Nineteen-year-old Argam Babayan’s dyed blond locks, carefully manicured fingernails, plucked eyebrows and eyeshadow set him apart from most young men his age in Armenia.There are, however, few mistakes in the report I’d rather not see:
Fearing he would face discrimination as a homosexual in this conservative society, Argam used to explain away his unusual appearance by saying he was a follower of the “emo” trend in music and fashion.
Like all young men in Armenia, Argam was due for conscription into the army when he turned 18. But when he told the medical examiner at the draft office he was gay, he was rejected for service.
Since coming out, Argam has been unable to find permanent work, and has turned to prostitution as a way of earning a living. [...]
- “The main meeting point for members of Armenia’s LGBT community is Mankakan Park near Yerevan City Hall.” Wrong. This is not a “meeting place” for LGBT community. It’s a place for cruising and sex workers.
- A less important mistake but still... “Precise figures for Armenia are not available, but applying United Nations data showing that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, LGBT, community makes up between four and seven per cent of most countries’ populations, the number for Armenia would be 12,000 or 13,000.” Even if they consider conservative estimates of 4-7%, it’s not 12-13 000. One zero is missing.
What is important in this article is that it exposes one more time the attitude of human rights Ombudsman’s office: ‘no complain, no problem’.
The office of Armenia’s human rights Ombudsman seemed unaware that the LGBT community faces discrimination, saying no one had made a formal complaint in this regard. They made similar statements in past too.
“We get non-specific complaints such as that they’re hated or ignored, but nothing concrete,” said Grigori Grigoryants, spokesman for the ombudsman’s office. “Intolerance of gays does exist in Armenia because of the religious views here, but either nothing explicitly illegal is done to them, or else they haven’t come to us with specific complaints.”However, I can confirm that there were formal complaints made too, which apparently got ‘conveniently’ ignored by the Obudsman’s office. But I would agree that most of such cases remain unreported. This is mainly due to lack of trust in institutions that are supposed to deal with such cases; and fear of being outed among family/friends.
In a follow-up piece - Story Behind the Story, journalist Sara Khojoyan provides an interesting insight on making this report. She describes challenges faced in getting in touch with gay Armenians, making them open up to her, and how this experience helped her to overcome her own prejudices.
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.
[...] I had never met a gay man before, so I was as nervous about the meeting as he was.
[...] But it all turned out well – he was open and helpful, which helped me overcome many of the prejudices I felt.
[...] 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. [...]
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.