Natalia Sookias in front of her Sooki Studio stand at Queernissage

Second Annual Queernissage held in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES –– The GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society) held its second annual Queernissage in Los Angeles on June 4. The event featured a market with various creatives from the Armenian LGBTQ+ community.

Before the event, a Twitter user expressed her disagreement with the event, which caused other users to tweet about crashing it. The GALAS had security present because it believes it is the best practice for large events. Natalia Sookias, the main organizer of the event, said she messaged the woman who originally tweeted her disagreement, and asked her to kindly delete the tweet. She eventually did and despite the backlash, the event continued – hosting 21 vendors with the help of 20 volunteers. There were no incidents at the event.

Sookias is a GALAS board member and owner of Sooki Studio, a Los Angeles-based ceramic studio. She expressed how the intimacy of having a space where people can feel included and welcome was a priority for the organizers. This allowed the talent of Armenian artists to be on display at the event.

“We’re just scraping the surface of reaching out to LGBT Armenian artists and pulling them out of the woodwork and having them feel safe and welcome … and be able to celebrate both parts of their identity without having to choose one,” she said.

Glendale’s Mayor Ardy Kassakhian was also at the event to show support to the community.

“If someone’s going to threaten this group of people, I’m going stand there with them and make sure I’m there and present and show myself as a mayor of a large Armenian community — saying that I am here to serve every Armenian,” Kassakhian noted.

Glendale’s Mayor Ardy Kassakhian, center, with GALAS’ Board Director Erik Adamian at his right

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The event was tucked in an alley in Studio City, making the area vibrant with the variety of people present, and with the crafts that vendors were selling. Attendees could have bought anything from spices, jewelry, pottery, posters, books, and even food.

GALAS collected donations for food to be sold at the event. Here attendees lined up to eat sarma, tabouleh, hummus and even lahmajun

Erik Adamian, the co-founder of Charachchi and Board President of GALAS, spoke about the hypocrisy of Armenians who oppress LGBTQ+ voices within their community, and how this has historically been done to Armenians by others for millennia. For Adamian, balancing his gay identity with his Armenian one has been an internal struggle that he says many people confront.

GALAS Board President Erik Adamian at Queernissage

“I’m as much an Armenian and Iranian person as I am gay,” Adamian said. “I struggled to find space for all of these identities together, because I was told I could either be queer, or I could be Armenian.”

Adamian describes Charachchi as a multimedia project for queer Armenians. He says that queer Armenian stories are often rooted in trauma, so he takes a more lighthearted approach when telling their stories. He and Perch Melikyan co-founded the project and had a stand at Queernissage. They conducted interviews with attendees who wanted to participate and asked them unconventional questions such as “What is the gayest part about you?” and told participants to curse them in Armenian at the end of their interview.

Adamian was 14 years old when he immigrated from Iran, and at the time did not understand the concept of coming out. He said he always knew he was attracted to men, but thought that he would just marry a woman and live out the rest of his life without being his true self. After high school he began to come out to himself, but also began to distance himself from the Armenian community during college. However, he felt a void that was caused by the absence of his ethnic identity.

“Something very big and important was missing from me. And that was my Armenianness and my Iranianness,” Adamian said.

Jordanian-Palestinian artist and designer Mohammad Eltayyeb, right, at his Los Androgynous stand at Queernissage. Los Androgynous uses different mediums of art on fashion and up-cycled clothing.

GALAS hopes to create a space that fosters the ability to not pick and choose between someone’s sexual orientation, and their Armenian identity. Adamian says the organization also has Surj Sessions, where Armenians, both allies and LGBTQ+ people, can gather and talk about navigating their cultural identities with their sexualities. Although Queernissage is only held in Los Angeles, the group hopes one day for it to be held in Armenia, but more work needs to be done.

“If LGBTQ Armenians, with the help of allies, stick together and get the support that we need to elevate our voices and to bring visibility to the fact that queer Armenians do exist — whether you like it or not, we exist,” Adamian said. “As I said before, we are as much Armenian as we are queer.”

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