ever. We just did not know.

Make a note of this reference, and challenge ARF Dashnaktsutyun party’s stance on LGBT rights in Armenia, in accordance with the principles of the Socialist International.

*picture - via Epress.am

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Opera Australia drops Georgian singer Tamar Iveri following virulent homophobia exposé

I devote this post to Armenian pop stars or other personalities, especially the ones in or around showbiz. I did hope that after Eurovision homophobia fiasco, they would learn the lesson. Well, some probably did. But definitely not all. I will come back to the latest example from Armenia in an upcoming post.

In an era of online communications, words have no expiry date and may hunt you down at any time. Of course, anyone can make mistakes, do or say something totally unacceptable, hurtful, and then genuinely apologise for the wrongs and try making amends. I am all for giving a second chance but only if I believe you are genuine in your actions and intentions, or at least I see some real efforts. If this is the case, people will forgive you. But at times the ‘apology’ is so fake that makes things even worse.

Just weeks ahead of her Opera Australia performance, Georgian opera singer Tamar Iveri was exposed as a homophobe. And it was particularly virulent type of homophobia, disgusting beyond words.
Georgian soprano causes outrage for describing LGBT people as "faecal matter”Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri, scheduled to sing Desdemona in Otello for Opera Australia in July and Tosca later this year in Melbourne, has been roundly condemned for an open letter she wrote to the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in May last year. In the lengthy diatribe, originally posted on her Facebook page, she describes LGBT people as “deviants” and suggests that homosexuality is part of the “faecal mass” being foisted on Georgia by the West. 
Iveri’s outburst came on the back of a rally organised by LGBT activists and other Georgian citzens to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) in the city of Tbilisi. According to reports, tens of thousands of Orthodox Christian activists attacked the participants some of whom, it is claimed, narrowly escaped death. Iveri, however, lambasted the Georgian President for condemning the violence writing that she was “proud of the fact how Georgian society spat at the parade”.

The letter, which contains frequent references to bodily waste, sexual practices and Western moral corruption makes for difficult reading. Backing those who attacked the parade, Iveri says that “often, in certain cases, it is necessary to break jaws in order to be appreciated as a nation” and maintaining that the perpetrators of the violence were “Georgian youth of pure blood, still unspoiled by you [President Mikheil Saakashvili]”.
After outrage that the letter had caused, Tamar deleted it from her FB page, but it had already been translated by LGBT activists in Tbilisi and distributed online. Back then, this incident did not reach world headlines, with only Paris Opera cancelling her performance, formally due to “health condition” but many believe the real reason was the letter that was passed to the Director of the Paris Opera.

A year on, this exposé caused online storm in social networks and media headlines in The Guardian and The Independent with an instant demand to Opera Australia to fire her.

To make things worse, Tamar Iveri released a statement where she alleged that the letter was in fact written by her husband.
“My husband was using my Facebook account at that time and he is a very religious man with a tough attitude towards gay people. He copied my text, changed it considerably and posted it under my name.”
This was the most ridiculous and unbelievable attempt at damage control I have seen. And when she claimed: "He copied my text, changed it considerably and posted it under my name." - what was in her original text, I wonder? I do not expect anything positive.

Opera Australia has since been under mounting pressure and demands from LGBT rights activists, Twitter and FB users, opera lovers and financial sponsors to drop Tamar Iveri. After initial hesitation, Opera Australia released a statement announcing termination of the contract with Georgian opera singer describing views attributed to the singer towards gay people as “unconscionable”. Earlier Brussels Opera dropped her from upcoming production too.

The only right decision. And lesson to others.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin: “I do feel I carry the cross of all gay Armenians on my back”

I posted about Armen Ra, US-based Iranian Armenian Theremin virtuoso, drag artist and performer, famous for uniquely brilliant interpretation of the music by prominent Armenian composer Komitas.

Great to know that a feature documentary about his life - When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin won Director’s Choice Award of the Illuminate Film Festival 2014 and it will be screened at 13th Annual San Francisco Documentary Festival in June.


*Armen Ra with producer Matt Huffman, director Robert Nazar Arjoyan, and mother Ruzanna Makarian-Hovanesian, Illuminate Film Festival 2014 (picture via festival's FB page)


*via The Bay Area Reporter 

When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin This hidden gem spotlights the savage wit and rags-to-rags story of the fabulously talented and uncomfortably honest Iranian-born performance artist/former drag diva and now stellar artist/composer Armen Ra. Looking a bit like champion skater Johnny Weir's twin separated at birth, the articulate girly-boy grew up in a prosperous Tehran family of Armenian Christian descent. A well-behaved little boy whom adults grew used to taking to adult functions, the seven-year-old shocked his grownup chaperones one night at the opera when he demanded to be allowed to sit in the royal box.

The 1979 revolution destroyed the boy's cloistered life of high culture and forced his mom to resettle in a shabby Boston apartment. Queer-baited and bullied at school, Ra finally beat up one of his tormentors, getting him kicked out of school and ultimately promoted to the 80s Lower Manhattan club-kids scene. There followed a furious stab at drag-diva stardom, interrupted by bouts of depression and binge-drinking on the verge of suicide.

A miracle at a New York rock club led him to discover the joys of the Theremin. While instant riches did not follow, Ra did get himself a spotlight on a CNN feature in which he was quoted as calling the Theremin his "Maria Callas machine." Eventually he recorded his first album, consisting mostly of music from his Armenian culture, whereupon he made a rude discovery. "And it was received well all over the world with the exception of Armenia. To think I brought the music of the patron saint of Armenia to millions of persons who never have heard it, and to get hate mail and death threats from my own people is disgusting. It makes me ashamed. I'm ashamed for them. Look, I didn't choose to be gay, I didn't choose to be Armenian, it is the way it is. If I could choose, it would be from Spain or Norway. Everyone's happy there! I do feel I carry the cross of all gay Armenians on my back, and that cross is getting heavy. So let's get out of the closet, kids, be visible, fight, that's how you stop prejudice."

He's pretty, witty, sassy, and in-your-face, and if your taste runs to girly-boy provocateurs, then this doc is your cup of tea. (Northern California premiere, Roxie, 6/14, 18)
***

And a treat from Armen Ra’s Twitter page:

*Armenian divas - Armen Ra with Cher

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Groundbreaking Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila rocks London's Scala with their 100th gig

Last night I finally saw this groundbreaking Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila live in London. It was their 100th ever gig, and it was awesome.

I was first introduced to the band a year or so ago by a friend of mine who is a big-big fan of theirs. Since then I keep an eye on Mashrou’ Leila. More I read about them, more I listen to their music, more I like them. But it was not until last night that I saw them live. The gig was in London’s Scala club, popular with students and indie crowd. What a great time I had.

They sing about love, life, important social and human rights issues, including LGBT related. I didn’t feel that I don’t know the language of their songs, because I could feel the music, the rhythms, emotions, sincerity, bravery. It’s as if they played in Armenian or English. Everything was so familiar, so close to my heart, so understandable. I was totally taken away by their music and performance, and left the gig recharged.

Btw, there is Armenian violinist in the band - Haig Papazian. He is currently studying in London at Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Haig was on stage in transparent black top. What a talented cute guy he is. In fact, all of his bandmates are. Brave, intelligent, talented and cute.




They appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine’s Middle East edition.

Below are just few media headlines about the band:
The GuardianMashrou' Leila: the Lebanese band changing the tune of Arab politics
BBCThe band out to occupy Arab pop
ReutersGay Lebanese singer with 'Freddie Mercury' edge fronts band



Hamed Sinno, openly gay vocalist of the band, was on a cover of Tetu, prominent gay magazine in France.







Hamed made into The Independent’s PINK LIST 2013 as one of the most influential international LGBT names:
The lead singer in the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila appeared on the cover of the French gay lifestyle magazine Têtu, and encourages his LGBT fans “to forge for themselves a sense of belonging to the region, in spite of the incredible repressing they have to live through.” 


*FYI: band's FB page; Twitter

Saturday, 24 May 2014

RED HOT exhibit, London: portraits of hot guys with important message

Beautiful RED HOT exhibit in London by photographer and filmmaker Thomas Knights.

Not only this exhibit is full with portraits of hot guys, but it also conveys an important message of no discrimination and no prejudice: “Many of the guys have suffered prejudice or discrimination as a direct result of their red hair. Next to each portrait is a personal quote, adding a layer of heart, humour and triumph to their beautiful image.”















Monday, 19 May 2014

"The Invisibles" make rainbow visible in Tbilisi with more LGBT rights flash mobs in Georgia capital

As I posted yesterday, after last year's violence instigated by Georgian orthodox church and amid renewed hysteria, LGBT people in Tbilisi, Georgia kept low profile on 17th May IDAHOT. But only on surface.

Several creative protest actions were conducted over the last couple of days "on behalf of the Invisible & against Invisibility". For "shoe protest" - read Tbilisi: IDAHOT hijacked by Georgian orthodox church amid "shoe protest" action "on behalf of the Invisible & against Invisibility".

This morning Tbilisi woke up to a very visible rainbow sign in the heart of Georgia capital.
@GeorgeGogua: #Protest of the invisibles. Group of #activists paint #LGBT flag on stairs in #Tbilisi #Georgia #IDAHOT #humanrights

"Following an anti-LGBT demonstration on 17 May 2014 by the Georgian Orthodox Church to prevent observation of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), gay rights activists continue to hold anti-homopbia flash mobs in Tbilisi, Georgia. The latest, held in the early hours this morning, the painting of the rainbow flag on the steps by the Freedom Square metro station" © Onnik Krikorian Photography.


Below is another beautiful picture via Democracy & Freedom Watch:


DF Watch also reports on another protest action by "the Invisibles":
Another rally named ‘I am Here against Homophobia’ was a protest expressed in notes attached to different places in the capital. Different messages were printed on pieces of paper with a rainbow symbol in the corner. “I cannot find a reason to justify your hatred”, “89 percent of Georgia’s LGBT community have been victims of psychological pressure at least once for the last two years,” – these and other messages were written on the notes. (Watch the photos on Facebook here.)

Sunday, 18 May 2014

IDAHOT in Armenia (part 2): cake against homophobia

*Yerevan, Armenia, 17 May 2014

IDAHOT in Armenia (part 1): PINK Armenia and activists join voices against homophobia and transphobia

For me, tweet of the day was by @nkayserian:
Everyday should be International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. #IDAHOT #LoveIsLove

Ahead of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), PINK Armenia published this brief handbook (in Armenian): "what is homophobia, why it's dangerous & how to stop it".

Precise, right to the point. Good job, PINK.
***
Dozens of activists participated in “I am against homophobia” online video campaign. You may see example below (+ here), and all the videos here.


***
On the occasion of IDAHOT, PINK Armenia issued an open letter to Armenia president, speaker of the parliament, PM, ombudsman, minister of justice expressing concerns re prevalent homophobia in Armenia and calling for actions to ensure constitutional rights of all citizens.

Below is English summary of the statement (for Armenian original - see here and in comments section):

May 17 is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. It is celebrated every year on May 17 in more than 100 countries in order to raise issues about violations of LGBT human rights. The day is symbolic because of the fact that on May 17, 1990 World Healthcare Organization removed homosexuality as a mental disorder.

“Public Information and Need of Knowledge” NGO expresses its concern regarding vivid expressions of homophobia towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people living in Armenia, which became basis of human rights violations of LGBT people, hate crimes and an atmosphere of impunity. In Armenia, one can find human rights violations of LGBT people in every sphere of life – in the family, armed forces, law enforcement bodies, institutions of medical care and education, mass media, the workplace, public and social spaces, church etc. Almost every space within our public is a site of possible discrimination and abuse for LGBT people.

72.1% of the public has a negative attitude toward LGBT people in Armenia (survey). A big number of homophobia in the society, calls of state officials that spread hatred and intolerance and justification of crimes against LGBT people by them created a climate of impunity in the country, as well continuously contribute to the growth of crimes against LGBT people, which endanger the realization of democratic processes, violate human and civil rights and freedoms set in the RA Constitution.

The impunity, state sponsored intolerance and discrimination, extreme and denying illegal practices, in fact, disrupt the society, endanger the public order, national security, and discredit Armenia’s international reputation. According to RA Constitution, Article 3, the human being, his/her dignity and the fundamental human rights and freedoms are an ultimate value. The state shall ensure the protection of fundamental human and civil rights in conformity with the principles and norms of the international law. The state shall be limited by fundamental human and civil rights as a directly applicable right.

With this statement, once again, we want to express our strong concern and disappointment that fundamental rights and freedoms of LGBT people, a part of society, are not respected and ensured in the Republic of Armenia. Moreover, “favorable conditions” are created by the state level for violations of the rights of LGBT people, promotion of violence and committing offenses. We ask and require from the authorities of RA to carry out their duties and obligations assumed by the RA Constitution and laws, as well as to undertake concrete actions to ensure the realization of rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBT people living in Armenia enshrined in the Constitution, to prevent any abuse towards LGBT persons, as well as the propaganda, call or encouragement of such abuses.

In the Republic of Armenia, as in a social and legal state, RA Constitutional Order must be approved for the sake of freedom of our society and nation, dignity and multicultural development
***
IDAHOT in Armenia (part 2): cake against homophobia

Tbilisi: IDAHOT hijacked by Georgian orthodox church amid "shoe protest" action "on behalf of the Invisible & against Invisibility"

The most hilarious news of the worldwide celebration of IDAHOT came from Tbilisi: "Mistakenly believing one of them to be gay, two homophobes attack each other on Rustaveli Ave."
According to the video, uploaded by http://www.Liberali.ge, two homophobes, attacked each other, after wrongly believing that one of them was gay. People gathered at the rally thought one of them was gay and demanded from him to leave the territory before the Parliament building, Tbilisi on May 17th, 2014. Video shows that rally participant (held by the police on the picture below) tells the other: “I shall not let you stand next to me, next to true God! Leave now!” Soon, they attacked each other and continued adorning each other with pejoratives, swearing and name calling, including comparisons with female and male sexual organs. “Police force, mobilised on spot, took one of the participants of the scuffle out from the territory” – Liberali reported.
*picture - via Identoba

In general, the day was hijacked by the Georgian orthodox church, announcing 17th May as "Family Day" and calling people to protest against recently passed LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination bill.
Orthodox groups marched and rallied in downtown Tbilisi on May 17 to protest against newly adopted anti-discrimination law and to mark day of “family strength”, introduced by the Georgian Orthodox Church in an attempt to counter the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). 
Last year an attempted anti-homophobia rally on May 17 in Tbilisi to mark IDAHO was violently disrupted by thousands of demonstrators, led by Orthodox clerics. Fearing homophobic violence, LGBT rights groups held no event this year.
*picture - via @onewmphoto

After last year's violence instigated by Georgian orthodox church, LGBT people kept low profile on 17th May. Instead, a "shoe protest" action was conducted "on behalf of the Invisible & against Invisibility".
More than 100 shoes lay on Pushkin Square, where on May 17th, 2013 LGBT community was supposed to hold a silent flash-mob to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. As the title of the Installation “Protest on Behalf of the Invisible & Against Invisibility” and concept suggest it, this “shoe protest” is a sort of revolt against invisibility and on behalf of those rendered invisible. It speaks for those, who, last year tried to bring their voices forward to the society: “This is an installation for the invisible, those who are unseen, those who are not heard, whose existence is not recognised. This is installation is for us, those who view but don’t see and listen to each other. This is for those who can’t leave homes and those who have no home to go to. This is for those who were chased after, persecuted and removed, by [...]
Today, these empty shoes stand instead of those humans, who dared, 1 year ago, to stand up against the invisibility of one social group, LGBTQ community, those who tried to unmask how merciless we are, those to attempted to discuss our common challenges. Those who wish to be here to express their woes and joys, but neither the state, nor the society respect their voice and their existence. This is a protest for the invisible and against invisibility. Despite that fact that we couldn’t yet manage to recognise and appreciate each other, we still exist, with our desires to speak, with your everydayness. Turning blind eye and covering up ears won’t erase our existence, won’t smooth over our wounds, won’t take away our ability to feel empathy and love.
Passersby are free to take a shoe of their choice after 6PM, May 18th.

Azerbaijan: IDAHOT 2014 with rainbow flashmob, online campaign and LGBT-related newsletter


Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance organised rainbow flashmob to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.


Earlier they launched online "Hate Kills" campaign.

*source: @LGBT_Azerbaycan

Ahead of IDAHOT, Nefes published online newsletter reflecting some of the main LGBT-related news over January-March 2014:

1. Suicide of the chairman of Free LGBT Azerbaijan:
"As a mark of respect for Isa and hundreds of victims of hate crimes, we would like to declare that, from now on we will celebrate 22nd January date as "LGBT Pride Day‟.
2. Physical violence and death threats against president of Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance. As per reports, the perpetrator effectively escaped being charged and received a symbolic fine.

3. The results of survey on employment discrimination of LGBT people (survey covered 8 regions in Azerbaijan):
"64% of anwerers doesn't want to work with LGBT person and overall, 60% has negative attitude towards LGBT people. Furthermore, 60% of respondents said that, they will not hire LGBT person, if they were a boss."

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Armenia Eurovision national jury’s Arshakyan sisters re Conchita and LGBT: ‘Mental health patients are repulsive’

UPDATE 16 May 2014: Armenia Eurovision national jury Arshakyan sisters profoundly apologised for homophobic and other pretty shameful statements. They said they have no negative attitude towards gays, transvestites, mental health patients… [For details and video link - see comments section]
***
Says Armenia’s Eurovision national jury member Anush Arshakyan: “I put Conchita towards the bottom of the ranking due to my internal repulsion [towards Conchita]”.

In an interview with Aravot daily, Anush said she was shocked that by sms votes, Conchita was No. 2 in Armenia. [Read: Conchita crowned Queen of Eurovision: “We are unity and we are unstoppable” amid outrage at national jury vote in South Caucasus]

She then continued: “I find this phenomenon repulsive, the same way I find mental health patients repulsive”.

Her sister, another jury member Inga Arshakyan was next to her during the interview and we may safely assume she shares Anush’s views. [To remind, this year’s national jury members Inga and Anush Arshakyan represented Armenia in Eurovision 2009 finishing 10th.]
«Ես վերջին տեղը տվել եմ ադրբեջանցիներին եւ նախավերջինը՝ Կոնչիտային: Նրան վերջին տեղերում էի դրել՝ ներքին հակակրանքից դրդված: Նա միայն հակակրանք էր առաջացնում: Եվ ես ապշած եմ, որ sms քվեարկությամբ 2-րդ տեղ են տվել Կոնչիտային: Ես չգիտեմ, թե ովքեր են քվեարկողները եղել, բայց ես չեմ կարծում, որ մեր ամբողջ ժողովուրդը լավ վերաբերմունք ունի այդ անձի հանդեպ»,- Aravot.am-ի հետ զրույցում մեր հարցին, թե ինչու էին «Եվրատեսիլի» տրանսվեստիտ մասնակից Կոնչիտային Հայաստանում ցածր միավորներ տվել՝ այսպես պատասխանեց Արշակյան քույրերից մեկը՝ Անուշ Արշակյանը: Ինգան եւ Անուշը միանգամից դեմքի արտահայտությունը փոխեցին եւ զզվանքով ձեռքերով խաչ արեցին, երբ Կոնչիտայի անունը տվեցինք: […] 
Մեր դիտարկմանը, որ ասում են՝ պետք է հարգել փոքրամասնությանը՝ Անուշ Արշակյանը պատասխանեց. «Հարգանքի աստիճաններ կան: Եթե խոսենք տոլեռանդության մասին, ամենատարածված բանն է Եվրոպայում, ապա ես երեւի թե դեմ եմ ցանկացած ձեւի ագրեսիային եւ ցանկացած տեսակի մարդկային բնաջնջմանը դեմ եմ: Եթե համարենք, որ այդ մարդիկ հիվանդ են, նրանց կարելի է բուժել եւ այդ առումով իմ հակակրանքը հասկանալի է: Ինչպես հոգեկան հիվանդն է հակակրանք առաջացնում, այնպես էլ նման երեւույթները: Իմ հակակրանքը ճիշտ այդպիսին է: Ես ոչ թե ագրեսիվ եմ, այլ՝ մերժողական այդպիսի դրսեւորումների հանդեպ»:  
And this is what supposed to be a “professional jury” ??? Armenia’s national jury should be disqualified, and its members should not be allowed to serve in any jury contest, or any event.

They are shame not only for Armenia, but for Eurovision in general.

Not only they are homophobic, not only they accepted that they voted based on anything but professional assessments, but they offend patients with mental health problems too. This is beyond words shocking and disgusting. And to think that there was time I quite liked the sisters…

Thank you, Conchita. Your win was like a litmus test.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Conchita crowned Queen of Eurovision: “We are unity and we are unstoppable” amid outrage at national jury vote in South Caucasus

Big congrats, Conchita !! Stunning performance. Epic win for the Queen of Eurovision.

Says Conchita: "This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are - we are unity and we are unstoppable."

As Eurovision blogger @dreurovision tweeted: “Austrian victory in #Eurovision is a slap in the face for homophobia across Europe!”

*picture by Thomas Hanses (EBU), via eurovision.tv

Despite what official voting results (combined 50% national jury and 50% televote) may suggest, Conchita touched the hearts all over bigger Europe, including the South Caucasus countries Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

If we only count televotes (i.e. people’s vote via calls or sms), Austria’s Conchita ranks 2nd and gets 10 points from both Armenia and Georgia, and ranks 3rd getting 8 points from Azerbaijan. However, combined with jury votes, Austria received 0 (zero !!) point from Armenia (No. 24, above only Azerbaijan) and 1 point from Azerbaijan.

According to Eurovision statement, Georgia’s national jury results for final were declared invalid. Therefore, the televoting results applied. It’s not clear yet the exact reason but I wish Armenia’s national jury was disqualified too. Plus, juries from some other countries.

This effectively means that adding so called “professional juries” votes fuc*ed up the ranking, and national juries (in this case) in the South Caucasus countries simply suck. Big time.

In fact, the highest difference between jury and televote ranking re Conchita was in Armenia (22 points difference), followed by Azerbaijan (21) and Belarus (19). Even in Russia difference was not as prominent (8), and in Russia Conchita was No.3 (8 points) by televote & only adding jury voting put her No.6 (5 points).

I’d say shame on you, Armenia’s national jury. Your voting was a disgrace.

And I’d say well done people in the South Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) who proved to be more open minded than what regimes and certain ‘elites’ want us to believe.

In general, looking at pattern of people’s and national juries voting indicates that the jury voting is more political and ‘calculating’ than people’s voting. Ironically, the very reason why juries were introduced in the first place. Here are just few observations re Armenia’s national jury voting:

1. Political: Placing Ukraine towards bottom of their rankings so that there is no chance for Armenia to give any points to Ukraine, to avoid upsetting Russia.

2. Calculating (so called ‘strategic voting’): Placing Sweden towards the bottom of their ranking, because they knew Sweden is one of top favourites to win, so that to avoid votes to Sweden from Armenia. And giving the highest points to clear non favourites to win, like Montenegro (No. 2 in jury ranking) or Malta (No. 1 in jury ranking).

3. Homophobic/transphobic: Placing Conchita towards the bottom of their ranking (above Azerbaijan) because they are homophobic/transphobic and/or sh*t scared of being later ‘accused’ as supporting LGBT representative + like in case of Sweden, to ‘neutralise’ votes from Armenia to top favourite Austria.

All this clearly shows that jury’s voting had nothing to do with judging performance. It’s pretty much a manipulation to neutralise people’s votes. A kind of legitimate voting fraud, because formally they did not break any rules.

And finally. Austria giving 12 points to Armenia regardless of all what happened in the run up to the contest, with very close high televote and jury votes. Learn the lesson, Armenia. Love conquers hate.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Online campaign calls Eurovision fans in Armenia to vote for Austria's Conchita

“Armenia Vote Conchita / Հայերի ձայները Կոնչոյին” initiative on social networks Twitter (@voteforconchita) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ArmVoteConcho) calls Eurovision fans in Armenia to vote for Conchita Wurst during Eurovision final. This is in response to homophobic and transphobic comments generated following the announcement that Conchita will be Austria’s entry in Eurovision 2014.


Here is a description of the FB page Armenia Vote Conchita / Հայերի ձայները Կոնչոյին:
[text below as in original]
“If you thought of all Armenians as uneducated intolerant homophobic assholes, well, have I got fab news for u gurl!

We support Conchita, or Concho, as we affectuously call her in Armenian, we'll vote for her and we invite everyone living in Armenia to vote for Concho, too.

Մենք աջակցում ենք Կոնչիտա Վյուրստին կամ Կոնչոյին, ինչպես հայոց ազգը նրան փաղաքշաբար կոչեց, քվեարկելու ենք նրա օգտին ու Հայաստանաբնակներին հրավիրում ենք մեզ հետ քվեարկել Կոնչոյի օգտին:”

I made my indirect contribution to #ArmVoteConchita by voting for her from London. Btw, Conchita delivered a fabulous performance during semifinal, worthy a winner.



Eurovision final is on Saturday and among favourites to win the contest bookmakers name Austria, Sweden, The Netherland, Armenia, UK…

As 50% of votes are counting from the national juries votes, the main challenge for Conchita’s path to Eurovision victory will perhaps come from the national juries in post-Soviet-block countries where homophobia and transphobia are still widespread.

It will be interesting to see how much difference people’s vote will make and whether we will see votes for Austria’s Conchita coming from Armenia.

Good luck, Conchita !!