Tools for organizing your own lesson on LGBT issues
LEsson 1: What Does LGBT mean?
Lesson 2: lgbt history in Azerbaijan
Videos for teaching the basics of LGBT rights
Facts and figures
Information on LGBT issues in Azerbaijan
Unless otherwise noted information is quoted from ILGA's 'Forced Out: Azerbaijan'.
LGBT people and the Law
The former Penal Code, which was adopted in 1960 and abolished in 2000, penalized consensual same sex acts between men. Article 113 provided that sexual intercourse between men could be punished by imprisonment for up to three years. The current Penal Code, which became law in January 2001 (after adoption in September 2000), decriminalized consensual same-sex acts between men. It is believed the law was changed as decriminalization was a pre-condition for membership of the Council of Europe. It should be noted that consensual same-sex acts between women are not and have never been penalized. While decriminalized, there are also no laws offering protections for LGBT people and no movement by the government to create any.
In 2010, two members of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Council of Europe boycotted discussions of discrimination of LGBT people. ‘I have a very negative view of the debate. Yes, we have declared integration with European structures as our priority, but we must also protect our national and cultural values. This is unacceptable for us and we do not intend to copy everything that is adopted in Europe,’ - Hadi Rajabli, chairman of the Azerbaijani parliamentary committee on social policy.
The Penal Code of Azerbaijan differentiates between rape and violent acts of a sexual nature. Vaginal intercourse is a prerequisite for rape, so this offense applies only where the victim is female. The offense of ”violent acts of a sexual nature” includes all other violent acts directed to the satisfaction of sexual desire in an immoral form, including violent anal or oral sex, and violent lesbianism.The victim of this offense can be either male or female. It should be noted that violent sodomy is penalized slightly less severely than rape. While someone convicted of violent sodomy may be imprisoned for a term of 3 to 5 years, rape is penalized by imprisonment of 4 to 8 years. The legislation fails to provide any explanation for this difference. The following table provides an overview of non-consensual (same and different) sex acts, rape and violent acts of sexual nature.
Sexual violence is an unfortunately common experience in the Azerbaijani LGBT community. For more information read the full ILGA report.
Law enforcement is generally untrusted and a contributor to discrimination, in cases of assault or bribery LGBT people are unlikely to go to the police. When they do it is not uncommon to be subjected to further abuse and bribery.
Discrimination at work
Article 25 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan guarantees to everyone equality of rights and freedoms regardless of his or her “country, race, nationality, religion, language, sex, origin, property and official status, conviction, affiliation with political parties, trade unions and other social organizations”. Corresponding provisions are embodied in various fields of legislation, including civil, criminal, criminal procedure, labour and family law.
Society and psychological aspects
The general public in Azerbaijan does not understand homosexuality. In their study Nefes LGBT found that over half of respondents believed homosexuality was the result of illness, another 28% believed it was a personal choice.
The entry notes that in many countries one can see a divide along age and gender lines. Younger people and women are generally more accepting of homosexuality. However in the South Caucasus, "attitudes towards homosexuality are relatively similar between geographic areas, sex and age groups ... At least 4 out of 5 adults in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan feel that homosexuality can never be justified in rural and urban areas and the capital. The same can be said for both men and women, and for people in the 18-35, 36-55, and 56+ age groups alike. Therefore, unlike in many other countries, attitudes towards homosexuality are relatively similar across geographic areas, sex and age groups."
It is common for LGBT people to be sent to psychologists to be 'cured' of their homosexuality, ILGA notes that:
"Some of our interlocutors stated that the majority of psychologists and psychiatrists in Azerbaijan are not informed of the fact that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980 and that from January 1, 1993, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of diseases."
Though there are a few doctors who work to break this trend, the fear of mistreatment is another reason many LGBT people choose not to make their sexuality public. The misbelieves about homosexuality can trickle down to LGBT people as well. Some people feel deeply ashamed about being gay. (In the ILGA report) one of them expressed it in the following way “It is my shame but what can I do?” This shame is fueled by feelings of guilt, particularly in the case of LGBT people who are religious. As one respondent phrased it: “Although I live with my boyfriend I always pray to God for forgiveness for this sin”.
Family life and 'coming out'
“Coming out” as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person is very rare in Azerbaijan. The country traditionally puts family above all else, and multigenerational households are the norm, particularly outside of the capital of Baku. As a result most LGBT persons live double lives and they do not usually disclose their sexual orientation to their family, fearing not only a loss of house and home, but a loss of community as well. “I will be exiled if they find out,” said one (ILGA's) interviewees. There are cases known where family (especially brothers and fathers) beat up their children or siblings when they find out they are gay, others where they are sent to a mental clinic. Honor killing is also not unheard of. Of the 22 respondents to (ILGA's) questionnaire only 3 had told their father, 4 had told siblings, and 5 had told their mother about their sexual orientation. Many gay men change phone numbers often or have two sim cards (“one for my gay friends, one for others”). Others have a second flat where they meet with their partners, though this is not without its risks if the landlord finds out.
Marriage is an essential part of Azerbaijani life, and as LGBT people get older they will feel increasing pressure from family to wed. Women especially face pressure to marry while young. People deal with this in a few ways: 1) Marriages arranged by the parents, 2) Abandoning family and community, 3) Marrying another LGBT person as 'cover'. As more LGBT people begin to use the internet as a tool the third option is becoming more and more common.
The Azerbaijani LGBT is largely invisible with few public spaces to meet. Gay clubs do spring up, but are often shut down again with in a few months. Public pride events are an impossibility. The 2007 ILGA study notes they had a particularly difficult time meeting lesbians and bisexual women, and that women who do not conform to stereotypes of femininity, like those with a butch/ tomboy appearance, have more difficulties than ‘straight looking’ girls.
Transgender people are legally allowed to have gender reassignment surgery, and although rare it has happened. A 2010 article outlines some of the hurdles someone would have to go through before and after surgery and claims the first one took place in 2002.
“A 26-year-old man, who completely felt himself to be a woman, appealed to me. He thought of his sexual organs as revolting. The operation was conducted over three stages and ended well. However, the ‘new’ young woman was forced to leave the country for social reasons. People who change their sex in our country are forced to live with their old documents, to undergo military service and struggle with a load of other unpleasantness as a consequence of their lack of documents.” - Jamal Azimzade, senior specialist at the Funda medical centre
Many articles, including the ILGA report, note that because the law does not allow transgender people to acquire new documentation after surgery, the most visible transgender people are often involved in street and club prostitution. There are also many other 'invisible' trans people in Azerbaijan who have yet to under go surgery or do not wish to.
“It’s not just that these people suffer from childhood and made to feel outcasts, they do not even have the right to a normal life. Because of the ‘disagreement’ between their external appearance and what is written in their documents, they cannot get a decent job. Therefore they are often forced to earn money from prostitution, which turns society against them even more. Many turn to this to earn money for the operation and the hormone therapy, which does not come cheap.” - Kamran Rzayev, chairman of the Union for Gender Development and Enlightenment