Some thirty guests came together on May 23rd at the home of Veken Gueyekian and Hrag Vartanian in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to celebrate Armenian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered unity and to raise money for specific organisational goals.
Specifically, the benefit targeted three areas, Chairman and AGLA NY board member Christopher Atamian outlined: "We’re beginning a small 'Emergency Fund' to help LGBT people in need both in the Republic of Armenia and the diaspora—for example to help rebuild a bar like DIY which was firebombed in a recent hate crime, or to help with legal fees for LGBT people in need.” A second aim was simply to raise funds to help with the everyday expenses of running the organization and the many meetings, conferences and events such as New York's PRIDE March that it participates in. One of the night's guest speakers Maria Mähl, a Human Rights Advocate who currently works at the UN on women's security and peace building and SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) rights, commented on the importance of the work that AGLA NY does: “It is especially important now given the backlash against LGBT people that we have seen of late.”
A third and very exciting goal of the benefit was the creation of the George Stambolian Memorial Scholarship for students for LGBT students or those of Armenian origin. Stambolian was a beloved professor of French literature at Wellesley College, one of the founders of LGBT Literature and the editor of the famed Men on Men writing series. Stambolian passed away from AIDS in 1991. The guests were truly lucky to have one of Stambolian's own former students Nancy Agabian talk affectionately about him: "[He was] aware of and appreciated the paradoxes of life and of literature...[he] embodied them and worked for them in a meaningful way.” Agabian read two excerpts from her own books where she mentions Stambolian: Princess Freak and Me As Her Again.
Atamian was upbeat about the event, which raised close to $2,000: "There are so many established benefits already in New York and in the Armenian community….but everyone reacted beautifully and understood the importance of our organization and its activities." The organization’s board members plan to build on this success: "Every year we'll build on the previous one," Gueyekian noted, "It's a first very important step."
Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the organization as a whole or to any of its specific programs—such as the Emergency Fund or the Stambolian Scholarship—can do so at http://aglany.org or by contacting a board member directly.
George Stambolian was a scholar of French literature and became an early proponent of LGBT literature in academia and within the U.S. at large. Born in 1937 to an Armenian American family in Racine, Wisconsin, he attended Dartmouth College, then earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Soon after, he become an expert and beloved professor of French literature at Wellesley College, and a noted figure in the literary scene of New York City, where he lived. In the late 1980s and early 90s, he edited the groundbreaking anthology series Men on Men and helped to establish LGBT literature as a genre and field of study during the gay rights movement. Stambolian was known for his quick wit, wry sense of humor and his remarkable humility. Like many in his generation, his life was cut short by AIDS, in 1991. AGLA-NY honors his legacy by establishing a scholarship in his memory.
Nancy Agabian is an author and a professor at NYU and Queens College. Her memoir, Me as her again, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and a William Saroyan International Writing Prize. Agabian has served as co-President of AGLA NY in 2005 and 2006 and currently sits on its Board of Trustees. She was a student of George Stambolian at Wellesley College.