Armenians and Gays Together

The Armenian Apostolic Church found itself coupled with gays and lesbians on the pages of the April 2, 2011, LAEXTRA section of the Los Angeles Times. While it wasn’t, necessarily, a match made in heaven, and certainly not Church sanctioned, the juxtaposition of the two articles was logical.

The logic? Both minorities are fighting to have their histories chronicled and recognized.

“For All to See,” an article by Bob Pool, headlined: “Armenians hope freeway markers will lead to wider acknowledgment of the massacre of 1.5 million.” Topping the article was a photo showing Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian of the Armenian Apostolic Church blessing a sign which read,” Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument Next Exit.” (The signs are along the 60 Freeway in Montebello.)

Nestled next to the picture was a second article “A fight over gays in textbooks,” by Patricia McGreevy. Ms. McGreevy announced that, “A California (Senate) bill (SB 48) to require teaching about the contributions of gay people draws fire.”

The Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the most ancient Christian communities, hasn’t been this close to gay men and lesbians in 2,000 years!

Spotlighting America’s exceptionalism, both communities are flourishing in Los Angeles.

Early in the 20th century, gay men and lesbians began invisibly migrating to Los Angeles seeking human rights coupled with social freedom and acceptance. This phenomenon accelerated after the Second World War. For over a century, but growing exponentially during the last 20 years, Armenians have built vibrant and important communities in California. These newcomers have also sought human rights and the benefits of a free society. The Los Angeles area now claims one of the world’s largest Armenian diaspora communities – second only to Moscow, Russia.

And, both communities have emboldened their State representatives to fight for recognition of their histories.

“This is not just another freeway sign,” stated State Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), who authored legislation to construct the sign. According to Pool, “…Calderon described the tower as ‘a beacon that stands in the night’ for human rights.” The “Martyr’s Monument” freeway marker will direct visitors to the six-legged memorial tower, dedicated in 1968, to commemorate the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million people by the Ottoman Empire, part of which is modern day Turkey.

According to Ms. McGreevy, State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who authored SB 48, emotionally pleaded, “In light of the ongoing and ever-threatening phenomenon of bullying…and suicides…the teaching about the contributions of gay, lesbian and transgendered (folk) throughout history…students would better understand that we are talking about a civil rights movement.” Leno had earlier invoked the name of Seth Walsh, a 13 year-old who committed suicide after facing gay-bullying at school.

There is no doubt that these communities deserve recognition of their human rights, an accurate historical record and full illumination of past events. These are tough goals.

For instance, in countries with active Orthodox churches, as in Islamic countries, gay men and lesbians have had to be extremely careful and closeted. In 2002, when Armenia joined the Council of Europe, it’s criminal code had to be amended removing references to gay men and criminality. (Lesbian sex was never banned in Armenia.) In the United States, it wasn’t until 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence vs. Texas, that homosexual acts were no longer criminal. Hooray for the courts!

I’m struck by the tremendous passion exhibited by Armenians regarding the exclusion of this genocide by political systems and historians. They perceive that this diminishes their stature as a people. If history won’t even recognize this atrocity against the world’s oldest keepers of the Christian faith – what chance does any other human rights struggle have? Armenians want the historical record to be corrected, changed and enlarged – whatever it takes to acknowledge their humanity.

And, so it is with the homosexual community. Biblical records regarding gay men and lesbians need to be deciphered through a loving God, not the vengeful God of 2,000 years ago. The Orthodox Church has been pulled into the 21st century. Their  most recent declaration that, “Representing God’s will towards homosexuals requires firm, patient, compassionate, loving and gentle correction…” has moved away from early Old Testament Biblical references to killing homosexuals.

There are three other 21st century markers which show change:

First: Freeway signs. Now used by Armenians but used earlier, by Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance (UGLA). (See photo)

Second: The 1998 establishment of Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS) to help lgbt “Armenians who are looking for friendship, support and a sense of belonging in the carl matthescommunity.” GALAS held its fifth annual Armenian LGBT Conference titled “Breaking Through: Legally, Politically, Culturally” last year at Plummer Park Community Center in West Hollywood.

Third: Armenian/American female Chastity Bono, writer and activist now known as transgendered male Chaz Bono. Her/his mother, the one and only gay icon, the world-famous Cher, is the daughter of an Armenian truck driver and an Arkansas-born mother. Cher was born in El Centro, California, on May 20, 1946.

And, so it is!

Carl Matthes

Published by the LA Progressive on April 5, 2011
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About Carl Matthes

Carl Matthes is a native of Los Angeles and has lived in Eagle Rock for 45 years. He is the current president of UGLA, Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a grassroots organization in Northeast Los Angeles which provides a support system for gay men and lesbians and education for individuals and the community-at-large on the true nature of homosexuality. He is a former columnist and a current advisor to the Lesbian News, the oldest lesbian publication in America, which is owned and published by his sister, Ella. He was editor of the GLAAD/LA (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) newsletter, a former GLAAD National Board member and served as a GLAAD/LA representative on the LGBT/LAPD Advisory Board. Carl has also been a Board member of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

In July, 2008, Carl was legally married to Carl Johnson, his partner of 45 years, by Los Angels City Councilmember Jose Huizar. It was a unique gay/lesbian double ceremony as Carl's sister Ella and her partner Gladi were also married by Jose.