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Armenian trans woman gets threats after parliament speech

Lilit Martirosian spoke to the human rights committee in Armenia's parliament on April 5. Then the threats began.
Image: Lilit Martirosyan
Lilit Martirosian, a founder of the Armenian transgender organization Right Side in Yerevan, Armenia.Sona Kocharyan / AP

YEREVAN, Armenia — A transgender woman who broke boundaries with a speech in Armenia's parliament says she has received death threats and is avoiding leaving her home in the backlash to her three-minute address.

Lilit Martirosian told members of parliament's human rights committee on April 5 that the group she founded, Right Side, had recorded 283 cases of transgender rights violations.

"For me, that means that there are 283 criminals in Armenia living next to me and you," Martirosian said during her speech. "And who knows, maybe a 284th will commit a crime tomorrow."

Some lawmakers immediately expressed their offense. The head of the human rights committee complained Martirosian disturbed the hearing's agenda and disrespected parliament.

The next day, hundreds of people protested outside the parliament building, demanding fumigation of the podium at which Martirosian spoke.

One protester brandished a knife at cameras and said he would use it against transgender people. A priest from the dominant Armenian Apostolic Church said gay sex should be considered a crime punishable by prison.

Armenia decriminalized homosexuality in 2003, but many in the country resist recognizing LGBTQ rights.

"I received many calls with threats directed against me personally. People would say I needed to be murdered, butchered," Martirosian told The Associated Press on Friday.

Martirosian says she reported the threats to police. Some people in Armenia see her experience as a test of the government that came to power last year following widespread demonstrations calling for an end to corruption and respect for human rights.

"LGBT people face problems in every sphere of life — they can be violated physically, sexually, psychologically," Mamikon Hovsepian, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group PINK Armenia, said. "They can be refused in police stations or they can face double discrimination, refused health care services."

Since taking office, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has tried to keep a distance from the issue of LGBTQ rights, calling it "an unnecessary headache to deal with in 10, 20, 30 years."

But Pashinian has criticized the Republican Party that dominated Armenian politics before he came to power over Martirosian's treatment. He noted that the previous government issued her a passport in 2015 with the first name Martirosian took as a woman but had the sex marked as male.

"The moment the (Republicans) gave this person a passport of an Armenian citizen, they included this person in the electoral lists and bestowed the person with all rights of an Armenian citizen," he said.