LGBTI: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex.* The category of rights designed to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The people of the former Soviet Union really disrespect LGBTI rights.
While better than the “Kill the Gays” bills introduced in Uganda and Liberia, it’s pretty bad over here. One of the differences here is that there isn’t active government persecution against gays but more of a general sense in society that they’re wrong and don’t deserve protection. It’s a lot harder for the West to punish social prejudice than government policies.
Recently, violent anti-gay protesters attacked after a march in St. Petersburg (warning: semi-disturbing video). In Kiev, the leaders of a gay march cancelled the march because of security fears; in response, the anti-gay protesters attacked the leaders. In Tbilisi, priests attacked gay marchers because the police wouldn’t stop the “indecency.” And in Armenia, a gay-friendly bar was firebombed and vandalized with swastikas, and the two suspects were bailed out by Members of Parliament. Please note that, distressingly, all of these events occurred within the last two weeks and around International Day Against Homophobia.
Regardless of how extreme the vandals are (including drawing the swastikas and self-describing themselves as fascists) they have significant social support. One of the Members of Parliament that paid their bail stated that the suspects “acted in accordance with our society’s values and national ideology, and in an appropriate manner…. It was wrong to cause material damage, of course, and it will be compensated, but I have repeatedly said that Tsomak [the bar’s owner] and her ilk are destructive for our society….” In a video, the suspects nonchalantly describe themselves as fascists and openly acknowledge their vandalism.
I participated in a pro-diversity march on May 21, and you can see (and hear) the forcefulness of the counter-marchers. They were chanting “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Gays to Baku!” “You’re not Armenian, you’re Turkish” among other things. A fight occurred at the beginning of the march but the police were able to keep the event mostly peaceful.
The Human Rights Ombudsman has made a statement on the issue, which is stronger and weaker than expected. The Ombudsman is mandated to only protect human rights violations caused by the state, not individuals. Legally, he’d only be empowered to act here if it was found that either the state was involved in the vandalism or the police refused to prosecute. Neither seems to be true. Regardless, the Ombudsman limits his statement to stating that he’ll wait until the police determine “if there are other motivations [for the attack] rather than interpersonal relations….” If so, then he’ll make another statement.
Armenia is going to have to have a discussion on LGBT people similar to what has happened in America. America has been having the discussion since at least the 1970s (with the AIDS crisis acting as an accelerant), and only today do we have a presidential candidate (who is also the President) in favor of marriage equality (one of only many of the rights people are fighting for). It’s been a long struggle in America and I hope that that doesn’t have to be the case in Armenia.
A good English Armenian blog on the issue is Unzipped: Gay Armenia.
* LGBTI is the generally accepted term in the Human Rights sphere instead of the more common LGBTQ or much more common LGBT.