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Being Gay in Armenia Often Seen as Disloyal to Traditional Armenian Values: Report

For the first time ever, the Council of Europe launched a report on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe that is the result of a comprehensive study that surveyed all 47 member states of the Council of Europe. The report, released Thursday, not only maps the legal situation but also highlights the social attitudes and opinions about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people: while there is certain progress in some countries, others continue discrimination and violation of basic human rights of LGBT people, reports ILGA Europe.

The report contains a socio-legal analysis of the situation of LGBT persons across member states and relies on data and information made available by public authorities, national human rights structures, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academic experts in the member states. The 134-page report is broken down into the following six sections. The sections republished here pertain to aspects of the report that refer to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Russia.

1. Attitudes and Perceptions

In some member states, being gay or lesbian is viewed as a “betrayal” of national values and unity. Such arguments may be grounded on a specific understanding of the nation or the state which aims to preserve the homogeneity of the nation. For example, an interlocutor from the authorities explained that in Armenia being homosexual is often seen as disloyal to the traditional values of the Armenian people.

2. Legal Standards and their Implementation

There is no non-discrimination legislation covering sexual orientation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia, while Georgia has sectoral non-discrimination legislation covering employment.

National structures for promoting equality possess great potential for dealing with complaints on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as promoting the enjoyment of human rights by LGBT persons more generally. However, awareness of these possibilities should be enhanced among LGBT communities as well as within national structures themselves. The Human Rights Defender of Armenia, for example, noted that his office receives a large number of complaints about discrimination from minorities but has not registered any from LGBT persons. He concludes that this “is the best proof that the problem is bigger than assumed and well hidden”.

3. Protection: Violence and Asylum

Though same-sex consensual acts between adults was decriminalized in Armenia in 2003, hate crime legislation does not include sexual orientation: According to the report, in none of the South Caucasus states nor Turkey nor Russia is it a criminal offense to incite hatred, violence or discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation nor is homophobic intent an aggravating factor in common crime.

In 12 member states which are parties to the 1951 Convention there is no explicit recognition of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation as a valid ground for asylum claims either in legislation or in actual successful cases filed by LGBT asylum seekers (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia). There are, however, at least seven other member states which, even in the absence of such explicit recognition, have had asylum claims in which sexual orientation has been recognized as a ground for persecution (Denmark, Greece Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom) evidenced by decisions of national competent bodies in these countries.

4. Participation: Freedoms of Assembly, Expression and Association

Since 2004 in at least 12 member states, including Russia and Turkey, there have been cases of bans and/or administrative impediments on Pride events or other large public cultural LGBT events, while no large public cultural or Pride events have ever been organized in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.

LGBT NGOs have been formed in nearly all member states. LGBT NGOs in some member states of the Council of Europe face challenges on the most basic level: to register their organization and statutes. Restrictions on the freedom of association have been observed in five member states during the period 2004-2010: Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine. Such restrictions by the authorities are usually motivated on the ground that the founding documents and scope of the association are contrary to national law. Authorities have also used the argument that the scope of the association is in contrast to or undermines national moral values. Problems with the registration of the statutes of LGBT associations have also been registered in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In Armenia, NGOs report being unable to include in their statutes references to LGBT issues, sexual orientation or gender identity, although the authorities have denied that this is the case.

5. Privacy: Access to Gender Recognition and Family Life

Twenty-four Council of Europe member states, including Turkey and Russia, have adopted legislation on the legal recognition of the preferred gender. In 10 Council of Europe member states, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, the report did not identify legislation regulating the legal gender recognition. Nor did this study find evidence that these 10 states offer the possibility for transgender persons to have their preferred gender legally recognized in an alternative manner (in the absence of legislation). In Georgia, transgender persons are able to have their new gender legally recognized, either through going to court or by certain administrative practices or decrees.

According to the report, none of the three South Caucasus states nor Turkey nor Russia had either partnership rights for same-sex couples or legislation regarding adoption by same-sex couples (therefore, it can be said same-sex couples have no adoption rights in these countries).

The family may be experienced by LGBT persons as an institution of immediate social control. This imposes expectations on the gender roles of boys and girls alike, which can be problematic for LGBT children who do not meet them. NGO representatives in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey stressed the double discrimination facing lesbians and bisexual women in those states. As women, they are expected to marry and have children, and until they do they must come home directly from the workplace and not go out alone. Family honour is an influential concept.

Access to Healthcare, Education and Employment

In 13 member states (Armenia, Azerbaijan) no facilities needed for gender reassignment treatments were identified. Transgender persons from these 13 countries wishing to undergo gender reassignment would then have to go abroad (they are explicitly advised to do so in some member states).

The European Court of Human Rights has required states to provide insurance to cover expenses for “medically necessary” treatment, which gender reassignment surgery is a part of. However, research for this report shows that access to health care insurance is highly problematic in at least 16 countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Russian Federation, and Turkey). In these countries transgender persons claim that they must bear the financial burden of medically necessary health care themselves

In a significant number of member states, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, and Turkey, NGOs report that schools do not provide any information about homosexuality or if so only biased, incorrect information. Such schoolbooks and teaching materials tend to present incorrect information not reflecting the WHO de-classification of homosexuality.

Photos courtesy of PINK Armenia.