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Friday, April 07, 2006

Life has only gotten worse for gay Iraqis

The end of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship did not mean more freedom for gay Iraqis. I fled to England to escape persecution. Many more gay Iraqis have not been so lucky, as I know from my work with Abu Nawas, a support group for gay Iraqis living in Great Britain. We keep in daily contact with gays still struggling for survival in today's Iraq.
There's a gay man named Tahseen, who provides shelter and food to four gay men back home with a little help from our group here in London. The men are virtually hiding out in one small room. They can't work and are afraid to be seen in public. As I sat down to write this, news came that Tahseen was assaulted by three young bearded men who attacked him in their car while he was on his way to buy bread.
Wisam is another example of a well-educated, middle-class gay man who welcomed the overthrow of Saddam and thought life would get better for him. Now conditions are so bad that he has lost hope. "I miss the old days, I miss the days of Saddam," he tells me. "I never thought I could think of saying that ever in my life."
Hassan, another gay Iraqi, has been forced to leave the family house. His family finally can attack, kill or maim him without facing prosecution and can kill him to cleanse the family's name of the "filth" of having a gay son. Hassan's brothers have joined a militia, and they despise him because of his homosexuality. They forced him to marry a girl, a union that lasted for three weeks – until his wife found out he was seeing a man.
"She called her family and my father and my brothers," Hassan says. "They all beat me and threatened to kill me. I ran away, and now I'm in hiding. I want to leave Iraq and go somewhere that is safe. Under Saddam's time, my brothers knew I was gay, and they were so afraid to hurt me because the law and the constitution protected me. Anyone who commits a crime under the Saddam regime was punished and jailed, especially the so-called 'honor killing' crimes."
Jaffar is a 27-year-old forced to marry a woman to "cure" him. His ex-boyfriend is hiding out in Jordan, where he fled to escape the Badr militia, which discovered his identity by chatting with him on a gay Web site. The Shiite militia arrested Jaffar's ex-boyfriend, and took him to a holding facility, where he claims to have seen hundreds of captives, mostly Sunnis, being tortured. Because the ex-boyfriend was Shia, he was ransomed to his family and subsequently fled to Amman. Jaffar remains behind, terrified and without hope.
B.H.K. is a 34-year-old gay stage actor who was forced to go into hiding after receiving death threats against himself and his family from the Badr militia, which raided his house several times before he finally went underground. Had he been at home, he knows he would have been kidnapped and killed. "I knew I was a fool back in 2003 when I applauded the American troops when they entered Baghdad," he tells me.
America is living in denial about what it has done to our country. Where is the freedom for gay men and women, now terrorized by armed religious fanatics? We are free – free to live in hiding, free to escape abroad for our lives or free to die for the "crime" of being gay.