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American-Armenian Man Kicked Out of Folk Dance Group for Being Gay

A 23-year-old American-Armenian man, Kyle Khandikyan, was removed from the dance group he had been practicing with after instructor Harut Baghdasaryan – also a member of Karin Folk Dance Ensemble – found out that he was gay, the Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) NGO reports. A statement issued by the organization said that Pink Armenia strongly condemned the discriminatory decision, calling on Armenia's ministries of Diaspora and Culture to pay attention to the incident and prevent discriminatory attitudes in the sphere of culture.

Khandikyan, who currently lives in Yerevan and first came to Armenia through Birthright Armenia as a volunteer with PINK Armenian, was told by the instructor that he did not belong to this “nation,” that he was “not Armenian,” and had no right to dance Armenian dances since he was gay. 

“One of the reasons why I came to Armenia was to reconcile these identities that seemed to be at odds – gay and Armenian – and fall in love again with this little homeland of mine,” Khandikyan wrote on his Facebook page Thursday, adding that the instructor was making sure that every dance instructor in his circle knew the young man's name and did not let him dance.

“[…] This comes as a real heartbreak to me, and also a reminder of the type of rejection, shame, and violence I feared from Armenians growing up, which ultimately led me to reject my Armenian identity and the community I come from. […] I have fallen in love with Armenia again, but days like today make it hard to be here and to be who I am -someone who loves Armenia but who Armenia doesn't love back. I came to Armenia to understand better and struggle against the poisonous ethno-nationalism that's at the root of the homophobia and transphobia Armenians around the world experience (an important point to be made: oppressive homo-transphobic nationalism exists in Armenian communities everywhere, and is not something unique to the Republic of Armenia). Experiencing it so explicitly today has shaken me, but it won't stop me.

“I would like to know who exactly these people are that decide who is and isn't Armenian? Who gave them the authority and legitimacy to control and recognize who we are, what our values are, what we believe in, what our "nation" is? Where did they get this power from to subject us to this violence? I'm not just talking about my dance instructor. I'm talking about all the people in our lives who attempt to define us, our bodies, our sexualities, our genders, our identities, who try to define what "Armenia" is–the parents, the teachers, the schools, the priests, the churches, the boards, the committees, the political parties, the "revolutionaries." Who are they? What gives them the right? How DARE they, after everything our people have gone through – are still going through? I know who and what I am. I know I'm Armenian, and I love being Armenian, and I love being gay, and I will dance again,” Khandikyan said in his post.