By Gunel Safarova, photos by Aziz Karimov
The interviewee wants to be called ‘Humay.’ She says that despite the fact that she was born into a masculine body, she feels herself a woman, and her main purpose is to feel comfortable in her own body. “Those who look through my childhood photos and videos say that I looked like a girl in the photos. When I wore a man’s costume, it felt uncomfortable. So, it is from birth. When I started to think that I felt myself to be a girl, I did not suspect this feeling,” 20-year-old Humay, says.
She states that she was communicating with girls, mainly at school, and felt herself shy among the boys.
Currently, her biggest challenge is her family. Despite that she told her family to be a transgender, the family oppressed her because of her feminine behaviour.
“They did not feel it from my childhood. When I grew up, I started to desire the freedom to wear the clothes I wanted. Thus, they knew it. Yet, they forced me to cut my hair, and followed what I wore. I tried to have one guy like me, but I looked like a man, and because of it I felt bad,” she adds.
She suffered not only from her parents, but the neighbors, relatives, schoolmates and teachers.
“Teachers told me that I spoke like a girl, and complained to my family about my feminine behaviour. I was insulted at school, they called me “qizbibi” (girlyboy). Once, boys wanted to beat me. And now, while walking down my street, I have to behave like man, so they won’t suspect anything. However, it is hardly handled,” he says.
As Humay says, this pressure continued even during his university. The lecturers and groupmates allow themselves to use hate speech.
“I cannot approach to my group mate or my teacher (if they are men), and cannot ask for anything. They start to use unpleasant phrases. Society perceives me as a sexual objects only”
Humay says that her mother raised her alone and that she always cared about people’s opinions. For this reason, because of her feminine behaviour, the mother took him only into masculine society.
“She always bought me toys for a boy. I liked painting, but she never allowed me do it; she called it girlish work. She usually sent me off to play football and she did not let me talk or become friends with girls. They wanted to forcibly send me to the police academy,” Humay says.
Humay says that even if she were born into a woman’s body, she would not like to live in Azerbaijan. According to her perspective, Azerbaijani society has attributed too many negative characteristics to women; it is not comfortable to live in Azerbaijan and carry this burden on one’s shoulders.
“Men in this society are in the first stage. My mom always told me: “commit crimes, hurt women, rape, steal, but be a man.”
Currently, to live alone and take a language course one needs some financial support, for this reason, one has to live with one’s family and be dependent upon them.
If one wants only one thing, to live in free society; then for this reason, after graduating from university, one will collect money and change one’s sex.
The Pressure of Family and Society.
Activist of Nafas LGBT organization in 2012, Gulnara Mehdiyeva, says, “LGBT people in Azerbaijan are taboo, they are considered invisible in this society” she says. Mainly, she adds, it is because people look at them as ‘ill’ people.
Homosexuality was taken off of the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses in 1974, and on May 17, 1990 from the World Health Organization (WHO) list of diseases.
Currently, homosexuality is not in the list of international diseases this year. That’s why on May 17, the LGBTQI community celebrates their holiday.
The American Psychiatric Association has removed transgender from its list of diseases however, the WHO still has not done it, but remarks that it will soon be removed.
In 2005, Azerbaijan adopted the view of the 10th International Classification of Diseases. In other words, homosexuality is not a disease in Azerbaijan, but it is viewed as a transgender disease.
According to the local LGBT organizations, after independence, homosexuality still remains a crime and has been sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment. This law was only applicable to male homosexuals. However, in 2000, by the decision of the late President Heydar Aliyev, criminal homosexuality was removed from the list.
Despite this, Gulnara says that in the books of different universities, homosexuality is still shown as a disease. Moreover, a number of state and public figures tend to promote hate speech against LGBT representatives.
“When parents reveal about the orientation of their child, they refer to an endocrinologist, psychologist or therapist to treat their child.”
It has already been 3 years since this organization has worked, and Gulnara says it was created to communicate the problems of LGBT people.
She adds that they try to create the positive image of LGBT people across society.
Gulnara considers herself as a feminist and supports not only LGBT rights, but also women’s rights.
She explains that the reason of staying anonymously in social media is a negative reaction of society toward these people.
According to her words, in order to avoid accusations of society, many LGBT individuals choose marriage. She explains that despite the fact that homophobia has indeed obtained a certain degree of tolerance since the 1990s, the posture toward transgender individuals still remains unbearable in society. She calls Azerbaijani society ‘homophobic’ and explains two reasons for it: religion and the lack of enlightenment.
“There are unfair stereotypes against the LGBT people in Azerbaijani society. it’s assumed that all gay men actually wants to be a woman, they are ready to have sex with anyone, or the homosexual person cannot be educated, cannot be a teacher, doctor, lawyer and etc. This homophobia comes from a lack of education,” she says.
Gulnara says that, because of society’s pressure, the parents who accept the orientation of their children have to hide it from society.
According to the activist, there is not much pressure towards lesbians in society, because there are not any visual doubts. Thus, to be a man is considered positive, that’s why a girl that looks like a boy is not perceived negatively.
“Girls in society are very honest, they kiss each other, hold hands, and for this reason they are not under pressure and suspicion.
However, the family of lesbians are not tolerant at all.
“The adult girls are forced to marry in Azerbaijan. Not only lesbians suffer from it, but heterosexuals too. I know lesbians who were forcely marry and were divorced after 6 months.”
Gulnar says that the marriage of two gay men is a big problem. Hiding from their family, they often create a family with their partner.
“There is a 3000-4000 person LGBT group on our Facebook. There are proposals from lesbians and homosexuals to have a formal marriage on paper, just to get rid of the pressure of the family they are forced to take this step.”
Gulnar noted that many LGBT individuals, in order to avoid the pressure of their family, appeal to shelters abroad.
Hate Crimes In Azerbaijan
LGBT organizations want to add a law to the legislation for hate crimes and make it tougher.
Hate crimes can be based on nationality, religion, race, sex, orientation and other characteristics. It includes: beating, robbing, insulting words, rape, murder and acts including death.
In recent years, hate crimes have happened in the country:
On February 28th in Shamkir, 24-year-old transgender Bakhtiyar was killed. His body was found in a rental house without a head. He was working as a sex trafficked. His killer was found.
In Baku, 2 men, after having sexual relationships with a 44 year old homosexual, beat him, then stole his laptop, tablet and 2 mobile phones.
The criminals were detained.
In May, one homosexual was killed by multiple stabbing wounds. The crime was committed by 3 criminals. All of them were detained.
27-year old transgender Ayla was killed. Her two friends were there, and they tried to enter the room and help her; for this reason they were wounded too. The 20-year-old killer was detained.
In Saatli, a 25-year-old transgender individual committed suicide. According to the investigation, this person was working as a prostitute in Baku. The family was not informed about it. But once they knew about it, they started to press on the individual. The individual suffered from domestic violence. In august, the individual died.
In October, the lesbian Hamida committed suicide because of her family’s violence against her.
Isa, who hanged himself with an LGBT flag.
“When my mother told me that she does not have homosexual child, I swallowed it, after it, everytime when I swallow, I drown.”
This short story is about 23-year old, Isa Shahmar, who committed suicide in 2014. He was one of the founders of the LGBT community and hanged himself with the LGBT flag in which he died with.
Now the co-employee of Isa, Lala Makhmudova remembers him this way:
“Isa prepared and then spread around small brochures about the orientation and sexually transmitted diseases. He provided meetings for LGBT people in order to say to encourage them to be more free and not be afraid of the public.
“He wrote a script for a film and played the main role in a film about gays.”
Lala told that Isa had plans to have an LGBT radio and magazine, and his suicide ruined all these plans. His family did not accept him the way he is. Isa was the first who publicly told about his homosexuality. 15 minutes before the committing suicide in 2014 Isa Shahmar wrote the post on his Facebook page.
“I am leaving. Everybody forgive me. This country, this life is not for me. I am leaving to be happy. Tell my mother, how I love her. Everybody is guilty in my death. The colors of this life are not matched with mine. Goodbye!
Lala says that after the death of Isa, the belief of LGBT community became stronger. They propose to celebrate the January 22, the day of Isa’s death, as a Day of Fighting against Homophobia.
The Importance of Education
A spokesman for the Azerbaijan LGBT community, Lala Makhmudova, says that there is no clear statistics, because those who have suffered from hate often do not refer to the police.
She proposed that in order to reduce hate crimes, the police should firstly, be enlightened enough to understand each case, and then must have the capability to respond immediately to such cases.
“In the education system, informative lessons about LGBTQI issues should be added. However, the priority is instead to open social centers and have social workers.”
LGBT activist, Lala Makhmudova, says that the activists of LGBT initially face problems with their family, and they don’t accept them.
“LGBT people are facing challenges with their closest circle of people, who cannot accept them the way that they are. In general, there is a “we” and “they” principe that make people divided in society.” Lala adds that LGBT people also face discrimination at work. This discrimination is totally different from the discrimination toward women, or people with disabilities.
Lala says that there is not enough space or opportunities for LGBT people in Azerbaijan. They don’t have a place where they can meet and communicate.
“No informative campaigns exist in universities, which leads to further difficulties with finding a job or to be protected.”
It should be mentioned that there is an online newspaper for minorities, called “Minority Journal,” and the founder is Samad Ismayilzade.
Despite all these negativities, there are some parents who do accept the sexual orientation of their children.
20-year-old Rahilya is a lesbian. Unlike others, she does not hide her orientation. She says that she felt about her orientation when she was 11-12. She realized it only when she started to read and get information about it.
When her mother knew about it, she took Rahila to a psychologist.
“Her eyes were full of tears, I was preparing to go to university. She said to stop the preparation, because one’s health is more important.”
“When the psychologist explained it to her, she accepted it, however, we never talked about it,’’ Rahila says.
My father also knows about it, but he considers it to be a disease and thinks it will pass over soon,” she adds.
She says that she feels herself happy, but she adds that Azerbaijani society is homophobic.
“Because of my publicity over Facebook, many of my friends deleted me. It is not hard to find a friend, it is more difficult to tell it to him.”
Rahila says that she has a girlfriend and her dream is to marry her. Currently, she is in the process of continuing her education.