by UHRC on 23/05/10The Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS) held its fifth annual Armenian LGBT Conference titled “Breaking Through: Legally, Politically, Culturally” on Saturday, May 15. The event took place at the Plummer Park Community Center in West Hollywood, bringing together activists from different communities to participate and speak as part of the panel discussion.
The first session included panelists Stephan Johnson of Lamda Legal and Jimmy Nguyen of Equality California. They discussed the current status of the Federal Prop 8 court case, SB 906 (Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act), and statewide efforts to restore marriage equality. Nguyen reported that after the passage of Proposition 8, which denied marriage equality in California, activists have been working harder and reaching out to more communities to demand equality and action.
The second session was presented by Raffi Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and Luis Lopez of Honor Political Action Committee and focused on political issues important to the Armenian and LGBT communities. They discussed the various ways in which activists and community members could take grassroots political action in order to advance their cause. Presenters discussed the most effective methods that can be used to influence decision makers. “The Armenian American community is a broad and diverse entity and one where all voices should be welcomed and heard,” said Hamparian. “The political activism needed to advance justice with respect to the Armenian Genocide and Artsakh is needed from all segments of our community. That means we need the involvement of everyone in our community; young and old, rich and poor, those with a college degree and those with none, those who are gay and those who are straight, or those who were born in America or those who came to this country as immigrants. The rainbow of diversity in our community is a strength, not a weakness. We need to seize our diversity to advance our common cause for justice. This I believe,” he added.
The final session included a presentation from Greg Matsunami, representing Asian Pacific Islander (API) Equality-LA, who spoke about actions they have taken to educate their community about Prop 8 and solicit support for other LGBT issues. According to Greg, there have been many parallels drawn between the Armenian and Asian experience. “Coming out to our family as well as our community is equally challenging,” he stated.
Armen Sarkissian, president of GALAS, discussed some of the issues facing LGBT Armenians. According to a poll on the GALAS website, 45% of LGBT Armenians have come out to their friends and only 9% to their family and friends. “For a majority of their lives, LGBT Armenians face extraordinary difficulties,” he stated. “They are afraid that their families and community will find out and that they may no longer be accepted.”
Although many Armenians and prominent Armenian community leaders such as Paul Krekorian and Nairi Nahabedian have shown their full support of LGBT Armenians, homophobia still exists in many minority communities including our own. Homophobic slurs like “that’s so gay” or “don’t be such a faggot” are constantly thrown around because we have become numb to their derogatory meanings. It is critical to step back and take a look at the serious consequences of hateful speech towards the LGBT. Denial, emotional distress, alienation and even suicide are just a few of the problems LGBT people suffer. LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit suicide then their heterosexual counterparts.
The time has come for our larger communities to recognize the unique vulnerabilities of LGBT people. Because Armenians have been subject to years of oppression and human rights violations, we have made it a moral imperative to fight against injustice. Ironically, we continue to oppress our own people. We can’t be selective in our morality. We can’t say we are fighters of justice when we continually oppress those in our own community. We need to work and stand together. Do not let us be divided. We must find our inner activist and work for a more progressive society.
Those who participated in this year’s conference came away with stronger, clearer ideas about the challenges and opportunities facing LGBT Armenians. To help work towards building a united movement and advocating for the rights of LGBT Armenians, visit the GALAS website at www.galasla.org.