Despite Death Threats, Armenia’s LGBT Activists Are Fighting for Recognition

Despite Death Threats, Armenia’s LGBT Activists Are Fighting for Recognition
Lilit Martirosian, a founder of the Armenian transgender organization Right Side, during an interview for the Associated Press in Yerevan, Armenia, April 26, 2019 (AP photo by Sona Kocharyan).

On April 5, Lilit Martirosyan, the first registered transgender woman in Armenia, became the first member of the country’s LGBT community to speak in the Armenian parliament. LGBT people in Armenia, she told the National Assembly, have been “tortured, raped, kidnapped, physically assaulted, burned, stabbed, murdered, robbed and unemployed.”

It was a courageous public appearance in a country where homophobic and transphobic sentiments are widespread. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Martirosyan’s speech was followed by a torrent of death threats and verbal abuse. The chairperson of the parliamentary session she spoke at denounced her appearance. Days later, a crowd of more than 100 supporters of nationalist and conservative groups gathered in front of the National Assembly building to protest her appearance. One lawmaker was captured on video telling demonstrators that Martirosyan should be burned alive. She has continued to receive death threats since her speech, and recently told Agence-France Presse that she is hiding out at a friend’s house.

In an email interview with WPR, Hasmik Petrosyan, a lawyer for the LGBT rights group PINK Armenia, says that the government’s response to such threats has been woefully insufficient. Petitions to the National Assembly to address hate speech by lawmakers have gone unanswered, and law enforcement agencies took no action despite receiving numerous complaints about the threats to Martirosyan, regarding both members of parliament and the protesters. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in situations where LGBT people are in danger, and the authorities’ inaction raises fears that offenders might actually follow through on their threats, Petrosyan adds. “The environment of impunity continues to put the security of LGBT people at risk.”

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