As we all know, everybody faces difficulties finding a job in Iraq due to the economic situation and the tensions that have been hitting the country for many years. In addition to the difficulties that face everybody in general, there are extra difficulties that face queer individuals. Most queer individuals in Iraq tend to hide their sexuality and avoid building close friendships with their colleagues to avoid personal questions that would reveal any information about their sexuality. Queer individuals can get fired or get treated badly by both their boss and their colleagues if they ever tried to be themselves in the workplace. That’s why queers choose the safe solution that insures them a quiet work environment away from judgments and bad jokes. Recently, I interviewed three queer individuals from different cities in the country to see if their workplaces are safe enough to allow them to be themselves or if they are forced to pretend to be someone they aren’t to avoid trouble.
Niyaz, who is a pansexual woman, works in the finance and banking system in Erbil. I ask her if her sexuality caused her difficulties during the job interview or prevented her from getting a job. For that, she says that she hasn’t ever faced such issues simply because she doesn’t display her sexuality and keeps it a secret from everyone in the company she works for. Since everybody in her workplace believes she is straight, she tells me that she isn’t sure how their reaction would be if she ever planned to be herself and talk honestly about her sexuality. She says, “Having a female figure and physicality, I think society won’t care about my sexuality as much as they would if I had a male physicality. Still, I think I won’t be treated the same as now if people in my workplace knew about my sexuality. I might get fired or get treated differently and get avoided by them.” Niyaz says that there is only one person in her workplace who knows about her sexuality. That person is a close friend who treats her and respects her just like the straight people in the company. Other than that, she believes that keeping her sexuality a secret is way safer to her.
Rokher who works and lives in Baghdad tells me his story. He explains that he has faced trouble in his workplace previously as his colleagues and boss bullied him several times. That forced him to isolate himself but it did not stop the trouble. One day, he heard his boss telling one of the workers about him and describing him to her as an effeminate. For that, he decided to resign from his job although it was in a governmental organization and the workplace was good. He says, “Everybody knows how hard it is to get a job in Iraq but feeling that I was weird and not accepted by others made me leave my job.” That bad experience made him more careful about mentioning his sexuality to anyone because talking about that brings him and his family trouble and bad reputation.
Roza, who is a 22 year old lesbian woman from Duhok, tells me about her job. The organization she works for is LGBTQ+ friendly and considerate. For that, she says that there is no chance that her boss would fire her or that her colleagues would avoid her if they knew about her sexuality. Still, she tries not to act boyish or use any LGBTQ+ words and she keeps her sexuality a secret. She clarifies that although her workplace is LGBTQ+ friendly, the environment outside the organization is not, so she prefers to hide her sexuality.
The difficulty that faces queer Iraqis is that they have to hide certain sides of their personalities depending on the place they got to. Until this day, queer Iraqis can’t be themselves fully due to the judgments and hate they face from the majority around them. It is safer for them and their families to keep pretending they are someone else than to get fired from their jobs or get killed. The change is happening slowly and we hope that one day queer individuals will no longer need to hide or wear a mask to please others around them. Until that day comes, IraQueer encourages Iraqi queer individuals to put their safety first and try to avoid any arguments with others that can cause trouble and hurt them or their families.
Today is the bisexuality day that is celebrated in some countries while never mentioned in some others. As known, Iraq isn’t a country that welcomes or supports queer people in general. We, bisexuals, tend to face even more stress trying to accept ourselves and explain our sexuality to people around us. We are considered confused individuals and that we aren’t sure what we want. Constantly, we are asked to decide the gender we prefer to date and told that what we are going through is just a phase.
I am a 24 bisexual woman whom recently joined IraQueer. As a bisexuals myself, I needed years to figure out my sexuality because in the society I live in, normal people must fall in love with the ones from the opposite gender only. If that isn’t the case, then that person is mentally sick. During my childhood and adolescence, the subject of homosexuality in general wasn’t allowed to be discussed. The only time that people would clap for me when talking about this subject was if I made jokes about it. For that, I didn’t ask too many questions, not myself or even others. The first time I had feelings for a girl was during my school years, but I never told her about it or questioned my sexuality. Not long after that I met people my age and older who discussed the subject of homosexuality with me in a civilized manner. With all the support I was given, the image of homosexuality became clearer to me and that gave me the chance to understand myself and love it the way it is.
Besides my story, I asked bisexuals from different cities in Iraq about their own experiences to understand how they feel about themselves and the struggles the deal with. Sally who’s a 28 year old bisexual woman from Karbala is one of the people I interviewed. Sally isn’t only bisexual but also a transgender, before changing her gender, she was attracted to both men and women. Things haven’t change after changing her gender since she is still attacked to both genders. She says, “Bisexuality is often forgotten, and as a transgender woman, my sexual orientation is often forgotten too. I don’t have the space to express my identity. Not only in Iraq, in general, every resource I read about transgender women, they never talk about our sexual orientation.”
Farah who’s a 27 year old bisexual woman from Kirkuk explains that she is married to the wrong person. She says, “I like my husband. He is a good man, but he isn’t the love of my life.” She clarifies, “you might think, as a bisexual you also like men, so why aren’t you happy with your husband? I would say, the heart wants what it wants. And my heart belongs to one of my friends who is a girl. It’s not up to me to decide who to love.”
Shivan who’s a 22 year old bisexual man from Erbil, explains to me how hard it’s to be bisexual in Iraq. Shivan says, “Being bisexual is like having two people inside you, sometimes it makes me feel crazy. When I was a kid, I thought I was cursed or there was a demon inside me, so I hated myself. I lost my confidence and I avoided making friends. All that time, I was thinking that I don’t deserve being loved.” Shivan tells me that as he began watching movies and reading stories about other bisexuals, he started understanding himself more. After a while, he began to accept himself but he has kept his sexuality a secret from his family and most of his friends because he doesn’t think that they would show him any support.
Sara who’s a 23 year old bisexual woman from Baghdad explains to me that fear from the society’s judgments pushes her to pretend she’s someone she’s actually not. She clarifies that being both bisexual and a woman puts too much pressure on her because that means she’s not only standing against the society’s culture but also standing against their religious believes. “I don’t feel safe to be in a relationship with a girl, simply because that could bring me so many troubles and I might get killed. For that, I prefer keeping my sexuality a secret.” Is her answer for why she’s not thinking about getting involved in a romantic relationship with any girl?
Aram who is a 24 year old bisexual man from Erbil tells me that people who know about his sexuality tell him that being bisexual allows him to get the best of both worlds meaning he's lucky he can choose to date both males and females which is considered an advantage. He clarifies that being bisexual isn’t an advantage since he lives in a community that doesn’t allow him to date a guy or express himself freely, not even around his girlfriend. He says, “I hear a lot of bad comments about having low self-esteem or not knowing what I want.” Aram’s ex-girlfriend used to ignore the fact that he was bisexual and used to think this was just a phase that he would get over. About his feelings now, he mentions to me that despite the lack of support and loneliness he is going through, he accepts himself and he’s lucky to find himself. He loves himself and for that, he does not need anyone’s approval.
We, bisexuals, keep hoping that things will eventually get better. We hope that one day we will be accepted in our community and that we will get rid of all the daily pressure and stress we deal with just because we are trying to be ourselves. We hope that our community will accept us and love us just like we accept and love ourselves.
Thank you for helping us reach ONE MILLION people
Today, IraQueer celebrates its five year anniversary. During those five years, IraQueer quickly transformed from an online platform to a registered human rights organization that is recognized by the international community, quoted by governments and UN agencies, and most importantly, relied on by thousands of LGBT+ Iraqis.
In the last five years, we have produced information in Iraqi Arabic and Sorani Kurdish that never existed before. We trained more than 100 activists, social workers, and journalists. We spoke at some of the biggest events in the world including the UN’s Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and One Young World. Our work has encouraged other Iraqi organizations to be more intersectional in their approach to human rights and speak up for the rights of underrepresented groups like the LGBT+ community.
Together with our Iraqi and international partners, we have achieved several political wins for LGBT+ Iraqis. Starting with the submission of numerous reports to United Nations mechanisms that resulted in giving Iraq several LGBT+ focused recommendations, and ending with our most recent win of having the Iraqi government recognize the right to life of individuals regardless of their sexual orientation.
While we still have a very long way to go and many other milestones to reach, we want to take this moment to reflect on our progress and to thank all the organizations, government, and individuals who believed in us and supported us throughout the last five years. Thank you for helping us reach more than ONE MILLION people online and offline. Thank you for being generous with your time, resources, and knowledge, and for helping us refine our work and be more effective. We have laid a strong foundation in the last five years because of your support.
Today, all of us at IraQueer are determined to fight harder for human rights of LGBT+ Iraqis. For the coming years, we will be focusing most of our efforts on building an Iraqi human rights movement in which talking about LGBT+ rights is the norm. Together with current and future partners, we will build on the successes of our previous advocacy campaigns and continue to push for the legal and social protection of LGBT+ Iraqis. Our fight will not end until every LGBT+ Iraqi is protected, recognized, and able to live the life they deserve, and for that, we will continue to need your support so we hope you are as determined and excited about the future as we are.