Armenia: Despite death threats, this trans woman is fighting for LGBTQ rights

Lilit Martirosyan misses the chance to go and sit somewhere outside to drink coffee. She hasn’t been able to do that for the past seven weeks. It’s too dangerous for her to even look out her own window.

People can recognize her face now.

She became the first transgender woman to speak to Armenia’s parliament last month. A video of her speech was shared around the world and applauded by LGBTQ activists and supporters. But she’s been getting death threats since then, and she’s afraid to leave the house.

I knew there was homophobia in Armenia, but I didn’t know the extent to which it existed. I was a little surprised. But then when I met the students, it was clear that they were petrified.
— Brett Burnham, Professor at the American University of Armenia

Armenia ranks as one of the worst countries to live in Europe for LGBTQ people, according to a new assessment this month by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe). The post-Soviet republic came in near the bottom of the 49 countries listed, barely topping Azerbaijan and Turkey.

At a parliamentary hearing held by the National Assembly in Yerevan on April 5, Martirosyan, the president of the Right Side nongovernmental organization, called for legal protection for transgender people in Armenia who often face harassment and violence.

“I ask you to see me as a collective figure,” Martirosyan told Armenian lawmakers and activists. “I encompass in myself the tortured, raped, kidnapped, subjected to physical violence …  unemployed, poor and morally abandoned Armenian transgender’s image.”

Martirosyan, herself, has been attacked multiple times on the streets of Yerevan. Three months ago, her teeth were broken and her head was badly injured, she told The World.

She says the police didn’t do anything, and that she and her community don’t feel safe.

In fact, her NGO tallied 283 crimes against transgender people who were “tortured, raped, kidnapped, subjected to physical violence, burned, immolated, knifed, subjected to murder attempts, killed” in Armenia from 2016 to 2018.

Right Side, which claims to be the first and only organization that works to ensure protections for transgender people and sex workers in Armenia and in the South Caucasus, saw Martirosyan’s speech as a victory for themselves and the rest of the LGBTQ community in the country.

But not everybody was celebrating. Read more via PRI

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