Armenians are Tolerant!

BY APRAHAM (APO) NIZIBLIAN

As an Agoump rat, I grew up in a very Armenian and traditional household and community here in Montréal, attending Sourp Hagop day school, participating in the AYF as a local and Central committee executive and later joining the ARF ranks – as the Karabakh movement was at it’s most critical moments. All this was done however, while I hid an important part of my identity. I constantly feared how the community would deal with me as an Out AYF-er or ARF-er. I always feared the worst! So I preferred to hide.

Of course, as a teenager, I realized that I was different. When most of my childhood friends spoke of their sexual desires, I could not understand why mine were different. As my friends looked as Samantha Fox, I preferred ogling Madonna’s back-up dancers. I eventually came to the understanding that it was simply human nature – and that I could not change this part of myself, not that I ever wanted to!!!

My strong Armenian activism and identification with the ARF and the ANCA coupled with my profound desire to change the status-quo, eventually took me to Washington DC, where I lobbied for many of the issues we know and love the ANCA for – mostly supporting the Armenian nation and every single Armenian, no matter what their political, social views were regardless of their sexual orientation.

As I decided to come out – on the cover page of the Denver Post – I faced a dilemma. Face the music (as I thought I would have to) or leave the high-profile position in the ANCA in Washington D.C. – basically, run and hide from the community.  In the end, I decided to stay, because it was so the right thing to do. Not a single event made me need to reconsider that decision. I knew as the first Armenian occupying such a position with an important Armenian-American organization, I would have to answer some hard questions. I had many discussions with LGBT youth who interned or passed through the ANCA doors, whether AYF-ers or later ARF-ers. It was a naturally safe and welcome place where everyone was accepted, EVERYONE!

While I was working in the ANCA, Aram Hamparian, my boss, as I still love to call him, Elizabeth Chouldjian and Chris Hekimian, my colleagues – all devoted ARF members were nothing short of supportive. As the gay marriage debate under George Bush’s first term was becoming more and more divisive, I found it surprising that the whole ANCA team, locally and nationally regarded my sexual preference as a non-issue. They made me realize that the ARF, the ANCA and Armenian society at large (in the Diaspora and in Armenia) needs every single last Armenian – and supporter – to advance our cause! This will only make us stronger as an open society, inclusive of every individual!

Though some individual Armenians, including some ARF-ers still have issues with LGBT people in general, I need to say that the ARF Gomidehs in DC, Montréal, Paris or anywhere I have been, including Armenia and Artsakh, have never once shown me any intolerance with regards to my sexuality.

Today, I remain an active member, participate in meetings and activities, and am never made to feel that I do not belong within the ARF structure.

Unfortunately, some elements of Armenian society are not going to accept this position, as they did not accept that bars in Armenia should be a safe-space for all free-thinkers and people of various sexual orientations. I unconditionally condemn this attack on liberty, as I know the ARF has and will again anywhere, anytime any form of intolerance occurs. I believe that our nation has not only the capacity to accept every single person, and embrace the difference, but also the obligation to do so!

Today, as the debate (finally) rages on the place Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual Armenians should have in our communities I find there is much need for people who are out and active in our communities (and we are legion) to come forward. We can change things when and if we decide to take our place in society, not run from it.

Apraham (Apo) Niziblian is a student-at-law, McGill University in Montreal and the former ANCA Government Relations Director

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17 Comments

  1. Armanen said:

    I don’t know what Dashnaks the author of this article has met in Armenia/Artsakh, but the vast majority are not supportive of his lifestyle. What you choose to do in the privacy of your own home is your business, but imposing your lifestyle on a Traditional society is wrong and is NOT furthering the Armenian cause one bit.

  2. Tsoghig said:

    Apo, your courage is so commendable. I hope if I am ever tested as you have been I will have the courage to stand up to any adversaries. We were lucky to have you work at the ANCA.

  3. Sam La Roche said:

    This is an interesting editorial….Although the Armenian Apostolic Church (and its sister denominations) should continue to stand against gay marriage & not compromise in this regard, that does not mean we don’t treat members of the LGBT community any different in our day-to-day lives – they are people, too. As I learned from a grad school class, people should not be judged solely based on their sexuality, or their identities/personhood should not be reduced to only their sexual preference.

  4. Artur said:

    The Armenian population is not able to, there is no progress in Armenia toward more liberal society. The youth are trapped, the best have left thanks to the government, the old need nothing new.

  5. DK88 said:

    I am curious to know, how did your parents react? I’ve told mine recently and they are preparing to eventually leave the city (or even the country) because they don’t wanna say they have a gay son. They are extremely homophobic and it is a burden for them.

  6. aremnian said:

    Armenians are tolerant, but don’t abuse it. Armenia is a very small country with a very small population, and it can’t afford this kind of all inclusiveness as the US or European countries. Someone’s sexual orientation is and should be a non-isue as long as it is someone’s private matter and is not politicised. If you are different ( which is a social and biological fact, at least for now, as straight is still the norm), just accept it as that and be comfortable with yourself, but don’t try to impose yourself on your surrounding, society and the youth (armenian youth), as well as don’t hijack established social institutions – marriage.

    • Ara said:

      Aremnian, the argument that “Armenia is a very small country with a very small population; therefore it can’t afford inclusiveness…” is questionable, because Israel also is a small country with small Jewish population, but they are tolerant and allow gays to live peacefully. They are able to create room for the gays, eventhough there is a strong orthodox Jewish community who is strongly anti-gay. Israel tolerates gays, because they are civilized. They realize that being a gay is not a choice. Your children are either gay or are not gay. Gays are not threat to your children. I hope Armenia will reach that stage.

  7. hay said:

    I am horrified to see that Armenians are now having a problem with this. Accepting such acts as homosexuality and bars and such does not make us more liberal and accepting it just makes us stupid. Come on people we dont have to mimic America in every single damn thing.

  8. sasun said:

    apo you are gay keep it to your self do not bring it to Armenian church, communities, media, ARF or AYF keep it in pants, or ells .SHAME on our two news papers hayrenik and asbarez to print something like this shame on the editors and ARF leaders ,this is how we prevent genocide,and raize our kids

  9. Chris said:

    Don’t forget that every gay or lesbian Armenian is someone’s son, brother, sister, nephew, niece, cousin or friend. Every one of us already knows someone who is gay/lesbian even if we don’t actually know yet that they are. If you liked them before you knew their sexual orientation then why should this opinion change simply because you learn they are gay/lesbian? While someone’s sexual orientation is not something that is chosen and cannot simply be unlearned, tolerance can be chosen and learned. If you have the courage, learn to have tolerance!

  10. elpe4457 said:

    nothing wrong being gay, the more we know and educate ourselves about it the more easy we make the life of our loved ones, after all nobody knows what the future holds, it can be your own brother or sister, so tolerance and respect is the way to go……….
    BTW , the kindest people I know are gay

  11. Jen said:

    As a third generation Armenian American,, its hard not being conservative and doing what your family expects, all the gossip and critcizm.. and thats being straight, i can only imagine what its like to be gay, i know my family would cut me off and never talk to me again and everyone would shun me.

  12. elpe4457 said:

    Jen, it’s sad to hear that as a third generation Armenian American still the taboo of having a gay son or daughter is haunting, as far as I know the parents love to their children is unconditional,and yes, real friends stick with you the hard times rather criticise and that’s when you know the real friends from fake ones, and who needs the latter?????

  13. ashot said:

    its so weird to me that armenians who were persecuted and almost anahilated for our religious preference would turn around and persecute a group for there sexual preference…its not like they choose to be gay and get messed with its just part of who they are…we have to be open to it..because if we persecute one group then were giving oppurtunity to others to do the same to us…i just feel so sorry for all the young gay kids who get picked on so much that they kill themselves…i was once one of the people who would be making fun of them to..i wish i hadnt been a follower..i dont think any child deserves to feel suicidal because of something they want which does not harm anyone..:(

  14. ArdeVast Atheian said:

    It makes me cry to see so many of your readers showing so much intolerance towards Armenians who are homosexuals. I see a lot of similarities between Armenians and homosexuals. Both have suffered tremendous pain and persecution. Shall we throw out Armenian Patriots just because they are homosexual? I could care less about Armenian heterosexuals just because they are the norm. Give me one Patriotic Armenian and I will forget about one thousand normals doing nothing for our cause.

  15. shahan said:

    Dear All
    It is such a shame that we condemn our own folk just because they are homosexual. Homosexuality existed for millenia and there is nothing we can do about it. Again speaking openly, they are our sons, bothers, sisters, daughters or even parents. They are not a danger to our way of living, but this ridiculous Queer bashing that goes on in Yerevan should stop, after all, some of our Fedayis are gay and some of our kings were bisexual. So PLEASE stop pointing the blame, it is the icredulous that need treatment not the other way round. If you are still not convinced then have look on the web and and see for yourself!!!!

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