LOS ANGELES—Following a successful event in partnership with Abril Books, the Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS) of Los Angeles has announced that it will donate copies of ONE MAN GUY, a young adult novel about a gay Armenian-American teen, to local private Armenian and public middle and high schools. The donation will be made possible by the generosity of two long-time GALAS members.
On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, Abril Books hosted a special Breathing Book Club meeting with GALAS to discuss ONE MAN GUY by Michael Barakiva. Abril’s Breathing Book Club, together with GALAS members, discussed the book and the unique challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Armenians in America, as well as questions of identity, community, and belonging.
ONE MAN GUY tells the fictional story of Alek Khederian, a young Armenian-American trying to balance the Armenian identity his parents expect him to carry on and the American one he desires, all while discovering his sexuality and a new boyfriend.
Author Michael Barakiva, who is of Armenian descent, joined the conversation at Abril Books via Skype, offering his take on the issues discussed and the inspirations behind ONE MAN GUY.
“My single greatest joy in writing is forming relationships with readers. At the GALAS event for ONE MAN GUY, I got to meet and hear from the group most qualified to discuss a novel about a queer Armenian coming out. It was an honor and treat that I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Michael Barakiva.
Kyle Khandikian, Director of Communications for GALAS who led Wednesday night’s discussion, noted that the event at Abril Books was only the second time in GALAS’s 18-year history that it had received a formal invitation from another Armenian organization to participate in a public event.
“I think it goes without saying that being LGBTQ and Armenian is not a walk in the park—certainly not in Armenia, but also here in Los Angeles. Being LGBTQ in this community presents many of us with unique cultural challenges, and often times outright rejection, and that’s part of what we will be discussing here,” Kyle Khandikian said on Wednesday.
“GALAS has had a long history of serving its Los Angeles LGBTQ Armenian community with various social and educational events. With the Abril Books collaboration last week, our first march in L.A. Pride this June, and our participation in 2014’s Armunity Integrated Health Care Conference, GALAS is now looking forward to a more culturally visible future,” said President Raffi Sarkissian.
Arno Yeretzian, owner of Abril Books in Glendale, California, said it was an honor to partner with GALAS.
“There is a huge gap in the genre of LGBT literature in our bookstore and in the Armenian arena in general. We are glad to start filling the void with the work of author Michael Barakiva, and we look forward to other authors contributing with their own work. While we have had LGBT Armenian authors in our past, none of them have had the freedom, support and venues to write and share their experiences openly. We are glad that things are changing and that we now have an organization like GALAS to help foster and encourage others to come out and express themselves proudly,” said Arno Yeretzian
Following the event with Abril, two long-time GALAS members announced that they will be donating copies of ONE MAN GUY on behalf of the organization to local private Armenian schools and to the Gay-Straight Alliances and Armenian clubs of local public schools.
“Having a book like ONE MAN GUY when I was in private Armenian school here in Los Angeles would have been so wonderful and affirming, particularly because it was an educational and social environment where no safe space existed for LGBTQ students. It’s hard to tell, but I don’t believe those spaces exist yet in our community,” said Kyle Khandikian, who was enrolled in a private Armenian school for 15 years prior to attending UCLA.
Treasurer for GALAS Nver Hasratyan said that more transparency and dialogue is needed to begin improving the lives of community members.
“Our community in Los Angeles has a lot of work to do to create safe environments for Armenian-American LGBTQ youth. Having grown up as a gay teenager in a very small town in Armenia, I think it is critical to create a safe, loving, and caring environment both in the family and in the school where young people can be their full selves and still pursue their youthful ambitions without fear of rejection,” Nver Hasratyan said.
“I encourage all other Armenian organizations, schools and businesses to partner with GALAS and host similar events. I guarantee a successful, professional, culturally stimulating and very enjoyable experience,” Arno Yeretzian said.“It is very important especially for our LGBT youth who still are not free to express themselves without fear and ridicule in many of our Armenian schools and organizations.”
“We are committed to outreach in both the local Armenian community of Los Angeles and the larger LGBTQ population in order to help impact the larger global conversation around these issues. As someone who was in a private Armenian school from K-12, I am very excited about connecting with local Armenian and public schools to have ONE MAN GUY available as an essential resource for LGBTQ and allied youth,” said Raffi Sarkissian.
The Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS) of Los Angeles was founded in 1998 by a number of gay and lesbian Armenians in Los Angeles who were looking for friendship, support and a sense of belonging in the community. As informal gatherings gave way to formal meetings, the structure of the organization began taking shape. In 1999, GALAS ratified its first bylaws and elected seven members to its newly formed Board of Directors. Today, GALAS is a registered non-profit organization that maintains an active calendar of year-round events.
The mission of GALAS is to (1) foster a safe and supportive network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people of Armenian descent; (2) promote their empowerment within their communities; and (3) build bridges between the LGBTQ and Armenian communities and among all allied and intersectional communities.