I am a 24-year-old LGBT/HIV activist from Armenia, where homosexuality was decriminalised only 11 years ago.
I don’t know when I realised I was gay. I think it was around the age of 14 when I first thought I was different from my classmates.
One of my classmates made comments while we were changing in the locker room, implying that I was gay. When this person labelled me as “gay” or “faggot”, I felt disrespected. He said he was joking, but it was bullying, abuse, and torture to me.
When I turned 16, I decided I could not be changed and I needed to start accepting myself. I got depressed, scared, angry, and felt alone through those 2 years and I was praying every day to finish my school as soon as possible.
I remember one day surfing the internet, I wasn’t really looking for anything, I was just bored. I found a dating website for gays. This was the first time that I thought: I am not alone. I was so happy to meet with a guy like me. We became friends. He showed me gathering places for gay people in Yerevan (the capital of Armenia); parks and bars. I felt lucky to have met him.
Gradually, I found more people like me and made friends. At the same time, I was studying at university, which was another new and eye-opening experience. My friends were older than me and they supported me so much. They gave me the confidence to tackle all the discrimination that I encountered at university and in everyday life.
Once I was involved delivering HIV-testing services at a local clinic (I was already involved in HIV-prevention activities for several NGOs). We faced bullying and discrimination there. The doctors were laughing at our manners, clothes, and behaviour. I felt the same feelings I had felt at school. This experience was a changing point in my life. I thought: I have to change my environment, culture, laws, and people’s attitudes. I want people like me to feel free, equal, and healthy.
In 2012, some of my friends and I founded Men with Social Mission (MSM) Armenia, a support group that aims to help young LGBT people to tackle discrimination and educates them about HIV prevention. In December, 2013, our project received its first MTV Staying Alive grant. My personal experience pushed me to become an activist, to support those people who are from my community, who face violence and discrimination everywhere.
One day I will stop my activism—the day when I’ll be sure that all lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people in my community and in the world feel happy. My destination is equality.
by Ashot Gervorgyan
Source – Staying Alive Foundation