May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
An Armenian NGO - Public Information and Need of Knowledge [PINK Armenia] - dealing with public awareness and sex education campaigns, LGBT rights among them, was to mark the day with a wider set of events. They had declared May 2012 LGBT month in Armenia, which includes conferences, training sessions for journalists and NGOs, and a "Diversity Week" in the end.
This is a much-needed discussion in Armenia, a country which, according to a recent report by ILGA-Europe, "does not meet the basic requirements of human rights standards" in terms of LGBT issues. Furthermore, in a 2011 survey, PINK Armenia found that 72.1% of the population in Armenia's largest three cities have a negative attitude towards LGBT persons; 70.9% said they are "strange people"; 18.6% still think it's a "disease"; the vast majority (55.3%) said they would stop any relationship with a friend, relative or colleague if they found out they were LGBT; and 71.5% suggested that the state "should fight against them".
Clearly, there is [just a bit of more] room for education and awareness...
Nevertheless, the issue has been brought back into the spotlight (with a crash, may I add?) over the past ten days, due to the May 8 arson attack on the "open-minded" D.I.Y. pub in Yerevan (in what could amount to terrorism), followed by more action and hate speech by official and non-official parties. What was the problem? It turns out, the pub had been hosting LGBT and other way too liberal people, who engaged in activities that ran counter to the "true Armenian ideology and values", and thus dishonored Armenia's national identity...
Self-proclaimed "fascists" confessing having recently attacked D.I.Y. [please note one of the young men wearing the swastika around his neck]. As we can see, they have nothing to fear...
Such events, and the response from officials and the public make the issue ever more urgent and dangerous. That's why, PINK Armenia's LGBT month is all the more timely. Unfortunately, I had to miss the "Silenced Reality" conference earlier this week due to personal reasons, but I made it to their public action in downtown Yerevan on May 17. The NGO and its supporters gathered at the Swan Lake to give out pens that read "I am not a homophobe" and informational leaflets on homophobia, its dangers and prevention.
My two cents...
It was a cold and rainy evening, but the group of volunteers grew nonetheless. The police protection, promised by the municipality, never showed up, however.
The brave swan :)
Mamikon Hovsepyan, President of PINK Armenia, said they had 250 pens and brochures to distribute.
Some didn't mind getting the leaflets as they walked by.
Others seemed to need a little more convincing.
A few even made the effort to read them.
Most seemed to find the idea funny, however.
Only a single few stopped by to find out more and debate.
The issue is still too big of a taboo in this country.
And although some of those leaflets might have found their way to the trash can all too soon...
... seems like the pens were more successful in "winning over hearts and minds".
I just hope that some day their keepers will come to truly grasp the meaning of the words written on them...
Come out and support PINK Armenia next week if you're in Yerevan!
Related, from Global Chaos: "Abused, mistreated, and stigmatized: Yet there is still hope for gay Armenians"