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A rainbow under threat: the fight against homophobia in Armenia

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

A great change could be seen as we approached and then breached the 21st century. Across the world, a wave of progress in cultural rights and freedoms had been building for decades. Same sex marriage was legalized in the Netherlands in 2001. Other countries soon followed. In the decades prior, anti-gay legislation had been erased from the criminal codes of many countries around the world, and more progressive attitudes about LGBT groups were seen almost everywhere.

In just a few decades, public opinion about homosexuality and discriminated groups under the LGBT banner shifted dramatically. For instance, in Sweden in 2019 98% of the population believed that homosexuals should not be treated any differently than any other group of people. Only four decades earlier, homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness in that same country. Attitudes can change fast, but it doesn’t happen automatically, and no place is yet perfect.

In places like Armenia, this work of changing policy and attitudes alike is ongoing. In almost an exact reversal of the Swedish attitudes, 97% of Armenians polled in 2017 agreed with the statement “homosexuality should not be accepted by society”. While same-sex activity has been legalised since 2003 and undoubtedly progress has occurred since the country emerged from Soviet rule, LGBT rights in central Asia and in Armenia lag behind much of the world. To reach equality in Armenia, and to turn around the homophobic attitudes that still seem very common, many are putting in the hard work.

Organizations like PINK Armenia are playing a hugely important and active role in changing the situation of LGBT people in Armenia. Strategic litigation, compilation of reports for international organizations, and creating a safe space for LGBT groups via information, public events, counseling and workshops are among their key activities. Groups like PINK are crucial for protecting those that the government or society at large has chosen to ignore or actively discriminate against.

For instance, LGBT people are not allowed to serve openly in the military, and same sex marriage remains impossible in Armenia. In 2017, a step forward in the latter issue was seen as the government proclaimed that same sex marriages performed abroad would be recognized in the country. However, as of yet there has been no legislation codifying the proclamation in law. PINK among others will continue to monitor the government’s progress.

Violence against discriminated groups continues to be a large problem. Because there is still a sizable taboo around homosexuality and people who are ‘outed’ can become shunned and rejected even by those close to them, LGBT people will often not come forward to report hate crimes or homophobic attacks. Mistreatment in prisons, educational institutions, health care facilities and the military continues to be prevalent, and in many cases is not even hidden. Since no constitutional or legal protection exists against the discrimination of LGBT individuals in Armenia, they face an uphill struggle in the job market and elsewhere due to the public’s negative attitudes against homosexuality. All these and more are problems we all hope to see go away in the coming decades.

PINK’s policy recommendations include the adoption of comprehensive legislation that would ban discrimination. An anti-discrimination law being debated by the country’s legislators has failed to include LGBT individuals as protected groups under the act, leaving them still vulnerable to all manner of bias. This is not altogether surprising, as many members of the Armenian parliament have aired homophobic sentiments in public, in parliamentary hearings, as well as on social media. This makes it all the more important that the public as well as policymakers are educated on LGBT issues. Including the most vulnerable groups in those protected under anti-discrimination laws seems obvious, and required, yet at the moment there is no progress in this issue.

As part of INTERNaction’s efforts to help worthy human rights struggles around the globe and to enable young law students to take part in those struggles, an opportunity to help PINK in their work is available. It is easy to see why the work is daunting and yet, for that same reason it is clear why it is so important.

Author: Arto Jaakkola

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