Being Gay in Iraq – Behind The Bars of Borders | Enana Hermez, Syria

I just completed a blogging internship with UNICEF’s Voices Of Youth. One of the assignments was to conduct an interview with an inspiring young person in my community. For my Inspire! post I chose to interview Logal Bet Kako, who is an Assyrian-Syrian gay activist advocating for the rights of the LGBT+ Community. Logal has been through a lot, but he is finally in Sweden, being himself, striving his way to become a singer and fighting for the rights of others. (You can read my full interview with Logal here: http://www.voicesofyouth.org/…/-i-m-gay–we-exist—-inspir…)

Upon publishing my interview with Logal in late August, I received a friend request from a friend of his, who was apparently living in Iraq. I checked his public posts and he seemed to be very pro-LGBT rights. However, his profile didn’t contain any personal pictures and used a fake name. This made me hesitate at first, but eventually I accepted his friend request. The next day in the morning, he sent me a message. I was too preoccupied to reply at the time, so we only chatted later that day.

I was in bed and it was a little after midnight. I went to our conversation on Messenger and found him online. I replied and quickly the three gray dots appeared at the bottom of the screen – he was typing. In the next few messages, he told me his real name and sent me a picture of himself too. I was surprised, because you don’t really expect a complete stranger to trust you immediately. Yet when he added that “Sometimes you just have to hide.”, I understood why he did, and what he meant by “hiding” – he was gay. And he trusted me because I had shown a lot of support to the LGBT+ community on my Facebook page.

However, just to make sure, I asked him about it. I said “I don’t mean to sound rude by asking questions that may be too personal. But is the reason why you have to hide is because you’re gay?” And he confirmed. I felt a stabbing pain somewhere in my chest, because I only could imagine what his life was like – being a homosexual in a country like Iraq. That is one of the toughest tasks in the world. It’s like being born into a battlefield – especially when you’re already a member of a vulnerable minority group like Saveen, who is a Chaldean Assyrian.

Later on, I asked him more questions about himself and he was very responsive, collaborating and open. He is an 18 year-old high school student with big dreams. He’s a contemporary dancer and a fashion illustrator and designer. (You can check his work in the attached pictures.) He hopes that one day, he’ll travel to New York, Paris or the Netherlands after graduating high school to achieve his goal – becoming a fashion designer. He cannot accomplish his dreams in Iraq. In fact, he can’t even be himself there. He was bullied for being gay. He has a gay friend who was raped a year ago, and is currently imprisoned. When I asked him “Is leaving Iraq the only solution for you guys?” He replied “Yes, of course. If we stay here we’ll either get killed or be forced to marry a girl.” But unfortunately, money is an issue to Saveen.

I also asked him whether people around him knew that he was gay. He said that he came out to his Mom, who was at first upset but kindly accepting him later. He also told his sister and his cousin. He came out to 3 of his closest friends too, but they stopped talking to him upon knowing that he was gay. And of course, he can’t come out publicly, since that would put his life at risk. So…he faces bullying, losing friends, and the need to hide his true self in order not to jeopardize your life. What a life, right?

And the question here is “why?.” Why does he have to go through all of this? Why does he have to endure bullying, lose his friends, live a double life, and be judged for merely the way he was born? It is an unfortunate situation to be born into such a society. A society that doesn’t care about international human rights. A society that does not get why nobody should be discriminated against for their sexuality.

So of course he wants to leave the country – that’s no surprise. And I wish I could help him so bad. But how? When Saveen asked me whether I was an activist who could help him, I couldn’t say yes. There are no active organizations in Iraq helping the LGBT+ community. I don’t have connections with people who can help him migrate. I don’t know who I should turn to. I wish I could say yes, I’m an activist. Yes, I can and will get you the hell out of there. But the ugly truth is that I can’t. I only have one way to potentially help him – my voice. I told him “I’m not an activist, but I’m a writer and a blogger. I have my voice and I will do my best with it to help you.” So today, I’m writing his story. Because his story must be told. Because his voice must be heard. And most importantly, because by making his voice heard, maybe someone will help him break free out of his prison. A prison behind the bars of the borders of Iraq.

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