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Armenian transgender woman faces death threats

media Lilit Martirosyan, 28, a transgender woman, applies make-up during an interview in Yerevan on May 6, 2019. KAREN MINASYAN / AFP

Last month, Lilit Martirosyan addressed Armenia's parliament, criticising pervasive rights violations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Since then, she has faced fierce verbal attacks, demonstrations and deaths threats.

Speaking to parliament in her socially conservative country, Lilit Martirosyan told lawmakers that history was being made that day as she became the first openly LGBT person to be given such a high-level political platform in Armenia.

"I am the personification of all Armenian transgender people: tortured, raped, kidnapped, beaten, burned, immolated, stabbed, killed, forced into emigration, robbed, stigmatised and discriminated against, unemployed and poor," the 28-year-old told the parliamentary committee on human rights in her speech in April.

It was a bold move in the small ex-Soviet Caucasus country ranked as one of the most virulently homophobic in the world -- along with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia -- by an international federation.

Outside the national assembly in the capital Yerevan, anti-LGBT protesters gathered in opposition to Martirosyan's address, which also prompted a transphobic backlash from conservative MPs.

Gagik Tsarukyan, the influential leader of the Prosperous Armenia opposition party, called the LGBT community a "vice", while party colleague MP Vartan Gukasyan urged the expulsion of "pervert transgenders".

In an interview with AFP, Martirosyan said that she had received numerous messages containing death threats via Facebook and email.

"I informed police that I was receiving death threats, but they did nothing to protect me," she said.

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