An Armenian gay and lesbian group in Glendale will be holding its third roundtable Saturday for LGBTQ Armenians, their parents, families and friends to discuss issues about their sexual identity and brainstorm ways to reduce stigma in the Armenian community.
“The biggest fear that everyone has is the fear of isolation from the community,” said Erik Adamian, a board member of the 20-year-old Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society, or GALAS.
By meeting and sharing experiences and concerns in what Admanian describes as a culture still fixated on traditional gender roles, “a kind of subcommunity builds within the Armenian community that hasn’t existed before,” he said.
The sessions, moderated by mental health professionals and typically kicked off with a short film as a conversation starter, draw on the Armenian custom of socializing over a cup of coffee, or soorj.
The first Soorj Session held in April was so popular the group decided to make it a recurring event. By the second session, Adamian said he could already see a bond forming between some of the attendees.
According to Adamian, like other minority groups, Armenians often emphasize the importance of preserving their culture by marrying someone of the opposite sex, having children and passing down traditions. Those who don’t choose that path can be marginalized, Adamian said.
“Everyone has their own place and sometimes that place is very gendered,” he said.
While the Soorj Sessions were initially envisioned as youth-focused, GALAS organizers realized that parents and allies also needed a place to process and share their experiences — an aspect that became the focus of the last two sessions.
While Adamian, who learned about GALAS four years ago, has noticed a positive shift in the Armenian community toward LGBTQ individuals over the past few years, he said it’s still tempered.
“It’s a shift of complicity — it’s, ‘it’s OK you exist, as long as you don’t talk about your experiences.’”
Still, he said when he went to Armenian-owned businesses looking to participate in fundraising, he was surprised by the lack of hostility, and some businesses were willing to help.
For its two-decade anniversary, GALAS will roll out additional programs in the coming months, including presentations at local schools with significant Armenian populations. The organization also plans to offer college scholarships to students of Armenian descent involved in LGBTQ activism.
To protect the privacy of attendees, the location of the Soorj Session, running from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday is only provided to those who RSVP and confirm participation.