If you are from the LGBTIQ community in conservative Armenia, it is difficult to ‘be yourself.’ Often individuals from this community fight against themselves to come to terms with their sexuality, only to keep on struggling once they decide to come out with their families and the wider society. Yet, people like Elvira, Liz, and Rim believe that standing up for who you are is the only path to your own happiness.
Elvira Meliksetyan, 26, is a psychologist, a human rights activist, and a feminist living in Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city. “I started talking about my sexual orientation when I understood that in order to feel complete I had to be open about it,” explains the 26-year-old.
“In the winter of 2016 I told my family about my sexual orientation. But as there are only women left in our family, as my father had died, it was easier to be open about it with my mother and my sisters.
I came out with them when I fully understood that it was my identity and I had grown to feel at ease with myself. I told my mother that I had been attracted to women for three years. She was very surprised, she told me that men are very important in women’s life and that I “behave” in this way because I haven’t met a good man.
I asked my family whether they supported me, whether I could feel safe at home. I was tired of the risks that LGBT people face in the streets. Neither state bodies nor law enforcement help to prevent and address acts of violence. My mother is a Ukrainian in Armenia, she knew what it meant to be discriminated.
I was allowed to invite my partner to our house. The meeting between my partner and my mother went well. It’s only a year that we are together, and we are still getting to know each other.
Eliza (Liz) Avetisyan, 17, is a photographer and a painter. She finished school and is currently working as a waitress in a bar in the capital, Yerevan. Fascinated by Buddhism and thrilled by horror films, Liz would like to become a film director and is applying to enter the Yerevan State Institute of Theater and Cinematography.
She is bisexual.
“I like both sexes, although I tend to be fussier about women. I’m not saying that they should be perfect, but if there is anything I don’t like I will not touch her. It is different with boys. My preferences change depending on the phase I feel I am in. At the moment, I would like to have a boyfriend, but I can’t find a good partner.
With girls I feel like a boy, but with boys I feel girlish.
“I was fourteen when I told my mother that I had a girlfriend. She started to laugh at me. I didn't expect this kind of reaction. She told me that it was temporary; she is one of those people who thinks that bisexuality is not an orientation.”
Rim Sardaryan is an economist passionate about human rights. The 24-year-old is open about being lesbian. “I do not hide it because we do exist in Armenia, we are among everyone.”
“Our society discriminates the LGBT community on daily basis and I witnessed cases of harassment and violence. Once I was in a cafe’ with my partner and the manager came to us and asked us not to kiss in his cafe.”
“My family reacted aggressively at conversations about my sexuality, they would call me a whore. It took time, but then we learnt to talk to each other. I guess my mother read a lot and reconsidered her attitude. Now she only wonders until when I’ll be a lesbian, whether will it pass or not, and how I should live without a child. I love children and I would like to have my own; I understand her concerns.”