BY GABE MUGALIAN
Scrolling through your Instagram feed, you may have noticed a lot of similar posts and ads throughout the past month. All of a sudden we’re seeing familiar company logos dressed in rainbow. Cities from London and Miami, to Tbilisi and Tel Aviv are holding parades and celebrations populated with shirtless men in feather boas and glitter face paint. It may look like an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race mixed with an ad for a protein shake. Welcome to Pride Month, a time designated to celebrate and create awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their contributions to world history, as well as the struggles they still face today. In Armenia, it may not seem like any of this makes sense, or like this is a celebration of “western” identities and history that don’t apply to our Republic. While Armenia does not officially celebrate Pride along with much of the rest of the world, this is something that everyone should know about, regardless of their sexuality, nationality, or religion.
The word ‘pride’ has come to be associated with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people around the globe. June has officially been Pride Month (at least in the United States) since 2012, and was chosen to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, a series of protests and demonstrations from the gay community that started on June 28, 1969, in New York city. These demonstrations, lead by trans womxn of color, were a direct rebellion against police raids of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar which is still operational. The police would regularly raid gay bars to make their usual arrests in accordance with laws that criminalized members of the gay community. Fifty years later, Stonewall is considered one of the most important moments in the progress of LGBTQ rights in the U.S. and act as the impetus for many Pride events around the world. Although these celebrations put a large focus on milestones of the late 20th century, they are only an extension of decades of work, and not all celebrations are focused on American history. For example, Moscow Pride is supposed to take place in May to commemorate the decriminalization of homosexuality by the Russian government in May of 1993. However, the event has been prohibited by an openly homophobic Moscow city hall since 2006, and in 2012 a century-long ban was placed on the event. Organizers from Russia and Europe have been unable to reverse this action, and the LGBTQ community in Russia remains stifled.
WHAT DOES LGBTQ MEAN?
You may be familiar with the acronym LGBTQ, but many different variations exist. Whether it is written ‘GLBT’, ‘LGBT’, ‘LGBTQ’, ‘LGBTI’ or ‘LGBTQIA+’, it is always referring to the same group of people and the same cause. The letters used have specific meanings, while the acronym refers to the entire community. To decode LGBTQ, one of the most common variants, we have:
(L)esbian--Describes women who are attracted to women. These individuals can also identify as gay.
(G)ay--Describes a person who is attracted to someone of the same gender.
(B)isexual--Describes a person who is attracted to people of all genders regardless of their own gender. Often shortened to ‘bi’.
(T)ransgender--Describes a person whose gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, and has decided to live as the gender they feel more comfortable as. Often shortened to ‘trans’.
(Q)ueer--Describes anybody who does not directly identify as one of the above terms, but still identifies with aspects of the LGBTQ community. Somebody whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth, but who wears styles associated with another gender, may choose to identity as ‘queer’ or ‘genderqueer’ rather than transgender. Likewise, somebody who others would consider bisexual may prefer to say queer, because they are primarily (but not exclusively) attracted to the same gender as their own.
So, when we talk about LGBTQ pride, we are talking about many different aspects of somebody’s identity, and it is possible that somebody is a part of this community without it being obvious. It’s also important to say that the LGBTQ community is just that: a community. Although we may seek to change certain social perspectives and lift restrictions caused by institutional and governmental action, the LGBTQ community should not be confused with an official organization. It is not a political party, a non-profit, or a social enterprise. It is merely a term meant to name a group of people who have been historically marginalized. Furthermore, the LGBTQ community describes many different types of people, not only gay people, and it is actually impossible for somebody to be an “LGBTQ person.” It is more accurate to say “somebody from the LGBTQ community” rather than “somebody who is LGBTQ,” because then you are saying “somebody who is lesbian gay bisexual transgender queer.” While a person might identify with multiple of these words, it doesn’t make sense to say they are all of them at once.
Sometimes this can get very confusing, and it may seem like all these labels actually make things worse. The need to be more inclusive has lead people to expand the acronym to LGBTQIA+, which I admit is a bit of a mouthful. Therefore, many people have started using alternative words and acronyms, such as simply saying queer (i.e. ‘the queer community’), DSG (Diverse Sexualities and Genders), and GSM (Gender and Sexuality Minorities). These terms include the same breadth of identities without creating confusion or unnecessary divisions between groups. However, because not all people know or relate to these terms, they are less common. Also, the word ‘queer’ has historically been used as an insult, and may offend many people, even though younger people have largely reclaimed the word and regularly use it to identify themselves. In almost every case, it is perfectly acceptable and correct to say LGBTQ.
PRIDE, CULTURAL CONTEXT, AND FEMINISM
With all these terms and such a large global community, you may be wondering why we need to celebrate Pride at all. It is vital to remember that although many ‘western’ nations have made relative progress in the areas of LGBTQ rights, the LGBTQ community is still largely discriminated against regardless of where they live, sometimes facing legal persecution and imprisonment. This is especially true in Armenia. While the fight for LGBTQ rights is an uphill battle, organizations such as PINK Armenia, Right Side NGO, and the Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS) seek to dispel the myth that ‘there are no gay Armenians’ both in the Republic and the diaspora. The existence of queer Armenians has become a highly controversial issue, stemming from religious orthodoxy, Russian political and cultural influence, and the desire to preserve Armenian genealogy and family lines in the face of genocide, war, and migration. However, the negative impact of suffocating so many groups of people is never an acceptable sacrifice, even in the name of cultural preservation. When we oppress our fellow Armenians on the basis of universal identities, we suppress our own potential for growth as a people and as a country.
That being said, when we fight for LGBTQ rights, we are fighting for Feminism, and vice versa. These movements have always worked to combat the same forces, and some of the most prominent leaders of these causes have been a part of both communities. In many ways, both movements seek the same goals, and suffer from similar institutional and social forces, such as gender roles, sexual stigmas, and the patriarchy. In this right, it is important to recognize how these communities may support each other through raising awareness of issues which affect everyone. For example, PINK Armenia may raise awareness of sexual assault, making sure that queer perspectives are heard alongside the voices of women. Similarly, a trans woman experiences a combination of misogyny and trans-phobia which would be misunderstood without addressing their intersectionality.
The growing need for awareness is even more important when it comes to bringing together women and LGBTQ people from Armenian communities, which are some of the most marginalized. LGBTQ allies and activists must work hand-in-hand with feminists to combat the issues which affect us all. While it is okay to focus on specific issues, it’s also necessary to recognize that many feminists around the world are a part of the LGBTQ community, and their contributions to both movements are enriched by these overlapping lenses and identities.
P.S. Support PINK ARMENIA by purchasing our most recent sticker, 100% of the proceeds will go to the organization.