Azerbaijan: Suicide of leading gay rights activist sparks first ‘LGBT news conference’

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The suicide of a gay rights activist in Azerbaijan last month has prompted the city of Baku’s first ever LGBT news conference, in which activists established plans to drive for fresh legislation to protect sexual minorities, as well as “Day of Pride” to mark the late campaigner’s passing.

Police confirmed last month that 20-year-old Isa Shakhmarli, who was a chairman of Azerbaijan Free LGBT, hanged himself using a rainbow pride flag. His suicide note contained the message: “The world cannot handle my true colours.”

i On Global Trends reported on Friday that Shakhmarly’s has prompted Azerbaijan’s LGBT community to take more public action.

On Monday last week, over 20 activists held a news conference in Baku to announce plans to drive for new legislation to protect sexual minorities, as well as an outreach campaign and a hotline that could provide psychological support.

Activists also designated January 22nd – the date of Shakhmarly’s passing – as a “Day of Pride in Azerbaijan’s LGBT Community.”

The news conference was marked as the first of its kind in Baku, and took place without disturbance.

LGBT activists also planned around the anticipated chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe, set for May.

Javid Nabiyev, who was a friend of Shakhmarly, said: “We will use this opportunity to demand further reforms in this area.”

Mr Nabiyev said at the news conference: “We are not accepted by society — by parents, relatives, neighbors, classmates and so on. Some people avoid us, while others show open intolerance.

“Isa has died, but his fight for equality of all people in Azerbaijan will continue.”

Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 2001, oppression and harassment of LGBT people in the Muslim country is thought to be widespread. There are no legal provisions for same-sex unions and no laws protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination.

Friend and former colleague of the deceased, Vugar Adigozalov, said his family had found it difficult to accept him: ”The main reason for his suicide was that he had bad relations with his family.”