GLENDALE—On Thursday March 29, Equality Armenia held its first annual Leadership Council. The forum brought together elected officials, community leaders, and activists to discuss advancing LGBTQ equality in Armenia and also to honor those who have continuously supported Armenian and LGBTQ causes. This year’s honorees were Los Angeles Councilmember Mitch O’farrell, West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran, and Glendale Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan.
The event took place at the renowned Glen Arden Club in Glendale. The venue, built in 1927, was chosen not only for its warm, old-Hollywood charm and friendly personnel, but also as a symbolic confluence for the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood. Guests were welcomed at the door by volunteers who ushered them in for an official Equality Armenia photo, after which they mingled with other guests at the grand bar lounge. Live melodies by pianist Sergey Kyosayan, hosted wine bar and decadent hors d’oeuvres created a memorable prelude for the award presentation in the upstairs ballroom.
Equality Armenia Communications Director Vic Gerami opened the ceremonies with a moment of silence for Halo Trust’s de-miners Pavel Akopov, Samson Avanessian, and Marat Petrossian who lost their lives that day in Artsakh from a landmine explosion. Following his opening remarks, Gerami acknowledged a long list of elected officials and dignitaries in the room which included Glendale Mayor Vartan Gharpetian, LA County Tax Assessor Jeffrey Prang, Glendale Councilmembers Paula Devine and Ara Najarian, ANCA Glendale Chair Artin Manoukian, ANCA-WR Board members Anahid Oshagan and Joseph Kaskanian, Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur, Lambda Legal Western Regional Director Shedrick Davis, South African Consul Azwifarwi Shadrack Nepfumbada, Armenia School Foundation Chair Moneh Der Grigorian, Glendale Unified School District Board Member Shant Sahakian, Armenian Bar Association Board Member Ara Babaian and GALAS Representative Nicole Yeghiazarian. Also in attendance were members of the media: Cary Harrison of KPFK’s Reality Check, Thom Senzee of LGBTs In The News, Paulo Murillo and Marco Colantonio of WeHo Times, Joan Aghajanian Quinn of Beverly Hills View, and PanArmenian TV Producer Ara Kazaryan.
Next, Gerami welcomed Glendale Mayor Vartan Gharpetian to the podium. In his moving speech, Mayor Gharpetian, assured the audience that Glendale is a welcoming and diverse city where 65 languages are spoken. The Mayor congratulated Equality Armenia for encouraging and facilitating a constructive dialogue in Armenian communities about LGBTQ inclusiveness equal right and equal protection under law. Mayor Gharpetian concluded his speech to a standing ovation by reminding everyone that “LGBTQ rights are human rights and human rights are LGBTQ rights”.
Following Mayor Gharpetian, Equality Armenia Executive Director Armen Abelyan addressed the gathered. Abelyan congratulated Equality Armenia Board of Directors, including Director of Resources Karen Mikaelian who couldn’t be present due to an illness, and all the volunteers who helped organize the event. After noting Equality Armenia’s recent accomplishments, Abelyan asked everyone to reimagine “Armenia’s LGBTQ Problem as an economic stimuli in disguise”. He cited a study of 39 countries conducted by UCLA’s Williams Institute of Law that documented a positive correlation between a particular country’s advancement in LGBTQ equality and their economic growth through increase in tourism and international investments. Abelyan stated that the study defined 8 stages of LGBTQ equality on a spectrum of “being gay is against the law” to full marriage equality, and that each successive stage, each additional LGBTQ right is associated with a $320 to $1,400 increase in per capita GDP. Abelyan added that “Strategic modernization of LGBTQ rights is the most efficient way to present Armenia as more visibly “modern” and attractive to potential employers and tourists.” He concluded his speech with the following: “The future of the LGBTQ community is woven with the future of Armenia. It always has been. Armenia has a window of opportunity to become a leader in the region, we must seize that opportunity for economic prosperity.”
Introducing the first honoree Councilmember John Duran, Equality Armenia Secretary and in-house attorney, comedian Movses Shakarian thanked Duran for commemorating the Armenian Genocide every year at the City of West Hollywood by lowering flags to half staff. Shakarian also spoke of Duran’s efforts in his capacity as Board Chair of Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles to keep the vibrant chorus in their current home, the Alex Theater in Glendale. In his acceptance remarks, Councilmember Duran spoke at length of the significance of community organizing in Armenian communities and the importance of becoming the change we want to see.
Following Councilmember Duran, Equality Armenia Treasurer Yvette Davis introduced our second honoree, Councilmember Mitch O’farrell. Davis enumerated Councilmember O’farrell’s longtime involvement in the Armenian and LGBTQ communities – initially as a field deputy to then Councilmember Eric Garcetti and currently as a Councilmember for Los Angeles’ 13th district which includes Little Armenia and parts of Glendale. With great enthusiasm, Councilmember O’farrell congratulated Equality Armenia for showcasing leadership in the community. O’farrell spoke about inclusiveness, the currently ongoing “Armenian gateway” project in Little Armenia and the dedication of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Square at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue. The Councilmember spoke at length about the struggles of the trans community and how we all should stand up and defend our “…trans brothers and sisters.” Councilmember O’farrell concluded his speech by speaking in Armenian; “Բոլորը արժանի էն լիարժեք հավասարության։” which translated to “everyone deserves full equality.”
Last, but not least, Equality Armenia Director of Outreach, Mary Basmadjian introduced Glendale Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan. In her remarks, Basmadjian stated that “As an Armenian and an ally [of LGBTQ] it’s our duty to open the hearts and mind of those in our traditionally conservative culture.” Basmadjian stated that she’s proud of Councilmember Sinanyan for becoming a passionate advocate for LGBTQ rights in the U.S. and in Armenia. In his own remarks, Councilmember Sinanyan spoke about a duty of all Armenians as genocide survivors not to discriminate against those who are different. In referring to the LGBTQ community in Armenia, Councilmember Sinanyan said, “…as a father of 4 children it is important to me that we remind everyone that loving each other is as important as loving our homeland.” It was a perfect end to an evening of reconciliation.
Equality Armenia understands that the struggle continues in Armenia and that there is still a lot that needs to be done in our homeland. Equality Armenia is committed to equality in Armenia, whether in LGBTQ rights, women’s rights or just human rights. Change is possible and we are energized and optimistic in our prospects.