Many transgender Armenians afraid to go out by day and cannot find job

Fri 06 October 2017 13:01 GMT | 17:01 Local Time

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When she was 14, Lilit Martirosyan decided she wanted to start earning money for herself.

But finding a normal job was complicated - employers didn't like the way she looked, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

So, like many transgender women in Armenia, she started selling her body to older men instead.

During her years as a sex worker, Martirosyan, 26, was beaten and threatened with a knife several times. Eventually, after eleven years of sex work, she decided to stop selling herself and start helping people like her instead.

"Transgender persons face discrimination and violence in the family, at school; they usually leave school at a very early stage," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her office in Armenia's capital, Yerevan.

"Those who are very strong continue their studies at university, but there is more discrimination there - so they leave university as well," she added, revealing tattoos on her arms as she fiddled with her long, blonde hair.

"That's why they are engaged in sex work: they don't have enough education to work and be competent in the labour market."

To curb that trend, activists are organising workshops to teach transgender people sewing and makeup, and help them find employment in the fashion industry, which they say is one of the most inclusive in the Armenian job market.

Politicians have repeatedly come out against LGBT people, saying they threaten Armenia's cultural identity.

After Yerevan's only LGBT-friendly bar was burnt down in 2012, Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for Armenia's ruling party, called the attack "right and justified" as supporters of LGBT rights were "defaming the Armenian national identity".

While gay, lesbian and bisexual people can hide their sexual orientation, transgender Armenians say their physical appearance makes them recognisable and more likely to encounter discrimination, bullying and physical attacks.

Many are afraid to go out by day and cannot find education or work. So they rely on sex work in the evenings to survive.

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