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.