Interview with the head of the NGO “Gender and Progress” Elhan Bagirov

By Arzu Geybullayeva

– Could you please introduce your organization ?

Our organization «Gender and Progress» deals with gender equality issues, informs LGBT community on events taking place in and outside of the country, provides legal aid, socio- psychological and medical assistance to the beneficiaries, as welll as develops its women’s program.

– What is the relationship towards LGBT within the community, family, at work, and media? Are there any changes in this relationship over the last 5- 10 years?

Representatives of the LGBT community constantly face misunderstanding and homophobic attitude within the community at large. Also, common cases include dismissal from the places of employment not because of unprofessionalism but because of the untraditional sexual orientation. Instances of children’s abuse in families due to different sexual orientation are also frequent.

Media and mass information outlets when covering news related to LGBT community usually come across as being negative or as news of sensational nature.

The situation changed slightly over the last 5 to 10 years, since citizens of Azerbaijan can now afford trips abroad, thus broaden their perceptions of the world, however, mainly the community remains homophobic and «0» tolerant towards the LGBT community.

– What is the situation with legilation and the LGBT community? Is the law discriminatory or does it actually protect the rights of LGBT community?

In Azerbaijan there is no law that would ipmlicate people for same- sex sexual relations. In principe laws in our country are fairly democratic. However in Azerbaijan, there is also no law that would directly protect rights of the LGBT community.

For example, there is a law stipulating that all citizens of our country are equal no matter of their religion, skin color, nationality, marrital status and etc., but this law is missing perhaps one sentence that could have made us equal with the other European countries, where human rights are highly valued and that is equality despite the sexual orientation.

Just one sentence in the law, but its impact and all the good it could have done for the LGBT commnity and overall in our country.

– Are there any cases of abuse against the LGBT?

In overwhelming majority of cases, when the family learns of the sexual orientation of their child, their reaction is hostile and no understanding. It is common when kids are thrown out of their homes, left without any means of support, beaten, and held under house arrest. Out of the very same traditions and norms embedded within the community, people refuse to complain and go the court or the police against their parents and relatives. This results in impunity against violence and abuse committed towards the representatives of the LGBT community by their very own families. As an organization we try to track such incidents, however they are in no way tracked by the official bodies, since victims seldom apply to the state institutions.

There are also instances of abuse by the police and at work places. Sometimes we track cases of abuse in the army against the LGBT.

– Are there any positive changes?

The only positive changes are happening in the wake of Azerbaijan’s victory in the Eurovision contest.

The authorities understand that there will be a lot of guests coming to the compeition form the LGBT community and precisely because of that several statements were made in the press about tolerance of our country and its readiness to welcome everyone, despite of their sexual orientation. This is very positive development, since media is the engine of progress while authorities’ opinion is considerend by some levels of the society.

However I think that to change the position of the LGBT community in our country completely, the following steps must be taken:

  1. adoption of anti-discrimination legislation;
  2. the state must carry out policy of equality of all citizens of Azerbaijan;
  3. education programme must be carried out among the population

Unfortunately, we are also aware from the experience of European countries where all of the above mentioned points are actually valid that changing opinion of the population is a very hard and long process.

– Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mass media as an engine of progress must constantly raise awareness on LGBT community. Average population should be receiving true facts about representatives of this community and about problems they constantly face. If mass media constantly sheds light on this topic, this might help the population at large become more tolerant and get over homophobic attitude.

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