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At a parliamentary hearing held by the National Assembly in Yerevan on April 5, Martirosyan, the president of the Right Side nongovernmental organization, called for legal protection for transgender people in Armenia who often face harassment and violence.“I ask you to see me as a collective figure,” Martirosyan told Armenian lawmakers and activists.“I encompass in myself the tortured, raped, kidnapped, subjected to physical violence …In 2015, she became the first transgender woman in Armenia to legally change her name on her passport.The Right Side negotiated with the Civil Status Acts Registration Agency of the Staff of the Ministry of Justice to make the name change possible.The hearing was meant to cover issues of judicial reform and disability rights.A few days later, on April 8, there was backlash against Martirosyan.But MP Zohrabyan says the whole country was shocked by Martirosyan’s presentation on transgender rights.“We need time for that,” Zohrabyan said in Russian.“Our church is not ready for this conversation.”The state-financed Armenian Apostolic Church is believed to be the world’s oldest Christian institution.
Today, she goes abroad to Ukraine for hormone replacement therapy pills.More than 100 supporters of nationalist and conservative groups led anti-LGBTQ protests in front of the National Assembly against Martirosyan and her speech, according to Radio Free Europe. One MP said Martirosyan should be burned in Republic Square, a popular center in the middle of the capital. Max Varzhapetyan, the community and office assistant at the Right Side, says they will continue to work because it’s their policy to be visible transgender activists.Ever since then, Martirosyan and the Right Side have received dozens of death threats. Varzhapetyan, who’s bigender and uses they/them pronouns, says that they and Martirosyan are particularly at risk since they were both at parliament that day.The NGO closed down for a few weeks but reopened its doors on April 25. The only places they go are their homes and the NGO’s office to avoid harassment and violence, Varzhapetyan says, speaking on Martirosyan’s behalf as well.“The whole situation changed after the speech,” said Varzhapetyan, 23.Following Martirosyan’s speech, in abusive videos posted online, “people dressed in military uniforms declared that they would find transgender activists and kill them. “Because previously, people didn’t know who trans people were. And even if people hate us and want to kill us, they learned about what Lilit [said].”Martirosyan started her activism at age 13.