On the 17th of May, 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that homosexuality was no longer considered a mental disorder after years of classifying it as one and after years of violence against the LGBT+ community.
Starting on the 17th of May, 2005, many countries around the world celebrated the day which was first recognized as the “International Day Against Homophobia”. Later, both “transphobia” and “biphobia” were added to the title of the day name and people started referring to it with the acronym “IDAHOBIT”
The 17th of every May is an important date for hundreds of people because they get to use the day to raise awareness on the discrimination and violence that bisexuals, gays, lesbians, and transgender people experience on a daily basis.
How Did It Go In Iraq?
International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia has been celebrated in Iraq before and it didn’t go so well. On the 17th of May, 2020, in the capital city of Iraq, Baghdad, the Canadian, UK, and European Union embassies raised the rainbow flag to celebrate this special day. It didn’t take too long until the news was spread everywhere and everyone was commenting on what happened. Different news channels and social medial platforms were busy with what the embassies did. Some people were happy and proud while the majority totally rejected such a behavior.
Based on Alex MacDonald report on Middle East Eye, not a long time after raising the rainbow flag, Iraqi politicians expressed their disapproval of such actions by describing homosexuality as a “mental illness” or by explaining that Iraq is against the concept of homosexuality even if the Iraqi law doesn’t consider it illegal. “On Sunday evening, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that homosexuality went against “the noble morals of all divine religions" and said all missions in Iraq had to "adhere by the laws of the country and to follow diplomatic norms."”
Iraq remains on the list of homophobic countries and remains a dangerous place for LGBT+ people to live in or visit. Threats follow LGBT+ Iraqis everywhere inside the country! They could lose their lives, freedom, or homes if the wrong people knew about their sexualities.
It’s not only about the laws of Iraq or the homophobic politicians! The problem is bigger than that and it lies in the way that Iraqi families define and judge homosexuality. Iraq is mainly controlled by traditions and religion while the law doesn’t have much to say about the discrimination the community faces and that raises the question of what families are allowed to do to their kids if they turned to be homosexuals, bisexuals, or transgender? And what would the Iraqi government do if any cases of murder or violence happen against these LGBT+ individuals?
The majority of Iraqi families are supported by tribes ('ashira) and there are tens of different tribes in Iraq that have their own rules to guarantee that their beliefs keep passing from one generation to the other.
These tribes, in some Iraqi territories more than the others, have more power than the government which means they get to decide on how a person from the community gets punished. Some might get killed while others might be forced to get married. And the stories differ from one tribe to another. We can say that homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia exist in all these tribes and that makes violence against LGBT+ people so common and normal.
No wonder that the number of homophobes is still high in Iraq! Children who are still only a few years old find it fun to make silly jokes about homosexuals or transgenders. Usually, parents teach their kids to be homophobic and to express their hatred in the ugliest ways possible.
The whole matter of killing or threatening people just because they identify as LGBT+ isn’t seen as a mistake. Kids are taught from an early age to hate everything that they find unfamiliar and that hatred grows with them until they get to an age where they are able to express it with both bullying and violence.
And here in a country like Iraq, the problem is this bad because there’s no one to stop the homophobes. From one side, the government doesn’t provide any protection to the LGBT+ community and from the other side, families that have a tribe’s support can do what they want to the ones who stand against their tribal traditions and therefore can express their hatred freely without any consequences.
Today we celebrate Lesbian Visibility Day! Which is a great opportunity to put the light on all women from the LGBT+ community who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to other women. Despite all of your suffering as an Iraqi lesbian, we tell you to stay strong, to be proud, and to not ever listen to what haters say. You don’t have only one day to celebrate being a lesbian, every day is a chance for you to celebrate and to be proud.
For this day, Esraa and Khawla, who are two Iraqi lesbians, share their happy and sad stories with us:
Esraa says, “Ever since I was a kid, I dreamt of being an actress. Coming from an artistic family that loved the theater and music meant that my family were supportive of my dream to go to theater school. To me, it was one of the few ways that I could express myself freely. I enrolled at the age of eight. I grow up in the theater and had a great childhood! I learned early on about myself because I was allowed to express different things in my identity, and my family were supportive.
When I turned 16, a new girl joined the program for a summer. We became friends very quickly. She was beautiful. Time went by, and we got closer. I started feeling attracted to her! I did not fully understand what those feelings meant, so I told my parents. Both of them asked me to keep this to myself as it could put me and them in danger. They did not reject it, and helped me understand what it meant. So I took their advice and did not tell the girl that I liked her.
We continued being friends even after she left the acting class. We started seeing each other outside in coffee shops and went shopping together. I felt like she was also developing feelings towards me but I did not say anything because I was too scared. Until one day we were in her room when she kissed me. I was surprised, and she was nervous. She said “I have been wanting to do this for a long time. I am sorry, did I offend you?” I said no!! And I told her about my feelings towards her too.
Since then, we got romantically involved without telling anyone. I did not even tell my parents. One day, we went back to their house and we started watching a movie on the laptop in her bedroom when she started kissing me. While we were kissing, her brother came into the room. He pulled her by her hair, and started hitting her. They kicked me out of the house and asked me to never come back or they would call the police. A few days after, I heard the news that she was dead. They told people that she slipped and hit her head in the bathroom. Just like that! No one questioned them. A beautiful young woman was killed for loving someone, and she was killed and quickly forgotten by her family and the society. Like she never existed!”
And Khawla says, “I got divorced four years ago, after six years of marriage. I was married off to my cousin. Arranged marriages are very common in Karbala where I am from. A 30 year old girl who is not married is not acceptable. In families like mine, girls are supposed to get married at a certain age, perform their marital duties, give birth to babies, raise her children, stay at home, and be a good wife. For 36 years, I was following all the rules that were put for me by my family, extended family, religious teachings, and the society. I was the only one who did not have any power over my own life. Ignoring my feelings, my thoughts, and my own identity. It was not until I got divorced that I got to really think about who I am and what I want in life.
After my divorce, I spent a lot of time in my room. I always wanted to be alone, away from my family and everyone else. That’s when I really started listening to myself and think for myself. I started realizing that all the “strange” feelings I had towards women, was not strange. It was how I really felt. I was attracted to women. But I did not realize that because.. well, how would I know that when I was told my entire life that I should find a great man! Never ever have I thought being with a woman is an option.
Three years ago was when I met the love of my life. I was going to buy some things from the grocery store when I met my neighbor. She was wearing blue top which brought out her blue eyes. She is the most beautiful person I have ever seen. We started texting. We talked about everything. I could tell her the important and person things in my life. Our connection grew stronger and stronger. Being neighbors, it was not strange that we would spend time together in person. Our mothers were friendly with each other, and that allowed us to visit each other at home.
One day, we were laying on her bed, listening to Shireen’s song “Enkatabli Omr”, our hands started touching. We were talking about love, then we had our first kiss. It was the first time in my life that I feel afraid and safe at the same time. Since then, we have been together. We meet and talk all the time. Our families still do not know. They think that being a divorcee makes me sad, but in reality, I have never been happier.”
Most probably, the majority of you have heard about STDs but have you heard about STIs before? Do you know what the differences are between STDs and STIs?
Simply, STIs or sexually transmitted infections are infections that pass from one person to another as certain parasites, bacteria, or viruses enter the body by sexual or nonsexual activities. When that happens, the person is told to have STI. Based on Tulane University, people with STIs can infect someone else by having sex with them or by exchanging bodily fluids like blood, urine, virginal fluids, and so on. Another way would be by touching the person with STI on a spot of their skin where the infection is active.
Having multiple partners and/or not using protection can highly increase the risk of STIs so keep in mind that educating yourself helps you and your partner/s avoid many health issues. Plus getting the proper medical help allows you, in case you have the infection already, to lower the chance of dealing with serious health problems in the future.
HIV, hepatitis, Gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia are all examples of possible STIs that someone could get. Some of these STIs could be transmitted only by sexual interaction while others could be transmitted by both sexual and nonsexual interactions.
STIs can frequently have no symptoms or have symptoms that are vague and not specific, therefore unrecognizable. That’s why you need to keep in mind that just because someone’s body is working normally while having STI, doesn’t mean there will not be any future health problems. STIs should be taken seriously because they might develop into STDs. For that we can say that STDs are a late stage of STIs that develop as the person with STI doesn’t get the proper medical care at the right time.
Last but not least, you have probably heard people or read articles that use the terms STI and STD interchangeably. Using these terms interchangeably may cause confusion since an STI may or may not lead to an STD.
As Iraqi queers, it seems dangerous and sometimes impossible to visit clinics to have the necessary tests. That’s why you should educate yourself about all these possible infections and learn how to protect yourself. And if you feel the need to have the tests, ask for help from the ones you know and fully trust.
Redin, who is a gay man from Sulaymaniyah city, talks about his personal experience with STI and says, “I got Gonorrhea about a year ago just before lockdown. I found out mainly through the symptoms I was having which were mainly pain in my testicles. It was an uncomfortable situation because I felt reluctant to seek treatment and medical advice from doctors. That’s why I reached out to a friend of mine who was a doctor and who was also gay. He was not judgmental so he helped me without making me feel uncomfortable. Other than this friend, I only told the sexual partner I had while I kept it a secret from everybody else.
My friend tried to help by diagnosing my symptoms, and after he determined that I most probably got Gonorrhea, he told me which treatments to get without doing a test and visiting a doctor. He told me that even though testing is crucial to the diagnoses, it might not be a nice experience to be judged by the lab operators, therefore he recommended an empirical treatment.
he treatment that my friend gave me resolved my symptoms very quickly. Still, I would have liked to get tested in a Lab but I didn't do it due to my fear of stigma because I have had friends, not just gay but also heterosexuals, who had bad experiences in Iraq while seeking treatment for STDs.
I frequently get tested for viral illnesses like HIV and HBs and HCV since those are more standardized tests. But I wouldn't feel comfortable doing more specific tests like chlamydia or Gonorrhea for example.
My advice to Iraqi queers is to ALWAYS practice safe sex, even if it's with someone they trust. It is a common misconception among Iraqi queers to assume that someone is "clean" just by how they look. Keep in mind that STDs are common and people have them regardless of how they look, where they come from, and their education level. Also, just because someone doesn't Have HIV doesn't mean they do not have anything else. Having an STD doesn't make you a bad or a good person. I advise all of you to test for STDs as much as you can. It could be hard, but better safe than sorry. Lastly, I advise you all to reach out to organizations like IraQueer for sexual advice. Doing these things can lower your risk of getting STDs.”
No matter how stuck you feel you’re, remember that help could be found. IraQueer highly encourages you to use protection and choose your partner/s very carefully. Infections could happen to anyone regardless of their age or sexuality so take good care of yourself. And remember to come to us or any NGO that supports the LGBT+ community in case you need advice on how to protect yourself. We’re always happy to help.
IraQueer condemns the arbitrary actions taken by the police forces in Slemani city in Iraq. The mass arrests are direct violations of human rights of people who are or perceived to be LGBT+. These arrests have no legal basis and claiming that LGBT+ people are a threat to the city’s security is misleading the public. This campaign will put LGBT+ residents of Slemani city and Iraq in an even more vulnerable position. The claims of planning to “examine these individuals” will directly violate these individuals human rights and dignity. We call on the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi Government, and the International Community to take immediate action to put a stop to these violations and hold those who are leading this campaign accountable for breaking the law.
As transgender people, until this day, are the ones who have the highest rates of death among the LGBT+ community around the world, a positive change towards creating a clear image of who they’re is definitely important.
We need to teach each other how to respect the differences that make each one of us unique. And for that, we have to keep in mind that being different doesn’t always translate to being bad or weird but it simply translates to the need of people to present themselves in the way that brings them the most inner peace.
Today we celebrate transgender day of visibility to raise awareness of the hate crimes and discrimination that trans individuals face around the world and on daily basis. In Iraq, so as in many other countries, trans seem to be the ones who are least remembered or accepted as a lot of Iraqis including ones from the LGBT+ community, don’t seem to accept them. And that’s why spreading awareness in still needed and will be until trans people get equal rights as everybody else.
For this special day, IraQueer would like to share messages of love and support that come from both Iraqi trans and Iraqi allies which are sent to all our Iraqi transgender people. These messages are from individuals who come from different backgrounds, beliefs, and sexualities but share the same desire to change the social norms that try to shut you down:
“In trans visibility day, we’re celebrating you, our trans friends, and anyone that falls under that umbrella. We are celebrating those who got the opportunity to start their journey towards the life they desire and to those who put it on hold. And as Laverne Cox said, “We are in a place where more and more trans people want to come forwards and say THIS IS WHO I AM.”
To all our trans friends, you’re seen. To all of you out there who go through it every day, you are loved. We’re not what other people say we are, we’re who we know ourselves to be, and we’re what we love. And here we support who you’re, and who you choose to be. To all of you, happy trans visibility day.”
-Love and support message from Rafeef, a 22- year- old ally, Baghdad
“I personally support transgender people and their rights. I believe it’s very crucial to give our support to one of the most misunderstood and marginalized groups especially in the LGBTQ+ community and in the world generally. Trans people face all kinds of discrimination and their existence is considered a threat to the patriarchal capitalist principles which are based on oppressive gender roles and resulting in gender-based violence when individuals don’t partake in the sex-assigned social role.
Trans people challenge this discriminative binary world view. The very existence of trans people is the evidence that these dismissive social norms are invalid. We as feminists, activists, and advocates must fight for the rights of our friends and families who are trans. Moreover, a supportive community is very critical and valuable for any individual going through big challenges in their life, and this definitely includes trans people.”
-Love and support message from Zheera Bazzaz, a 24- year- old ally, Slemani
“I know how hard it’s to be part of a society like our Middle Eastern society and I can imagine the amount of negative energy and ugly words you hear daily that come not only from strangers but from the closest people to you who are supposed to be the ones who support you and accept you the most. But you also need to know that I’m and many others like me will always be your allies and we’re all ready to give you the love and peace and support you need. Most importantly, we won’t stop unless all of you get the freedom you deserve.
My advice to you is to not let anybody hurt you or underestimate you, regardless of who that person is. Fight this life and this society that is hungry to lose you and remember that nothing comes easily. I wish you get what you want. All love and support and respect to you regardless of where you are now.”
-Love and support message from Kawthar, a 20- year- old ally, Turkey.
“I’m a boy who was born in a body of a girl. My message is to all the ones who are in the same situation. I know about all the struggle and the inner fights that you go through but you need to keep in mind that we are special so please don’t hate yourselves or feel bad about the situation you are in. Our experience is unique with all the bad and good that we face. But you should know that none of it is your fault because we, as trans, are normal people as everybody else.
What I ask you for is to take very good care of yourselves. I wish I was able to meet every one of you who’s reading my message now. I can’t explain the amount of love I have for all of you and I can’t describe my feelings as I knew there were so many people like me. Love yourselves and appreciate yourselves. I wish you achieve all your goals and desires, thank you for the time you spend reading this message”
-Love and support message from Hana, a 15- year- old trans, Karbala
“To the ones who are reading this blog and this message, I know the situation is bad and it’s a hard time for you. I know that many people aren’t nice or friendly, I know that you have heard so many bullies and had to deal with so many troubles that don’t make any sense, but I want you to know that you’re not alone in this. You should enjoy the small successes you have achieved and the small steps that you have taken to finish your transition.
I want you to know that we love you and we understand what you’re going through, your voice is heard, and we’re ready to help you. I wish you more beautiful days and happy times and fewer breakdowns and I hope you’ll never go through something that brings your tears down. Always remember to smile and to keep fighting because everything will be better.”
-Love and support message from Nora, a trans from Baghdad
In general, medical care in Iraq isn’t the best compared to other countries and with having homophobia spread among doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who work in the hospitals, the medical needs of the Iraqi LGBT+ community are rarely met.
When we talk about health issues, we don’t mean simple tooth pain or flu. LGBT+ members need surgeries, STD tests, or mental health services that are unavailable anywhere in the country. For that, most homosexuals avoid visiting doctors or when they do, they avoid telling them about their sexuality because some doctors don’t only refuse to offer their help but also put the patients in more trouble and cause stress by insulting them or threatening them.
IraQueer tells the story of two Iraqi doctors who are willing to offer their medical help to all Iraqis from the LGBT+ community and they hope that their help is going to solve some problems and inspire other doctors to start offering the same kind of help.
Dr. Angelo (Fake name) is an Iraqi medical student, who studies General Medicine and Surgery at the University of Baghdad, tells his story of how he started offering help to the LGBT+ community.
“About eight years ago, I started my journey as an advocate in multiple organizations like World Merit. During that time I used to provide advices and spread awareness among LGBT+ people who were mostly relatives. That moral support then grew to become something different after I became a medical student which was five years ago. After gaining experience, I started providing my medical consult to the ones who need it and regardless of their sexuality.
As a doctor who lives and works in a country where homosexuality is illegal, there have been times when I witnessed the fear that transgender men dealt with as they came to the hospital to get some help. Some of them had feminine qualities which made other people easily notice them and treat them badly for that. Other than being afraid, they were ashamed of being transgender and too shy to deal with other people while some of them denied being trans when they get diagnosed with AIDS.
As a homosexual doctor, I fully understand why they felt this way. I’m also unable to tell anyone in my workplace about my sexuality because I know very well that many problems will follow if I was honest about it. One way for me to keep offering my help to the LGBT+ community is by providing it online. This way I make sure that we all are safe.
LGBT+ people aren’t asking for any special medical care! All they need is to be offered what other Iraqis get already. People from the community are exposed to all kinds of infections and STDs, so they must get primary medical care which is every citizen’s right.
I advise all members of the Iraqi LGBT+ community to take care of themselves. Their physical health affects not only their average age but also every other aspect of their lives. It also affects the ones they love so please if you feel sick, don’t hesitate to get the proper medical help you need. And if you were too afraid to visit the hospital, we hope that we’ll form a group of doctors who are part of the community or allies who can offer you the help you need directly or by connecting you to other doctors and pharmacists and hospitals that welcome you. Again, your health matters.
After I graduate, and whether I’m inside Iraq or abroad, I’m willing to dedicate all my knowledge and time to help the LGBT+ community because I understand the difficulty of getting a proper help. I will be glad to offer my medical help to all of you so if you have any questions or concerns about your health, contact IraQueer so they can connect you to me.”
David (Fake name) is an Iraqi General Practitioner and a homosexual man. David’s journey started as several people from the LGBT+ community reached out to him to ask about their health problems that were related to their sexualities or their sexual practices. David says that the ones who asked him for help were too afraid to check with another doctor because of their worries that the doctor would turn to be homophobic.
“I noticed that the LGBT+ community was lacking the proper medical services, including the very basic and simple ones so that was the beginning of my journey to becoming a doctor who offers these services.
Throughout my experience, I noticed that the quality of the medical services varies based on the sexuality of the patient. The type of medical service, the way the patient is treated, and the treatment that is given to the patient all vary significantly based on their sexuality.
Unfortunately, homophobia is common among health personnel including doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and so on. And that homophobia makes some of the medical service providers use the power they have to threaten LGBT+ members on social media or use bad language with them.
My advice to you if you’re an LGBT+ member is to choose your doctor carefully. In case you’re able to reach out to a doctor from the community or a doctor who’s open-minded, then that would be the best choice to go with.
If not, try as much as you can to avoid talking about your sexuality or anything that could make the doctor know about it, deny being queer, and/or deny that you had sex because in most cases, these details aren’t in any way related to the diagnose or the treatment, so focus more on the symptoms and mention them in detail and leave everything else aside.
I am happy to offer my medical help to anyone from the LGBT+ community within my authority as a General Practitioner and for health issues related to both the physical and the psychological health.”
How to ask for medical help from IraQueer:
IraQueer wishes all the members of the LGBT+ community a healthy and safe life. Being a member of the community in Iraq isn’t easy that’s why IraQueer is trying hard to create a safe space for you all. We are here to help any of you who’s in need for an urgent medical help that may not be provided in any hospital. In order for us to offer you the help you need, send us an email or a message to our official accounts on social media and tell us what your health issues is and what kind of help you need.
Today, IraQueer celebrates it’s sixth anniversary. We want to thank LGBT+ Iraqis who believe in us, our partners, and supporters for helping us grow and serve more queer Iraqis. Our passion and commitment will continue to guide us until every LGBT+ Iraqi is safe and recognized as equal to other Iraqi citizens.
Allies are individuals who don’t identify as LGBT+ but fight for LGBT+ rights. They fight to end homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and ensure that the LGBT+ community gets equal civil rights as everybody else in the society.
Who could be an ally?
Anybody could be an ally. As a member of the community, your siblings, your teachers, your friends, and even your 70- year- old grandparents could be your allies! All it takes for them to be considered as allies is to accept you, understand you, and support you regardless of your sexuality. And that should be how they treat, not only you but everybody else around them too.
Why are allies important to the Iraqi LGBT+ community?
The Iraqi LGBT+ community remains a minority until this day. This means that the effect of our actions, as a community, to reach equality is mainly controlled by everybody else who’s is part of the majority. For that, having allies by our side gives us a voice to reach a larger group of people in the society. Spreading LGBT+ awareness among these Iraqi groups helps us find more allies.
Allies help us spread love. They fight to change the view the society has about the LGBT+ community even during hard times when members of the community themselves can’t fight.
As an ally, what are some ways to support the Iraqi LGBT+ community?
Supporting the LGBT+ community could be extremely dangerous in Iraq due to homophobia that’s common everywhere in the country. Still, supporting the community isn’t impossible.
If your parents aren’t homophobic, start with them. Ask them what they know about homosexuality and correct them if they are wrong about something.
Educate your siblings. You might actually realize that you have a queer brother or a queer sister! If that’s the case, then educating yourself will be even more fun to do.
Showing your support could also be achieved by using different social media platforms to spread awareness. Remember that your safety comes first so spread awareness only among the close people that you fully trust and know that won’t put you in trouble. Share facts about homosexuality, post YouTube videos of transgender people who talk about their journey of coming out, or share artworks that picture the difficulties of being homosexual. There are thousands of sources on the internet that you could encourage others to check. You’ll realize after a while that there are plenty of people who are interested in the topic.
Another way would be to volunteer for organizations that fight for LGBT+ rights. Volunteering gets you closer to people from the LGBT+ community who have been through tough times due to their sexual identities. Learning about these experiences can open your eyes and give you the motive to make a change. Volunteering also gives you the chance to build a network with other allies in the country. IraQueer welcomes any allies who like to volunteer and support the community.
And the easiest way to make a change as an ally is to be kind. Iraqi LGBT+ individuals constantly deal with bullies and disrespect that may force them to push everyone away so acting with a little bit more kindness with them means a lot.
If you get the chance to be friends with somebody from the community, try to listen to them, let them know they matter, and give them the time they need to understand themselves and their needs.
Allies are essential to make a positive change in Iraq
Whether you know them personally or not, allies play an essential role in fixing our Iraqi social norms and empowering the LGBT+ community. No matter how allies choose to show their support, all the effort is appreciated and is leading us, sooner or later, to a better and more accepting society.
IraQueer condemns the vicious attacks led by Omar Gulpi, KRG Parliament member against LGBT+ citizens. The lawsuit that is filed by the MP is an attempt to limit freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and other human rights of residents of the Kurdish region that are guaranteed under local and international laws.
Gulpi’s claims against homosexuality and sexual diversity are baseless and aim at misleading the public and spreading fear through using inaccurate and outdated information. His claim that homosexuality is a mental illness has been refuted by leading health organizations around the world including the World Health Organization which announced in 1990 that homosexuality is a natural state of being, just like heterosexuality, and that it is not a mental illness.
Similarly, claiming that homosexuality is against local laws is inaccurate as neither KRG laws, Iraqi laws, nor international laws that Iraq has agreed to follow condemn homosexuality. In fact, many local and international laws that Iraq and KRG are obliged to abide by guarantee human rights of all people regardless of their identities.
As an MP, Gulpi must rely on facts when informing the public. As a representative of KRG residents and an officer of the law, spreading misinformation is a betrayal of the public’s trust that was placed in him and the political system. We call on the KRG courts to dismiss this lawsuit immediately, and to uphold the rights of all citizens regardless of their identities.
My First Step
Humanity and human rights issues are my passion so is calligraphy, specifically Arabic calligraphy, so I got this idea of bringing these two together and introduce them to people in a unique way.
The idea that people have about the Arabic calligraphy is that it’s used to present quotes of prophets, Quranic manuscripts, or flirtatious poetry. My idea was to mix the Arabic calligraphy with new concepts like homosexuality, feminism, and even animals rights. I believe that mixing the Arabic calligraphy with such sensitive topics could make people more interested to view them and learn about them and that’s the whole point.
I got that idea a while before entering college but I had to give up on it shortly after due to the constant judgments I received. Back at that time, people’s opinions used to matter a lot to me and that used to be a big barrier, so I had to give up on my idea.
Two years later, I gave it a second try, so I dedicated enough time to improve my skills. Gradually, I started noticing an improvement and had better ideas in mind to present. And here I’m now, I’ve so many followers by my side who support me by sharing my art or sending me messages full of love.
Dealing with their hatred
The first time I received threats and criticism was back when I shared a full Instagram post about homosexuality. A lot of people blocked me while many others sent me threats using fake or real accounts. Even some people who I knew for years cut the connection with me after checking that post.
My family members follow my account so of course! They had a lot to say after seeing that post. Anyhow, I didn’t stop.
Starting from the day I shared that post, things took another turn and I had to deal with way more hatred than I used to. And after few other posts that support the LGBT+ community, I started receiving threats from several militias.
I won’t stop
Regardless of everything I have been through, I still have the motive to continue this time.
Many people from the LGBT+ community write me long beautiful messages that are full of love to express their happiness and appreciation for having me by their side.
A lot of them feel so forgotten by the ones around them. That’s why I focus on creating my art posts in Arabic while I focus less on the English ones. What I do is a way of telling all of them that homosexuality is part of our Arabic society and not something foreign that we need to be ashamed of.
Several people from the community discuss personal topics that they don’t have anyone to tell about. This feeling of safety that I give them makes them open their hearts to me even without knowing me well or, in some cases, knowing me at all. I’ve become friends with so many great people from different cities, ages, and sexualities and that always gives me the energy to continue.
Changing their minds
Through the art I present, I’ve been able to change people’s minds about homosexuality and that’s another reason why I still have the motive to continue.
In the past, many of my friends refused to talk or listen to someone who talks about homosexuality. Some of them used to use offensive words to describe homosexuals but they have changed a lot from that time. It took me a long time to change their minds about it, but I did it. One conversation after another, my friends accepted the idea, they educated themselves about it, and now they are way better than before.
Actually! Some of them even became allies while others realized they were homosexuals.
Art brings us a few steps forward
I believe that art could help us a lot in this journey of empowering the LGBT+ community and explaining to people, with facts, what homosexuality is.
Our eyes aren’t used to see the rainbow flag! Somehow, a lot of us gets shocked when seeing it in real life or in a photograph or a piece of art. But that shouldn’t be the case anymore because we can make some change by talking more often about homosexuality until one day, talking about it in real life or on social media becomes completely normal. And I think that art could be the easiest way to accomplish that.
I can handle the consequences
We are the first Iraqi generation to fight for LGBT+ rights so that definitely comes with consequences but I’m okay with that. Having my identity revealed by having my real picture on my Instagram account and having my bio mentioning that I’m Muslim isn’t easy neither safe but I have my reasons.
Giving up on these important details means that I’ll somehow lose part of my power. Having my personal information on my account is there to break the fear barrier that other allies and LGBT+ members have. Many of them can be inspired and empowered by what I’m doing and I hope that’ll enable them to start posting and educating others about homosexuality.
I’ve seen many positive changes already even from my straight friends! Many of them share my posts on their accounts and it feels incredible to see that happening.
It’s true that some of them delete what they share a few hours after, probably because of the judgments they receive from their own followers, but still, there’s a positive change happening here even if it’s small like this one.
Never stop fighting
My message to all the Iraqi allies and members of the LGBT+ community is to keep fighting until a positive change happens. Things aren’t easy because, as I mentioned, we’re the first generation to fight for it but together, we can make a better future for ourselves and the next generations.
To check out Saif's art and support him, follow him on Instagram: @saif0_0ali