The situation for LGBTQ+ Iraqis inside Iraq
Not a single city in Iraq is safe for any LGBTQ+ Iraqi citizen. The fear of death haunts every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual person in the country.
While certain cities in Iraq, including Baghdad and the cities of the Kurdish region, are seen as less conservative, safer, and more liberal, deaths and arrests remain common everywhere in Iraq to prove to us that things can be quiet for a while but can get really bad in the blink of an eye.
The arrest of the individuals who were accused of being LGBTQ+ by the security forces on April 1st of this year is one example of the abuse the community faces inside the region.
Life isn’t any easier for LGBTQ+ Iraqis outside the region as Iraqis continue to ask IraQueer and other NGOs for shelter, mental support, financial support, and advice to flee to another country.
What’s going on in Lithuanian?
“The Lithuanian migrant camp that's “like a prison””, is an article written by Maëva Poulet that explains the situation and the miserable daily life that thousands of asylum seekers have been living for months inside the camps.
The article states that since the beginning of 2021, around 4,124 people have fled their home countries and entered Lithuania illegally and that almost half of them are from Iraq.
People who live in these camps aren’t receiving meals that fill their hunger and are forced to stay inside the dirty camps dealing with all the stress. The 28-year-old asylum seeker, Marc says, “They’re pushing people to go back voluntarily: when agents come into the center, it’s not to ask about our living conditions but to ask us, “Have you decided to go back to your country?” After this whole journey … It’s utterly frustrating.”
Abass, who’s an Iraqi gay asylum seeker, tells IraQueer about his own situation and the messy life he has since he arrived to the camps. Abass says, “I have been in Lithuania for five months so far. When others inside the camp knew I was gay, they started looking at me as if I was a monster. I was dealing with a lot of bullying and stress until I was moved, along with many others, to a camp that was supposed to be for LGBTQ+ people only and it had 45 individuals in it.
The problem wasn’t ever resolved because I, along with the rest of the LGBTQ+ Iraqi asylum seekers, are still dealing with a lot of bullying and homophobia inside a camp that was supposed to be accommodating LGBTQ+ people only.
It turned out that majority of the ones we have been sharing the camp with aren’t really from the LGBTQ+ community! These people applied for asylum as gays because they knew that getting their application approved was much easier like that since homosexuals are seen as a marginalized minority. The problem with these people is that they’re not only liars, but they are homophobes too and that means that I have to avoid them as much as possible.
Other than the mess inside the camp with these homophobes, the Lithuania government is not providing us with enough food and while the majority gets paid, we don’t get anything and we don’t even know why. Our applications, including mine, got rejected and when we asked about the reason they said that Iraq is a safe country for LGBTQ+ people so we all can go back there and live safely.”
The purpose of this blog
This blog is a small introduction to the report that IraQueer is currently working on. The main goal of the report is to tell the stories of the LGBTQ+ Iraqis who have been living inside these camps for months, to explain the current situation and danger that surrounds the community inside Iraq, and to clarify to the Lithuanian government that Iraq, until this moment, isn’t safe for LGBTQ+ people. IraQueer, with all its hard work to help the community members, is unable to fix the situation.
“LGBTQI youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth,” says The Trevor Project, which is an American nonprofit organization that focuses on suicide prevention among the LGBTQI community.
Suicide is one major factor of death among youth. Based on the data of The Trevor Project, queer youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times likely to have attempted suicide.
The hatred that comes from a family member tends to be the hardest to deal with and with our queer Iraqi youth having no support from the government, the pressure is even harder to handle.
Many of us have friends or family members from the LGBTQI community who are struggling. We hear them talking about how much they want to escape to another country where they feel safe enough to come out of the closet, marry their soul mates, and have kids, or simply just avoid being killed.
Some of us, however, have lost those friends who didn’t get any chance to feel heard or seen. Those friends took their own lives as a response to bullying, homophobia, abuse, and depression.
Suicide isn’t a joke, and people who think of committing suicide aren’t crazy or weak. LGBTQI people are at the highest risk for suicide when their family and friends know about their sexuality. When a family knows that their daughter or son is queer, forced marriage is one thing the family considers as a solution while other families choose honor killing if she was a female or abandonment if he was a male.
One of several painful deaths is the death of a young Iraqi girl named Tara. Tara was a victim of hatred and homophobia that made her take away her life when she was only 20 years old. Today, Kawthar, who was Tara’s close friend, tells us Tara’s story and she says, “Tara was only a college student when her life turned upside down. She was studying engineering and she was aiming to become a successful engineer. If she was still alive, she would have been 24 by now. Tara loved animals, especially birds, and her favorite colors were green and maroon. She enjoyed singing and reading books and she had big goals that she was aiming to achieve.
Tara was a lesbian and she was in a happy relationship with a girl that she was in love with. The two girls agreed on leaving Iraq, and they had everything planned. They agreed on everything including how to get out of Iraq, where to go, and when to leave but unfortunately, things did not go well.
Tara had a cousin who proposed to her multiple times but got rejected. That cousin knew that there was someone in Tara’s life, he just didn’t know that it was a girl. While Tara was busy planning her way out and living her daily life, the cousin thought it would be a good idea to hack Tara’s phone, read all her messages, and see all her pictures with her partner, then show everything to her parents and propose to her. He thought that doing so means that she won’t be able to reject him anymore.
That evil cousin got what he wanted. He hacked her phone, and indeed, Tara was with someone, but just not with a guy as the cousin expected. He did not hesitate to show everything to her parents who beat her up and thought about killing her. Her cousin, however, wanted things to go as he planned, so he proposed to her again and the family did not mind forcing her to get married to him this time. After a while of abuse and arguing, Tara got engaged to him.
The family made sure that Tara does not escape or run to someone for help so they took away her phone and locked her in the house. Tara could not ask anyone for help neither her girlfriend so what they did was waiting and hoping to find a solution.
It seemed that Tara had ideas going in her head other than finding a way out of that house. It seemed that the idea of death was actually bringing her peace. Few days before her wedding, Tara took away her life. And just like that, Tara was gone! I didn’t even know about her death, not until her sister told me. All I knew was that she preferred death over being touched by a man.
I remember in her last days, when we used to talk, Tara used to mention things like how much she loved me and how proud she was to know me. She used to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me and asked me to stay strong and not let our society destroy me. Also, she used to tell me about how exhausted she was feeling.
Unfortunately, back in Tara’s time, there was no organization inside the country that she or her girlfriend could have asked for help from and no one else would have been by their side. There wasn’t really much hope for the two because if there was, she would not have chosen death.
I never imagined that she would commit suicide so hearing about her death was really painful. I still I’ve not recovered from it until this day.
And the most annoying thing is that during all these years, I’ve not told anyone about her story because I too, don’t have a family that would love me if I tell them I’m lesbian. I had to keep her story a secret because if I tell people about it they would say things like she deserved what happened to her or that she was a bad person and a bad daughter. So I had to keep all sadness and anger inside and keep living as nothing happened.
Until today, I don’t know how I was able to pull myself out of that terrifying phase. All I can say is that it was a very hard time for me.
What I hope is that no one gets through what Tara got through and that we all keep in mind that we’ll die one day so let’s not rush it. Her soul is resting in peace and I’m sure she’s now in a better place.”
As a queer person living in a homophobic country, keep in mind that you’re going through a battle every single day and that you’re a hero for winning it by staying alive. Know that you’re not standing alone and that your life can change and things can get better.
If you’re someone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts and need someone to talk to, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll make sure to refer you to a queer Iraqi doctor who can provide you with the proper emotional support and be available to listen to you. Always know that you’re not alone in this.
A simple definition of a stereotype is any wrong idea or belief that people have about a thing or a group of people. The role of stereotypes, in general, is to put people in certain categories so it’s easier to predict what a person is and isn’t and as a result, easier to control. We have tens of different stereotypes around the world that are toxic and unfair. LGBT stereotypes are one example and these that tend to focus on controlling individuals of the LGBT community. LGBT stereotypes affect everybody from the community and stop them from being their true selves so the sooner we break them, the better.
The constant pressure on LGBT people to behave in a certain way and talk in a certain tone or dress a certain type of clothes in order to be labeled gay or bi or trans puts huge pressure on them. That pressure makes a lot of them hate who they are or ignore their own needs for years to avoid being abused and criticized.
Examples of these stereotypes exist everywhere around the world, and here are some of the common ones:
“You’re a man, how come you wear makeup? You must be gay”
This one could be too common that everyone knows about. Makeup is believed to be a tool that girls use to get boy’s attention which is an old belief that we don’t even need to talk about.
Makeup is one way for people to take care of themselves and to look beautiful. Men who wear makeup aren’t all gay and are definitely not in any way less masculine than the ones who don’t wear makeup. Men who wear makeup, regardless of their sexuality, are the bravest because they choose to do what they want over being accepted by others.
It’s important to mention that not only men are victims here because women are raised and taught to believe that men who wear makeup aren’t good enough for them to date and that they are only gays who have not yet come out. It’s important to raise awareness about this topic so our society gets to a level of acceptance that allows everyone to pick who to date without being affected by all these old restrictions.
“If you keep wearing T-shirts and hoodies all the time, no guy will ever want you”
Let’s get one thing straight, women are criticized regardless of what clothes they’re wearing. It’s always too short, or too long, or too big in size, or too small in size to be worn.
Bi girls might be the ones to be criticized the most for their style because when they wear clothes the society considers femme, they are seen as straight but pretending to be bi for attention. If bi girls, on the other hand, wear clothes the society considers too masculine, then they’re considered lesbians.
“You dye your hair pink or green, there’s no way you’re straight”
In Iraq, black, blond, and brown are considered to be the professional and accepted hair colors so dying your hair with any colors other than these three can put you in trouble. You can be rejected in a job interview simply because your hair is pink because the employer thinks that she/he has the responsibility of getting the company new employees who don’t affect the company’s reputation negatively. Offering a person with colored hair a job can put the company at risk of losing its good reputation and therefore its customers.
Other than the possibility of losing the job opportunity, you’re probably going to get criticized and have your character questioned on a daily basis by strangers and friends, and members of your family. You have to think millions of times before getting your hair dyed and you might in the end regret doing it because of the troubles that it could get you in.
“You can’t be considered fully a man unless you can get a woman pregnant”
There’s no doubt that transgender people deal with the highest rate of discrimination and unfortunately, a high percentage of them commit suicide every year due to hatred and abuse.
Conservative societies classify their citizens into women and men and put on each, the responsibility to achieving certain things in order to be considered normal and fit. Transmen aren’t seen as real men because they can’t make a woman pregnant and therefore are constantly compared to cisgender men who seem in this case to be privileged.
“Femme men are all gays and tomboys are all lesbians”
Men have to have deep voices, big bodies, and short hair, this is how most people identify men and believe the rest who don’t have these characteristics to be gay. Gay men, specifically femme gay men, are seen as weak and therefore aren’t good enough to join the military or the police or do any other jobs that are considered manly.
Similarly, all tomboys are expected to grow up to be lesbians. A lot of people tend to assume tomboys sexual preferences and therefore their sexuality. To make it clear, a lot of women enjoy having short hair, playing video games, and enjoy driving trucks so let’s learn to normalize all this.
LGBT Stereotypes are too many and are too unfair and most of these assumptions that people make about each other tend to be false in the end. No one can predict someone’s gender or sexuality by looking at their nails or their clothes or the color of their hair. People, regardless of how they like to label themselves, must have the freedom to make any changes to their style that allow them to feel proud and happy when looking in the mirror. Let’s all work to unlearn the toxic habits that we were once taught and learn to give each other a safe space to be who we want to be.
IraQueer is excited to welcome a new Executive Director who will start leading the organization this month. The new ED brings with him years of experience working with Iraqi and international organizations advocating for human rights of different groups. The board and the team are eager to support the new ED over the course of the coming months and years. Amir Ashour, the outgoing ED and the founder and chair of the board said "Being the founder of IraQueer, the organization and the future movements are the most important things to me. It was key to appoint someone who is passionate and dedicated for the work we do. All of us at the board believe this new ED is the right person to lead us. We are all committed to ensuring his success, therefore, the success of the organization and the movement."
IraQueer's new ED has chosen to stay anonymous for the time being as he hopes to be able to conduct more fieldwork inside Iraq. As he starts his new role, the new ED shared some of his thoughts with IraQueer's community. He said
"For the past nine years, I have joined several organizations fighting for the human rights of different groups. In each job, I committed to advocating for marginalized groups, whether it was women, refugees and IDPs, ISIS survivors, or LGBT+ people in Iraq. Working with these communities gave me the chance to see myself and the world differently. Today, I believe that I am a better person because of them.
Joining IraQueer was an easy choice. I have been following the organization's work since it was established. The work IraQueer has done for the Queer community in Iraq has inspired me and encouraged me to join the team. With my new colleagues, we are dedicated to reaching out to even more Iraqis. By working with them, we want to expand our advocacy work locally and internationally and have all their voices heard.
Today as I am joining this amazing team, I am excited to work with them, and with members of the board, our funders, and partners. I would like to thank everyone for their trust and support. I know together we can build a better future for the organization and for all the Queer Iraqis."
IraQueer is excited to announce the appointment of a new board consisting of seven LGBT+ Iraqis. The appointment of this board marks a historic milestone for IraQueer and the larger queer movement in Iraq as it’s the first publicly known organization to have a board consisting of only LGBT+ Iraqis.
The new board, which includes IraQueer’s founder, has members representing different parts of Iraq and different identities within the LGBT+ community. They bring with them a wide range of experiences as they work in different sectors including nonprofits and humanitarian organizations, education, and finance.
Most members of the board have chosen to stay anonymous for the time being giving the security risks that come with being public. However, this choice will not impact their ability to serve the organization and the wider LGBT+ community in Iraq. In fact, all board members are determined to use all their connections and resources to empower the organization and the LGBT+ community in Iraq.
One board member said “I joined IraQueer because I found a community where I can be myself, create bonds, and learn from similar experiences. I want the world to know that we exist and that we’ll always resist. I want to keep supporting IraQueer until we have an office in every Iraqi city.”
Another board member said “I joined because I believe that everyone deserves to love, be loved, and respected for who they are. Everyone deserves to be free without and live without fear. We at IraQueer believe in a safer Iraq for all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation or/and gender expression.” She continued to highlight the impact of IraQueer’s work and her hopes for the future; “I hope that we can create a safer place for LGBT+ citizens. We will support and advocate for them until LGBT+ Iraqis are recognized as equals, and I know the future is going to be better for us.”
For the next three years, members of the board are eager to work with IraQueer’s new Executive Director and the rest of the team to not only support IraQueer in continuing the work we’ve been doing for nearly seven years, but to also take it to the next level and continuing to push for a future in Iraq where the right of LGBT+ citizens are protected.
The 31-year-old non-binary British-Iraqi, Amrou Al-Kadhi tells their story of being a drag queen that originally comes from an Arab and Islamic background. Amrou, who uses Glamrou as their drag name, has been doing drag shows since 2016 and they’re here to talk about their childhood and the obstacles they’ve been through to finally reach a place where they feel happy and empowered.
Amrou says, “During my childhood, I lived between Bahrain and Dubai till I was 11. For the most part, my experience in the Middle East was great – I loved the cultural emphasis on family, and my house was always full with relatives and noise. Always big family lunches and dinners, and the focus on respecting your elders was really important and it was something that made me feel very warm and safe whilst I was growing up. Unfortunately, I don’t see as much of an emphasis on taking care of your family in the UK (especially with the elderly).
While living in the Middle East, I did have some negative experiences – particularly when Islam class started warning me about the hellish consequences of homosexuality, which made me very scared about who I was; in Islam, there is a lot of “sin-counting,” and once I started realizing I was different, I developed OCD because I was so worried about the sins I was accumulating. So yes, my mental health deteriorated quite quickly during that time.
Living in the Middle East had an impact on my way of thinking about my sexuality. I was obviously very young when I was in the Middle East, but to be honest, there was so little representation or discussion about queer lives, that I didn’t really have the language or conception of it. I think that added to my fear because I wasn’t even sure my experiences were valid or were allowed to exist, and that kind of made me feel invisible.
At an early age, Allah was a source of unconditional support and love; I really believed they loved me no matter what, and this was very comforting. When I started to learn about hell, and the terrifying consequences of sin, I became less comforted by Allah, and much more terrified. Allah sort of took the form of a patriarchal dictator rather than a source of maternal comfort.
When it comes to the relationship with my family and specifically my mother, I have to say that she is one of the most hilarious people I have ever known. Despite being strict and conservative, she lives for social performance and treats every social occasion like a night at the Met Gala. Before my sexuality became an issue in the family, I would help mama get dressed and we had a kind of secret bond based on a revelry of femininity. In many ways, she was the beginning of my love of drag. So my drag character, Glamrou, is very much an homage to the mother I loved and cherished before things got complicated. She had a pretty horrendous reaction to my sexuality and gender identity during my teenage years, which has left deep emotional scars, and I am still working through those. But I don’t hold a grudge. She is a victim of her own circumstances, and she was doing what she thought she needed to do to protect me from the judgment of the community, even if she went about this in terrible ways.
After all I’ve been through, my journey of healing and self-acceptance started in my late 20s. I had been a drag queen for about 6 years at this point, but my drag was very much a façade and a front – like I was telling the world that I was fine and completely proud and in charge of my queer identity, when in fact I still harbored a lot of shame and trauma from my childhood.
It was only during a show at the age of 27, when I started using drag to explore my vulnerabilities and my trauma on stage that I was able to process them and heal. In a way, my drag had to become much more honest for this to happen. And I remember that my first drag show was a hot mess. I had no idea what I was doing, and I rented out a crypt at university to do it. I looked terrible and I was petrified. But the second I went on stage, I found a confidence I never knew I had in me.
I receive criticism and I get threats from white supremacists who hate the fact that I make fun of British culture in my shows, transphobes continually spew hate at me, and I get threats from conservative Muslims who hate the fact that I sing to Allah during my performances. But mostly, I get love from the people who come to support me, and that’s what I hold on to. The love does drown out the hate.
Regardless of all the hatred, I keep doing what I love and for that I wrote my book “Unicorn”. The book is a memoir exploring reconciling being queer and Muslim, particularly trying to make sense of the relationship with my mother. I wrote the book so that other queer Arabs could have somewhere to see themselves and process their own feelings, as well as a way in which to process my own trauma and move beyond it.
My message to Iraqi queers who are dealing with hatred is to remember that whatever people will try and make you believe, understand that it’s not your fault. Allah loves you as you are, and your chosen family is out there, waiting for you.”
Get to know Glamrou by following them on Instagram and Twitter
WARNING: CONTAIN MENTION OF SUICIDE, SELF-HARM AND BLOOD.
Non-binary is a term that’s easy to understand, yet not enough people seem to have any idea of what it’s. As a kid, you might have asked your parents about what it means to be a “woman” or a “man” and their answer was likely to be as follows, “when a mother gives birth to a baby, the doctor looks at the newborn’s body and decides the baby’s sex. If the sex was female, we give that baby a “she/her” pronouns and if the sex was male, we give that baby a “he/him” pronouns”. Well, that’s kind of not true because someone’s gender can’t be decided based on their sex. Gender is a wide spectrum that includes many identities and people might fall under any of them or none of them based on their internal feeling of who they’re. Keep in mind that your parents, your doctor, or your friends don’t have the right to decide it for you.
Some kids might grow to use the same pronouns that was assigned to them at birth while others might feel the need to change it and that brings us to the term “non-binary”. Non-binary people don’t fit into the categories of “woman” or “man”, “female” or “male” and for that, they get to decide on their pronouns based on how they feel on the inside.
As we all know, women use the pronouns “she/her” while men use the pronouns “he/him” but WHAT ABOUT NON-BINARY PEOPLE? Well, while some non-binary individuals choose to use the pronouns “they/them”, there’re still ones who use “she/her” or “he/him” and others who might choose some other pronouns like xe, ze, sie, and so on.
Just like non-binary people get to decide the pronouns that fits them the most, they also get to decide on how to express their gender identity through their clothes and behavior. Non-binary people are allowed to express their gender identity the way that suits them and gives them the most comfort. And other people around them should learn to considerate and respectful.
While people in some countries around the world have enough knowledge about non-binary, people in Iraq continue to use only the two common pronouns which are “she/her” and “he/him”. Here in Iraq, people’s pronouns get decided early at birth and continue to be used until the day they die. There’s not any consideration given to non-binary people and that could lead them to feel odd.
As an Iraqi who’s trying to support non-binary Iraqis, learn to ask everyone new you meet for their pronouns instead of guessing it because you really never know what a person feels inside. In the beginning, it might seem confusing to learn people’s pronouns and you might make some mistakes here and there but what matters is that you keep trying.
A lot of Iraqi non-binary people have bad experiences that they need to talk about and Noor is one of them. Noor is a fourteen-year-old non-binary individual who uses the pronouns “she/her”. Noor never felt that he/him, which was the pronouns assigned to her at birth, was the right pronouns.
She says, “”He/him” pronouns is used to refer to me by everybody but it never seemed the right pronouns. Eventually, I started using “she/her” pronouns which I found to be the most appropriate.
If someone asks me what non-binary is, I would say it’s the way you feel inside about yourself that doesn’t consider the standards of society or the gender roles that are set to control people. Simply, being non-binary means having the freedom of choosing yourself.
Personally, I care a lot about fashion so what I wear is affected by that more than it’s affected by my gender identity. It doesn’t matter to me whether what I wear tends to be more feminine or masculine. The most important thing to me is to look beautiful. I love makeup too! But I need to be too careful when putting any on my face. I only wear it in my room late at night when my family is asleep and I need to take it off before I go to bed. I put some when I go to places that are full of queer people, like parties and so. And there was only one time when I had makeup on my face while I was out in a public place and that was the same day I tried to commit suicide.
Sadly, my family isn’t supportive! We’re always arguing and these arguments might turn into something really bad. Sometimes, they see my outfit, which they consider inappropriate to be worn in our Iraqi society, and they react in extremely rude and harsh ways. These arguments usually end up with physical assault, swearing, and grounding. Unfortunately, it’s not any better outside my household. I get harassed in many different ways, by strangers in malls and parks and public places and even school.
I tried talking to my mother about sexuality in general and about my identity in particular but her reaction was too bad. She got mad and told my father and many problems happened so I never discussed the topic with any of them after that. Unfortunately, talking to a therapist hasn’t been in any way better than talking to my parents. I’ve been going to a therapist behind my parent’s back! The bad news is that even my therapist turned to be homophobic and that means she can’t be someone I can talk honestly with about my identity.
Not being accepted by others my age at school, struggling to wear what I want, and dealing with constant harassment made me lose my will to live and made me wish I was different than who I’m.
It has been five months since my first attempt to commit suicide and only few weeks since my last attempt. I tried to hang myself multiple times but every time I did that, I ended up waking in a hospital. In my last attempt, I tried to cut my wrist but also woke up at the hospital surrounded by family members. I lost a lot of blood that day so it took me a while to get better! And when I did get better, my family members started threatening to kick me out if I did anything similar again.
The situation is quite bad but I keep hoping that things get better one way or another and that I can wake up in a better place with better people who understand me and love me for who I’m.”
After nearly seven years, I will be leaving my position as the Executive Director of IraQueer. Starting IraQueer and leading it has been the greatest honor of my life. Together with my colleagues, we have managed to create resources for queer Iraqis that never existed before us. We have provided medical and legal services, and offered safe housing for hundreds of people who needed them. We have produced radio programs talking about LGBT+ rights and queer people that reached hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And we have lobbied world leaders to put pressure on Iraq to recognize human rights of LGBT+ Iraqis. Lobby efforts that led to the Iraqi government recognizing the right to life for all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in front of the international community. While I will be leaving my current position, I will not be fully leaving IraQueer. I will join six other brilliant LGBT+ Iraqis to sit on the board! Together, we are determined to provide the team with all the support we can give to make sure that they are able to continue their groundbreaking work.
In addition to the new board, IraQueer will have a new Executive Director. The new director who chose to stay anonymous for the time being, brings years of experience with him and is keen to take IraQueer’s work to the next level. Together with the rest of the team, they are determined to continue advocating on behalf of LGBT+ Iraqis.
The historic milestones that we reached at IraQueer wouldn’t have been possible without all the people who contributed to and supported the organization. All the volunteers and queer Iraqis who believed in us. All the partners and allies who used their resources and expertise to develop our movement. And most importantly, my colleagues at IraQueer, the young queer activists who risk their lives to defend LGBT+ Iraqis and their rights. It’s been the highlight of my career to work with and learn from you all.
- Amir Ashour
Pride Month happens in June of every year and is considered a great opportunity for queers all around the world to organize different events to spread awareness about the discrimination the LGBT+ community faces and to remember how much impact the community has on the world. During the month, many NGOs that fight for human rights, allies, and queers themselves share an enormous amount of information about what it’s like to be queer plus stories from the community on different social media platforms and websites that could be accessed by everyone.
Kareem, Marselen, and Sara are three Iraqi queers who share their stories with us and talk about what Pride Month means to them:
“Learning how to accept myself as a queer has allowed me to accept other people’s differences”
-Kareem, 23 year old queer man, Najaf city.
Kareem says, “Understanding my sexuality and learning about the LGBT+ community has helped me surround myself with more people from the community and allies who have been giving me enough confidence to be myself.
I can say that my circle of friends has changed a lot since the time I came out and since I started showing my support to the community. Being myself meant losing some friends who were not supportive while gaining better friends from the community who let me express my sexuality comfortably.
And when it comes to Pride Month, the thing I love the most about it is how much attention the community gets! The whole world talks about us and we get the chance to educate others and spread love and awareness. And as part of the community, I say that with or without the support of the society, we will continue existing and fighting and we will not stop until we put an end to all this injustice and suppression.”
“Everyone deserves to be loved! And whether that love comes from someone from the same sex or the opposite sex, this shouldn’t be a problem or a threat to anybody.”
-Marselen, 20 year old lesbian.
“Since the day I figured out my sexuality, I’ve been careful when choosing the ones I tell about it because I understand that some people could show a lot of hatred once they know you’re different than them.
I try to keep the list of people I tell too short and I always choose the ones who are open-minded and supportive! But still, with all that, I’ve lost some friends when they knew I support the LGBT+ community.
But regardless of whether people describe same-sex love as a dirty thing or a mental illness and regardless of all the hatred, I believe that everyone deserves to be valued and loved for who they are.
And to me, every month of the year feels like Pride Month because I’m always proud to be part of the LGBT+ community. Still, I know how many changes could happen by celebrating it every year. Pride Month is important because it’s a memorial month of all the queers who got killed or tortured or took their own lives because of the hatred they had to deal with.
But let us not forgot that when it comes to being an Iraqi queer, Iraq is not a safe place for us so my advice to all of you as members of the community is to be careful who to tell about your sexuality. You as queers don’t need to be out to be considered valid so don’t push yourselves to tell people who might end up causing you pain. And remember that you are not hiding your identity because you are doing something wrong but because you are living in a place whose people lack the proper knowledge to accept you. Love yourselves as you are, always support each other, and be safe.”
“Realizing I’m pansexual has not changed me as a person but it definitely has made me more conscious after realizing that not everybody around me is supportive or understanding”
-Sara, 20 year old pansexual, Erbil
“Since the time I became honest about my sexuality with others, I lost a bunch of friends at once and I suffered from both mental and physical abuse. I’ve indeed lost them, but I got the chance to meet new people from the community and allies who love me and accept me for who I’m. And all I can say is that being queer, especially in a country like Iraq, has its ups and downs.
Unfortunately, Pride Month is something I have not personally witnessed or experienced but I know how important celebrating it is to remember the people who fought and suffered to get even a little bit of recognition from the world and others who died protesting for our rights and I have nothing but utter respect for all of them and I hope that we get more recognition in the years to come.
Until I get the chance to celebrate Pride Month, I’ll try my best to enjoy it online. I’m connected with queer people from many countries around the world who share stories and pictures with me of the events they attend during this month and I hope that one day I’ll get the chance to be with them.
Meanwhile and until all Iraqis get the opportunity to celebrate it the way they love, I tell everyone from the community not to give up on who they are and to try their best to ignore hatred. One day we’ll find support and love within this society or outside.”
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.