Activist describes hazards of being gay in Azerbaijan

Interview with Ruslan Balukhin, co-founder gay.az, a website for LGBT people in Azerbaijan:

Q: What is the purpose of your website?

A: This informative-entertainment resource is for LGBT community of the capital, Baku.

After news about the site appeared on the local news outlets, I started to receive SMS messages from supporters but also from people with negative views about this site. I often receive e-mails and calls with threats. Channel One and Euronews also sent me message and asked to give interviews.

Then I received similar message from Euronews where BBC and CNN were mentioned. I think, this interest is associated with the victory on Eurovision 2011 and with the calls from LGBT communities worldwide to boycott the show in Baku in 2012.

As far as I can remember, an organization, official representatives of LGBT community in Azerbaijan, exists from 2006 – 2007 [this was 'Azeri Gay Community']. During its existence it has done nothing to solve problems of sexual minorities. What to talk about, if even the site lgbt.az, which is the site of the organization, doesn't work anymore.

Q: What methods do you use in the struggle for your rights?

A: We do not yet have any defined methods. Today, our main goal is to offer psychological help to sexual minorities, and we also try to establish communication. Our site is not associated with politics and therefore we do not put any aims in the struggle for our rights on the government level.

Q: Although homosexuality is legal in Azerbaijan, I understand that it is not tolerated?

A: It's very serious problem, because there may be many backgrounds of negative attitude and aggression: conservatism, religion, education and people's views. But the main reason of different people not being accepted in our society is ignorance.

People do not know about biological and genetic causes of homosexuality. It is not easy to replace negative attitude with tolerance. In the first place, educational work must be done, it is necessary to tell people who LGBT people are and why they are different.

Q: How do gay couples survive, is everyone closeted?

A: If you mean living together, there are many homosexual couples in Azerbaijan. Of course, most of them keep their relations hidden from others, but it is not hidden from sexual minorities.

In most of our families, the attitude towards gays is that they shouldn't be in their families.

Sooner or late, families accept it. Sometimes much time is needed for the family of a transsexual to understand that nothing has changed with the person after they discovered a hidden part of his biography.

Q: What do you think about the future of the LGBT gay movement in Azerbaijan? Will change happen?

A: I'm sure that there will be equality among people, independent of their sexual orientation. It's hard to tell, how much time will be needed for it – tens or hundreds of years, but that depends on us.

Some Azerbaijani journalists call homosexuality “disgusting”, reports on these are left without reply. Gays encounter insults in everyday life – in universities, streets. Struggle against discrimination should be accompanied with educational work. We would like to have discussions about homosexuality in an adequate, delicate and informed way in universities and schools and mass media on the required level.

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