Armen grew up in Armenia and immigrated to the United States at the age of 19. He considers himself bi-cultural. Spending his childhood through young adulthood in Armenia has given Armen a unique understanding of cultural differences between Armenian and American societies. He hopes to leverage this understanding in bridging the gap between the LGBTQ and Armenian communities.
After graduating with an Accounting degree from CSU Northridge, Armen has worked in accounting and law enforcement. He has also volunteered for various causes. Professionally, Armen has volunteered for VITA, an IRS sponsored free tax return preparation service for low-income Americans. Personally, he has been active with the local neighborhood council, the Yosemite Conservancy and other organizations. In 2016, Armen was involved in organizing for a candidate running for nationwide public office. The experience has taught him that when people stand together, there is nothing they cannot accomplish.
As the 2016-2017 Board President of GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society), Armen was instrumental in navigating GALAS through challenging times and grew the organization into a vibrant social hub for LGBTQ Armenians. Looking to transform social presence into social-change activism, Armen is determined to continue fighting for Armenian LGBTQ rights through a more focused effort; empowering NGOs in Armenia to achieve marriage equality in his motherland.
Photograph of Armen Abelyan, Executive Director of Equality Armenia
Born in Yerevan, Karen grew up in La Canada, near Los Angeles. Her education at Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Hollywood reinforced her patriotism for Armenia. At home, Karen’s parents instilled in her love for all humankind and the importance of helping those who were in need.
Working with her father in their family enterprise, Karen always sought balance between business and philanthropy. She got involved with the AIDS Service Center in Pasadena while participating in both, Armenian and non-Armenian church organizations. Named as one of 50 Most Influential Women by the Pasadena Magazine, Karen is an advocate for the Cancer Support Community of Pasadena; and with her daughter, Tiffany, they help children with autism through horse therapy.
As a staunch supporter of the arts, in 2017 Karen was an Executive Producer of an Armenian-LGBTQ themed film “I Promised Her Life” by an award winning director Robert Nazar Arjoyan.
Having worked with many friends in the LGBTQ family, Karen felt there is more that needs to be done in Armenian communities when it comes to LGBTQ rights. By joining Equality Armenia, Karen combines her love for Armenia with her passion for helping others. She believes all people are created equal and should have equal rights in pursuit of happiness, marriage and expression of love.
Photograph of Karen Mikaelian, Director of Resources of Equality Armenia
Vic Gerami is an Armenian-American columnist, activist and media contributor. Spending six years with Frontiers Magazine, followed by LA Weekly and Voice Media Group, afforded Vic a specialized understanding of what it takes to have presence and outreach across various platforms. His work has appeared in many publications including The Advocate, OUT, GoWeHo, Los Angeles Blade and in WeHo Times. He was featured in the Wall Street Journal as a “Leading Gay Activist” for organizing against Prop 8. In 2015, he was noted in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit, Obergefell v. Hodges, which subsequently guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marriage equality.
Growing up in the Diaspora, Vic’s family instilled in him a sense of pride in his heritage and love for Armenia. He visited Armenia as a child which established a lasting bond and devotion for his motherland and its people. Understanding the intricacies of Armenian identity – often marginalized and persecuted in history, Vic believes there is a common denominator between Armenian and LGBTQ communities; the will to persevere and thrive.
Joining the board of Equality Armenia was a natural fit for Vic as he likes to give back to the community. He intends to use his expertise in highlighting not only the inhumane arguments against, but also the economic reasons for marriage equality. Vic believes marriage equality is the right of all people and Armenia has an opportunity to be a leader in the region and do the right thing.
Photograph of Vic Geramic, Director of Media and Communications of Equality Armenia
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mary always says “I may have been born in a melting pot but I’ll never lose my flavor”. While attending Saturday Armenian school, Mary spent her weekends going to Abril Bookstore in Glendale with her father. At school, Mary felt most comfortable on stage, finding refuge in drama and Armenian poetry. She then started writing her own poetry which often left her audience in tears. Combining drama with the comedic inclination inherited from her mother, Mary eventually switched to comedy which helped her cope with a tumultuous adolescence.
At the age of 12, Mary found herself living with her grandparents. Such non-traditional upbringing left her with unrestricted personal growth, not typical to other Armenian girls her age. Hence, she was able to immerse herself in her craft by expressing the silenced voices of women and minorities in her community. Currently, Mary is a regular in the comedy circuits in Los Angeles and performs at a monthly show at Flappers in Burbank.
Always challenging “traditional” yet somewhat oppressive norms in her own culture, Mary is dedicated to lending her voice to those who need it most. When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Mary recognizes the damage “traditional” views inflict on the fabric of unity in the Armenian community. In joining Equality Armenia, Mary hopes she can heal her community through laughter, joy and love.
Photograph of Mary Basmadjian, Director of Community Outreach of Equality Armenia
Movses is a first generation Armenian American born in Los Angeles. At the age of three, his parents moved him and his family to Santa Barbara where he lived until he finished eighth grade. He and his family then moved to Texas, where he graduated from high school and subsequently Texas State University with a Bachelors in Theater. In 2006, Movses moved to San Diego to attend law school, graduating and passing the bar in 2009. In 2010, Movses moved back to Los Angeles. In 2012, he started his own private law practice which he still operates.
Movses needed a creative outlet and found his inspiration in stand-up comedy. Movses currently co-produces a monthly show called Armenian AllStars. His comedy focuses on his Armenian upbringing outside of Los Angeles and his observations about being an openly gay Armenian, although those labels do not define him.
Movses has a desire to help people in the Armenian community to embrace the LGBTQ community. Through comedy and political activism, he wants to make it easier and safer for gay Armenians to come out of the closet and be proud of who they are. As a community engagement liaison, using both his comedic and legal backgrounds, Movses wants to assist Equality Armenia in bring marriage equality to Armenia.
Photograph of Movses Shakarian, Secretary of Equality Armenia
Yvette Vartanian-Davis grew up in Glendale, California, the oldest of four siblings. She graduated from Glendale High, continued her education at the Glendale Community College, then earned a B.S. in Anthropology at USC, and a M.S. in Anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles. With an unmatched zeal for life, she enjoys giving back to the community that has given her so much.
Yvette was the President of the Glendale Sunrise Rotary Club. She has served as Treasurer of the Silver Lake Chamber of Commerce and Glendale Educational Foundation. Despite her busy schedule as a small business owner, she has volunteered for numerous other non profits. Currently, Yvette is honored to further serve her community, as an elected member of the Glendale Community College, Board of Trustees.
As the founder of The Counting House, LLC, – a woman-owned boutique accounting and business management firm based in Glendale, Yvette works with clients from local police and fire departments, small business owners and artists, many in the LGBTQ community. It is Yvette’s mission to keep her clients on track so that they can enjoy fruitful futures. Joining the board of Equality Armenia, she’s combining her aptitude and passion. Yvette believes that everyone deserves equal rights and she’s committed to utilizing her skills to keep Equality Armenia on track to achieve LGBTQ equality in Armenia.
The Reverend Tory V. Topjian, Senior Pastor at Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church is a charismatic and passionate individual who brings vibrancy to the spiritual experience in which God’s unconditional and all-inclusive love is identified and celebrated for all people.
Reverend Tory has participated in various conferences and interviews on issues such as individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the Middle Eastern Culture, Marriage Equality for same sex couples as it relates to the Middle Eastern Community, as well as the LGBTQI+ Community. Reverend Tory has served on various panels relating to Multi-Cultural and Inter-Faith Worship styles, as it relates to individuals and communities of faith, in and outside the LGBTQI+ Community. Reverend Tory has also served on various panels as it related to the Transgender Community and how our Trans Sisters and Brothers are very much a part of the LGBTQI diversity of the community. He has also served on various LGBTQI Interfaith panels and boards around the country bringing knowledge and education of social justice in and around our local communities, as well as the nation and world. Some of these have included topics such as Conversion Therapy for minors, All Lives Matter, and Social Justice for the LGBTQI+ Community, to name a few. Reverend Tory serves as one of the founders of the Queer & Allied Faith Leaders of Milwaukee. He continues to serve on various LGBTQI+ tasks forces in the Milwaukee LGBTQ+ community, as well as around the nation, including the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches HIV/AIDS Advisory Council, the Milwaukee Superintendent of School’s Pastors Task Force and the LGBT Community Leaders of Milwaukee.
Rev. Tory is an ordained member of clergy with the Metropolitan Community Churches as of 2015, with a Master of Divinity Degree from Claremont School of Theology, emphasizing in Inter-Religious studies as well and various trends in worship within Inter-Faith Communities. He also has a Masters Certification as an Executive Chef from the Culinary Institute of America.
Rev. Tory currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is a native of New Jersey, and has also resided in Dallas, Texas and Los Angeles, California. In his spare time he enjoys spending time at home, cooking, traveling and sharing time with friends and family.