Kali, who is an Iraqi activist from the LGBT+ community, has been living abroad after struggling with homophobia for years and finally making a decision to leave. He visits Iraq every now and then but his last visit, which was recent, has been completely different than his other visits.
He explains to us how homophobic and dangerous the environment has become in Iraq in a matter of months. All Iraqis from the community know by now that the Iraqi government has been trying hard to pass a law for criminalizing homosexuality. Although it has not been official, the government has in fact started practicing it and Kali is here to describe what he experienced in his last visit.
As someone who is used to visit Iraq from time to time, how do you find the situation different this visit compared to the situation in your previous visits?
The situation for those who work as activists is really hard. I’m connected to many people working for the LGBT+ community and also other people working for women’s rights in feminist organizations. They all agreed that even though the Law of criminalizing LGBT+ activist has not been passed, but in fact, it is being practiced on the ground, and most of who I know are being questioned when the police or security forces know they have an activity on the subjects mentioned.
Did you face any difficulties in the Iraqi airport when you entered or left the country?
No, I did not have any problem entering the airport. My gender expression is not very different from what is known in the Iraqi society as normal so I don’t face this kind of problems often, but so many of my friends have told me about how they were investigated in the airport. I personally was bothered by checkpoints between cities because I looked modern as they said.
How do you think the recent changes have affected your LGBT+ friends who live in Iraq?
As I said, my friends have been questioned, arrested and threatened because of being involved in queer activism. The community today is very vulnerable, and the risk of being arrested, killed, or tortured is higher than ever and working in activism has higher negative consequences.
Can you describe us your feelings of anxiety during your last visit?
Honestly, I never felt this way in Iraq before. I have had lots of issues with different people trying to attack me or trying to threaten me because of my mentality and my work but I never felt unsafe in a public space where there are so many people around with different genders, and backgrounds. This time, however, I felt the community members being watched, but maybe that’s just me feeling wrong because in Iraq things change between a day and a night.
What are the some things you will be more careful with in your future visits to Iraq?
I think in my next visit, I will make sure that I don’t express my gender in a public space or in a space where I feel that it’s not safe enough for me to do so and I will make sure that I also communicate with people I trust about this kind of subjects. I still can’t have fun in my own way and work as well but I need to be more careful generally and try to reach out to those who know more.
What do you advise LGBT+ members who live in Iraq to be careful of?
I would advise all my friends and my peers in Iraq to also be careful when it comes to gender expression. I’m not saying to look yourself down, you can still express yourself but just know the right time and place for that and also try to find peers like yourself maybe to share your feelings with because that always helps you create your own circles, and be basically be more secure.