Armenia's first-ever registered transgender woman has faced calls to be burned alive by parliamentarians after she delivered a historic speech at the country's national assembly.
Lilit Martirosyan is the first member of the country's LGBT+ community to take the parliamentary podium and used her speech to speak out against discrimination that the transgender community face in Armenia at a session of its committee on human rights.
Speaking to the committee on 5 April, she said:
I stand for tortured, raped, burnt, stabbed, killed, banished, discriminated, poor and unemployed transgender people of Armenia.
I call upon you to carry out reforms and policies to achieve gender equality, and to ensure human rights for everyone.
She also said that transgender people in the socially conservative Armenia are subjected to:
...stigma and discrimination in social, medical, legal, economic areas, and … [are left] unemployed, poor and morally abandoned.
She also told the parliament that 283 crimes against transgender people had been registered up until last year.
For me, it means there are 283 criminals in Armenia living next to me and you. And who knows, maybe the 284th will commit their crime just tomorrow.
The speech, which was delivered two weeks ago, has since sparked a huge homophobic and transphobic backlash in Armenia, where homosexuality has been decriminalised, but stigma and discrimination are still rife.
Three days after the speech, a crowd of protestors gathered in front of the parliament, with religious figures and social conservatives condemning the speech and threatening violence against minorities, with some parliamentarians even calling for Martirosyan to be burned alive. She was also inundated with death threats, reports the Guardian.
Gagik Tsarukyan, the head of the second-largest faction in parliament, said:
As the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party, head of a family steeped in Armenian traditions and faith, I say this [transgender rights] is not going to pass.
This is a vice and we must hide the vice as we did before.
Religious clerics decided that the episode meant that Armenia was becoming increasingly gay. Priest and spokesman for Armenian Apostolic Church Yesay Artenyan told Sputnick News:
The number of homosexuals has increased in Armenia in recent years – a consequence of aggressive propaganda and spreading of European values – and this is a matter of concern for us
Vartan Ghukasian, from the opposition BHK party, was quoted on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, saying:
We want… females to be females and males to be males. You can’t mix female with male. It’s shameful.
However, Martirosyan remains defiant in the face of extreme backlash and hate. Speaking to the Guardian about her speech, she said:
This was the first time in Armenia when a transgender woman spoke from a high podium… of violence against transgender people.
[A] transphobic man with a knife came to the national assembly to announce that he would kill me and that others like me must be killed, too … I have received many messages via Facebook and email from various people telling that they will find and kill me.
In the post-revolutionary Armenia, hate has no place.
Martirosyan is the first Armenian who has ever gained a passport under a new name, which she did in 2015.