The suicide of a gay rights activist in Azerbaijan is prompting the country’s LGBT community to become more assertive in fighting for civil rights.
Isa Shakhmarly, the head of the Free LGBT non-governmental organization, died on January 22, using a rainbow flag to hang himself in his Baku apartment. He was 20. In a suicide note, he faulted Azerbaijani society at large for pushing him to take his life. “This world . . . is not able to hold my colors,” the note stated.
The LGBT community until now has kept a relatively low profile in socially conservative Azerbaijan. But Shakhmarly’s death catalyzed Azerbaijani activists to take public action. On January 27, over 20 activists held a news conference in Baku to announce plans for a signature drive for fresh legislation to protect sexual minorities, and for an outreach campaign and a hotline that could provide psychological counseling. They also designated January 22 as a “Day of Pride in Azerbaijan’s LGBT Community.”
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku.