WEST HOLLYWOOD—The Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS) celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special gala held at Vertigo Event Venue in Glendale on June 2. The evening was hosted by comedians Lory Tatoulian, Mary Basmadjian and Movses Shakarian. Over 180 members of the Armenian LGBTQ community, their families, friends and supporters reflected on past achievements, and looked forward to continuing to empower new generations of Armenians who seek a platform where their ethnic and sexual identities can converge.
Over twenty years ago, a small group of LGBTQ Armenians felt the need to create an organization that would foster a sense of community and belonging. At the time, many LGBTQ Armenians had been ostracized from their families, friends and the Armenian community at large. What started as mostly a platform for social interactions, grew quickly into a formidable organization that has become the leading voice for the Armenian LGBTQ community in Los Angeles and worldwide.
Early on, GALAS realized the need to foster a safe and supportive network for LGBTQ people of Armenian descent. Various programs aimed at empowering members of the community have been launched throughout the organization’s existence. These include pro bono psychotherapy services; college scholarships; outreach to public schools with significant Armenian student populations; ‘coming out’ support to individuals and their families; and showcasing talents within the arts.
This year marked a renewed pledge to building bridges between GALAS and other LGBTQ and Armenian community organizations. GALAS also plans on doing more in terms of uniting LGBTQ Armenians worldwide by creating affiliate chapters. Raising awareness on the plight of the LGBTQ community in Armenia and throughout the Diaspora is also a priority for the GALAS. In recent years, a close partnership with the Yerevan-based PINK Armenia NGO has been developed, which aims to provide support for the full protection of the rights of LGBTQ people in Armenia.
GALAS honored several LGBTQ Armenian activists at this year’s gala, including James Adomian, Mamikon Hovsepyan, Rudy Akbarian and Azad Mazmanian.
Superstar Award: Openly gay comedian, actor, impressionist James Adomian is best known for his work on Comedy Bang! Bang!, Chapo Trap House, Last Comic Standing, and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Adomian, the grandson of Armenian-American mathematician George Adomian, is a proponent of LGBTQ rights who recently criticized Saturday Night Live for not casting an openly gay man in 30 years.
Changemaker Award: Mamikon Hovsepyan, executive director of PINK Armenia and Armenia liaison for GALAS, was honored for his role in safeguarding LGBTQ and human rights in Armenia. Hovsepyan, a leading activist in Armenia, traveled from Yerevan to Los Angeles for this special occasion.
Emerging Leader Award: Transgender Army reservist Rudy Akbarian recently spoke out publicly against President Trump’s plan to ban transgender individuals from military service. Akbarian has been an active member of the LGBTQ community, working with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, helping homeless youth find employment.
Trailblazer Award: Azad Mazmanian, a brave member of the Armenian LGBTQ community, was the first organizer to form a social circle in the ‘90s, which eventually evolved into GALAS.
Performances included Element Band, known for their distinctive musical arrangements that preserve and popularize traditional Armenian songs.
GALAS raised a substantial amount in response to its $1,000 Angel Donor campaign which will be running through the end of the year. Donations were also made to GALAS and PINK Armenia during the gala.
GALAS is the leading voice in advancing equality for LGBTQ Armenians worldwide since 1998. GALAS was formed in Los Angeles by a group of individuals who were looking for friendship, support, and a sense of belonging in the community. As the informal gatherings gave way to formal meetings, the infrastructure of the organization started taking shape. Realizing the needs of the community, GALAS became a bona fide 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. In the past 20 years, GALAS has provided a sense of community and vital resources for its members, such as its educational conferences, access to counseling, parent support groups, scholarships, and so much more.