Armen Menechyan, creator of the yoga lifestyle blog Pack Your Mat, writes about the physical and psychological benefits of yoga, buddhist philosophy, and travel, and has enjoyed a fair amount of popularity online thanks to his Instagram and website.
After last week's tragedy, Menechyan knew he wanted to write something in response, but wasn't sure how to go about it. "I still haven't really mourned about the Orlando shooting," Menechyan tells us. "What I wanted to do is have people question and critically observe latent homophobia."
He ultimately decided to open up and write a very candid piece that reflected on his pride not only as a gay man, but as a gay Armenian man. "This was my coming out officially as a social media influencer. It felt like I was coming out again."
"I empathize for all who have not had the right support to come out....But I will not turn my pride into shame. I will not go back into the closet. I will say proudly, I am a gay Armenian man. I am a man above all else transcending any and all cultural and social labels placed upon me."
Menechyan confirms that latent homophobia is very much present in the international Armenian community, even amongst Armenian gays. "As much as we have evolved as gay men, homophobia is so socio-culturally engrained within us, we need to always be aware." In his piece, he freely discusses the intense shame he has felt in the past, and acknowledges that this shame, which is a product of society, may have contributed to the hateful motive of the murderer in Orlando.
The response to Menechyan's piece has been overwhelming. The NGO Pink Armenia, an underground organization based in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, posted the piece on their Facebook page with the comment: "Promote universal respect and tolerance in regards to human rights and gender issues."
The 33-year-old blogger has also had a steady stream of messages from other media thanking him for having the courage to put their thoughts into words. The notes have come from Armenian men and women, as well as Iranians, Turks, and others from around the world. "Definitely a lot of allies as well," Menechyan says proudly.