Gay Armenians Raise Thousands for AIDS
The Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society of Los Angeles (GALAS) has raised over $5,000 for AIDS Walk Los Angeles and will be walking with thousands of Angelenos in support of the 32 million people worldwide who are living with the disease this Sunday, Oct. 17.
With AIDS still considered taboo in Armenian circles, GALAS seeks to raise awareness and give back to the community. Their support and donation efforts benefit AIDS project Los Angeles, an AIDS service organization dedicated to improving lives of people affected by HIV, reducing HIV infection and advocating for fair and effective HIV-related public policy.
GALAS member Haig Boyadjian has raised $1,000 alone and says he knows a few people whom he loves dearly that are HIV positive.
“I feel helpless since there is no cure, this is my way of helping find a cure and raising awareness,” he said. “The dollar amount raised is impressive for a fairly small organization like GALAS.
Chris Garsevanian, another GALAS member has raised $500, donations that came from a variety of sources including two gay Armenians, one straight Jewish man, a a straight Israeli woman from Manhattan and a straight Iranian woman from the Los Angeles area.
Garsevanian is hopeful for a cure.
“I can imagine a world where kids only deal with AIDS in history books,” he said. “I have faith that we will find a cure to AIDS within my lifetime.”
For some, participating in the walk and raising money is all about exposure.
“Our participation in the walk exposes GALAS to not only the general public, but also to LGBT Armenians who thought they were the only ones out there,” GALAS board member H.S., who wanted to be identified by initials only and has raised $575 so far.
LGBT Armenians aren’t the only ones participating in the walk with GALAS however.
Talisa Garcia is one of them.
A bisexual who was often on the receiving end of gay hate crimes, she joined GALAS because she knows many members, whom she describes as the most loving, caring and understanding people.
She has raised $75, which she donated herself.
“Personally, I don’t really have money to be throwing around, yet this is something that every penny counts.”
GALAS’ participation, as well as the Armenian Gay and Lesbian of New York’s participation over the years in New York’s Gay Pride Parade are relatively recent spotlights on the Armenian LGBT community, which has faced discrimination and ostracization in the Diaspora as well as in Armenia.
GALAS, who offers psychotherapy services to members and non-members alike, has received threatening and homophobic emails and voicemails in the past.
“I think the notion of gay Armenians existing is taboo, let alone the idea that there might be Armenians who have AIDS,” Boyadjian said. “It’s not really talked about all too much.”
Garsevanian agrees, citing the notion that AIDS in the community as well as LGBT Armenians were considered “folklore” until recently.
Garcia, whose boyfriend is Armenian said the notion of AIDS is generally overlooked.
“Not many people are aware of how expansive AIDS is and how it really affects the Armenian community.”
Armenia is part of a region where HIV/AIDS is spreading quickly while many young people in the country have insufficient knowledge on the disease, as well as other sexually transmitted disease, according to UNICEF.
While Armenian cultural attitudes towards homosexuality and AIDS have generally been fraught with stigma, there have been recent developments to suggest otherwise.
Last month, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting organized a round table discussion on the problems LGBT community faces in Armenia.
With the AIDS Walk 2010 having raised over $2 million, GALAS members are already looking forward to next year.
“I am hoping that our general membership will be impressed with the amount raised and the time and energy that has been devoted to this cause by all the walkers and sponsors and will in turn be more active next year,” Boyadjian said. “As long as my walking inspires at least one other member to walk next year, then I would be content.”