A Fresno Armenian pastor is among many now calling for the resignation of Fresno Unified School Board President Brooke Ashjian after he equated LGBT activists to Ottoman Turks.
The Rev. Ara Guekguezian said that the LGBT community, which is on the margins of society, should not be compared to Turkish officials who carried out the Armenian Genocide.
“If the Ottoman Turks say, ‘We are trying to silence you or marginalize you or demonize you,’ that is frightening because eventually they end up killing you,” Guekguezian says. “When someone in the margins says, ‘Don’t talk about that, it marginalizes me, it demoralizes me,’ it’s a very different thing. It doesn’t come from a place of power.”
That false equivalence is offensive.
The Rev. Ara Guekguezian
Ashjian’s comments came at the end of a five-hour board meeting Wednesday night after dozens responded to comments he made last month about the LGBT community.
“It is sad, they like the Ottomans are trying to be the thought police,” Ashjian said, reading from a two-page statement he wrote. “They are trying to make people of faith second-class citizens, as they seek to silence our voices in the public square. Just like what my grandparents and millions of other grandparents had to endure at the hands of the Ottomans before escaping to America.”
Guekguezian said Ashjian’s comments also minimalize the horrors of the Armenian Genocide. As many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923 by Turks.
When someone in the margins says, ‘Don’t talk about that, it marginalizes me, it demoralizes me,’ it’s a very different thing.
The Rev. Ara Guekguezian
Guekguezian has “strong opinions” about the way Fresno Unified is doing business and caring for children. “I can’t believe how sensitive, how immature, how fenced in, how weak they are. If they are that weak, they shouldn’t be in a position of leadership.”
Guekguezian is pastor of First Congregational Church of Fresno, also known as the Big Red Church, which describes itself as an “open and affirming” church for all people. Guekguezian attended Wednesday night’s meeting to support the LGBT community. He has a daughter who is a member of the LGBTQ community.
The controversy began when Ashjian talked to The Bee about the California Healthy Youth Act, a law requiring schools to teach unbiased and medically accurate sex education, including lessons on birth control, abortion and LGBT relationships. In a story published Aug. 4 in The Bee, Ashjian said that “you have kids who are extremely moldable at this stage and if you start telling them that LGBT is OK and that it’s a way of life, well maybe you just swayed the kid to go that way.” Ashjian, who is Mormon, also said, “It’s so important for parents to teach these Judeo-Christian philosophies.”
Mark Scoffield, a fellow member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fresno, was among those at Wednesday’s meeting. When asked if Ashjian’s decision to compare LGBT activists to Ottoman Turks was fair, Scoffield said he didn’t know because he’s not Armenian, but that he liked Ashjian’s comments about religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Jess Fitzpatrick, co-chair of Trans-E-Motion, said Ashjian has a right to freedom of speech, but that “we have the ability as a community to come together and say, ‘We don’t want that to be representative of us.’ ”
I hope that people can recognize it for what it is. It’s a total prey on their emotions.
Jess Fitzpatrick about Ashjian’s reference to Ottoman Turks
The Armenian Genocide reference seems to be an attempt by Ashjian to “pull the Central Valley heartstrings, but in a really nasty, cynical way,” Fitzpatrick said. “I hope that people can recognize it for what it is. It’s a total prey on their emotions.”
The Rev. Jim Franklin of Cornerstone Church, who left the meeting before Ashjian’s statement, declined to comment about the Ottoman Turks reference. But Franklin said he appreciates “the attempts that Fresno Unified has made in the past to make it a safe place for all students” and that it’s important that parents “have confidence that their faith beliefs and standards will not be undermined by the school.”
Fitzpatrick worries about the effects of Ashjian’s comments. He knows too many LGBT people in the Central Valley who have died by suicide.
Guekguezian said something similar: “This is a life or death issue for these children.”