While living in Armenia and raising kids here can be very empowering and enriching, it also comes with its part of challenges; the main one for me being the lack of equality and diversity that they witness or encounter in their everyday life and more specifically in dealing with different institutions and services available to the public; transport, schools, hospital, public spaces, entertainment centers… This lack of equality is demonstrated in many forms; comments, attitudes, stereotypes, annoying constant staring from others, unsolicited derogatory comments, peer-pressure, lack of accessibility/opportunities for some. So while you try to teach your kids, as part of your family values, to be who they want to be and respect and treat equally everyone else regardless the way they look, what they wear, the way they walk or talk, who they love or attracted to, if they have disabilities or not, it seems that once outside of the home they are constantly bombarded by opposite messages from school teachers, taxi drivers, grocery store workers, doctors(sometimes), TV, pop singers, art school teachers and many people they encounter outside their home.
Of course during the years, you find ways to deal with all these challenges like talking more with your kids, raising the issue with their teachers, encouraging self-expression no matter what others say, support them unconditionally and try to find safe nurturing spaces/institutions/initiatives for them to be able to grow and mature. And sometimes you just sit and cry and get angry together with them for things that seems almost impossible to change and giving them hope that some day it will and try to find solutions in the meantime for them to feel better in this society. Overall all these challenges make your family grow stronger together and teach your kids to be able to lead their own battles, develop self-confidence and learn how to deal with different mentalities wherever they find themselves in the future.
So our trip to Vienna was somehow refreshing and gave the kids the opportunity to live for a short period in a city where diversity is celebrated and equality is part of the city’s policies. So they got to experience how all public transportation was accessible to everyone, as well as museums, buildings, and all spaces. They saw first hand how different people were celebrating together the New Year without any fight or violence, everyone minding their own business. People were dressed differently in the metro, some had blue, green hair, one even had a butterfly on his beard and funny eyeglasses… My 16 year-old who often gets asked in the street of Yerevan “Aghchik es te tgha? (are you a girl or a boy?”) because she has very short hair and dresses in a gender neutral way, spent a whole week not being bothered with these kind of comments.
The last day, we had booked rooms in a very gay-friendly guesthouse, Pension Wild. My 14 year-old who is an advocate of equal rights and gets many problems from her classmates for raising the issue of homophobia and sexism in school was super excited to see the rainbow flag on the entrance of the pension. We had to share toilets and my 11 year-old had many questions after reading the queerbook, which was left in the common toilets and was going through it and engaging us in the discussion. The owner of the hostel (Pension Wild) was also very friendly with everyone and the kids liked him and felt the warm welcome. While walking down the streets, my kids noticed also the streetlights showing green light same-sex couples and pointed out on how people are respectful of others’ choices and identities.
We arrived back to Yerevan in the early morning, tired but content. My 16 year-old was passing though the passport control in front of us when the other officer beside her booth turned to the officer looking through her passport asking in Armenian (thinking that my daughter is a tourist or didn’t understand the language) “huh, inch e aghchik er te tgha?” (is she a girl or a boy?)- My daughter turned to him very quickly and with a frown and loud voice said “Iyaaa, ch-haskatsa?” (Hey, what do you mean? In a local slang) – So the officer turned away, surprised.
Vienna was a good place to show kids that equality is possible and people lived much better and peacefully when everyone is included and valued.