Growing up, I was very proud of and in tune with my Armenian heritage and cultural roots. Since the Armenian Genocide, pride has been an essential Armenian staple.
The Armenian experience is deeply rooted in an international diaspora that works diligently to preserve our language and our culture while living in new lands. I am a thread in the fabric of that cultural tapestry. From scout leader and AYF member, to political activist, Armenian Club president and charity fundraiser, I have worn many hats, always adorned in the Armenian tricolor.
Upon leaving school, I came to terms with the duality of my identity and knew it was important to be honest about it. My life experiences helped shape the person I am today: a man who is committed to social justice and equity. I entered the field of education and dedicated myself to helping children in need. After obtaining two master’s degrees, I became a public school teacher. However, as I began to immerse myself into my community, I experienced events that shook me to my core.
I thought blatant homophobia was no longer a widely-accepted concept in our society, rather, a notion relegated to a bygone era of intolerance and rampant misinformation. I was wrong. As I walked through school campuses, I was shocked to hear gay slurs used regularly by Armenian boys. As I flipped through Armenian American channels, I was dismayed when I saw TV personalities condemning LGBTQ people as foreign viruses. And when I began to speak to my fellow Armenian Americans about topics such as HIV or LGBTQ rights, I was horrified to hear them utter stereotypes and inaccuracies. How can such hate be so rampant in this era?
Upon learning about unpunished hate crimes receiving support in my beloved fatherland, I was convinced something was terribly wrong with my society. This is abhorrent and unacceptable. The Armenian people have a rich history of progressive politics, technological innovation and business acumen. This hatred is the antithesis of that entire storyline and a clear contrast to our upbringing.
Far too many of my people have been so blinded by their own intolerance that they threaten the fabric of our identity. By labeling LGBTQ people as deviants, they devalue the many contributions LGBTQ Armenians have made to our society. And they exclude us, leaving our cultural tapestry incomplete.
The consequences of this tragedy go beyond the effects felt by LGBTQ Armenians. The overwhelming hatred targeting them has the potential to create public relations concerns with Western democracies, derail access to important organizations and political institutions for our young republic, and dry up tourism and investment dollars. This intolerance has also created a backlash, driving many young, talented LGBTQ kids into the shadows. This is disgraceful, hypocritical and regressive. How can we fight for genocide recognition while actively participating in oppression? How can we expose the brutality of Azerbaijani war crimes while praising thugs who throw Molotov cocktails into gay clubs? How can we encourage a new generation of diasporans to come back to help build a new homeland when so many of us are unwelcome? One cannot be a homophobe and a humanitarian.
Repudiation of hate must start from the top down. Public officials need to actively support the LGBTQ community and participate in healthy activities that encourage unity and mutual respect. LGBTQ allies must participate in an open dialogue about LGBTQ issues. When our stories are heard, the dehumanization will stop. Finally, LGBTQ Armenians must come out of the closet. We must meet the hate, misinformation and divisiveness with our truth. We must proudly show our faces and enthusiastically speak about our right to exist.
I am a proud gay Armenian man, and this talk was long overdue.