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Monday, 30 May 2011

The lives of LGBT Iraqis in Jordan

Source: An epilogue to a black orchid

The lives of many Arab LGBT individual symbolize human fragility, trapped in the hushed pleas for acceptance of diversity.  Admittedly, the Arab street is not homogeneous in its stance against sexual minorities; while Lebanon criminalizes homosexuality, Jordanian law leaves the issue mostly untouched -perhaps in denial, but hopefully, in protection of our community. Those who are unprotected by anti-discrimination laws do suffer; Queer individuals continue to be denied employment, housing, and education based on their sexual orientation and unorthodox gender-identity expressions.

In the lack of institutional protection, LGBT individuals in the Middle East do not only find themselves enfeebled by legal systems, but also stigmatized by their own societies. We have come across countless cases of queer individuals who are prosecuted -not by the government- but by the own local communities. Those who are LGBT and live in their home-countries fight their own battles, however, those who are queer and live as refugees suffer from what the American legal system refers to as “double jeopardy”; facing prosecution twice, once due to their refugee status, and once due to their LGBT identities.

Iraqi LGBT refugees, in particular, lead shattered lives in Jordan. I have visited many of them in prison cells that closely resemble dreary living rooms and one bedroom apartments. The agoraphobic lifestyles LGBT Iraqi refugees have been coerced into are a sign of an ingrained fear of the excessive homophobia we witness in Middle Eastern countries today. I have come to know one male-to-female transgender Iraqi refugee, who gathers the will every morning to live within her skin for one more day, swallowing the self-hate and fear of facing young homophobia lined on either side of the streets branching from her door step, armed with slurs, pebbles and whatever happens to be in their grasp; be it hot coffee, tomatoes or sandwiches. It takes unimaginable strength to endure the hit daily, and remind yourself that loving who you are is still worth it

The fear dominating the lives of LGBT Iraqis was not instilled here, Jordan merely maintained the fear. In fact, most LGBT Iraqis I have come in contact with seem to be suffering from post-traumatic stress caused by their experiences in post-war Iraq. Prior the US army invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi queer community enjoyed its LGBT-friendly bars, discos and chat rooms. There was a queer scene; in fact, a relatively open one. One LGBT Iraqi describes the clothing gay men used to wear as to “tight pants and colorful deep v-necks”, picked out with intention of labeling the owner’s sexuality. There were threats, however, posed by the tribal familial structure, which is committed to traditional Arab values and customs. Nonetheless, as long as LGBT individuals respected the dimensions of their closets, they seemed to keep safe.

Following the war, the state of lawlessness fueled sectarianism that are at the countries social fabric. The minorities of Iraq suffered the hardest hit. Militias -most notably Al-Mahid Army and League of the Righteous- began engaging in psychological and physical torture practices that exclusively targeted the queer community of Iraq. Typically, militia members forge romantic relationships with their victims, as what happened to 21 year-old A.S, a young gay Iraqi currently living in Jordan. A.S was unaware of his lover’s affiliations, until the night he visited his house for the first time, only to get brutally raped by four men (including his boyfriend), and receive a home-delivered death threat disclosing A.S’s sexual orientation to his family. While A.S is lucky to be alive, many victims are not only sexually violated but murdered; their mutilated corpses are left in public markets to serve as an example to others.

To say the least, those who carry out the rapes have adopted contradicting principles; to put it in bare expressions; by theory, straight men should be unable to have sexual relations with men. How come militias do not question the sexuality of “straight” member who enjoy raping men? Whose idea was this? And why was it that for the longest time I was under the impression that Islam is opposed to sodomy, let alone rape, no exception. Go figure.

Nowadays, with the saturation of refugee populations in Jordan, it is becoming exceedingly more difficult for Iraqi LGBT survivors to receive visas; keeping in mind that the only two kinds of visas that may get an Iraqi into Jordan are medical treatment or business visas.

These are the lives of human beings, who had to supersede cultural and religious limitations to accept themselves. These are people who continue to look at the dingy floors of their apartments  and apologize to me about about “unnatural instincts”; they apologize for having partners; for wanting resettlement in countries that may allow them to live, perhaps even live comfortably.

I cannot out myself to them, because I fear my own family.  I fear ending up on the same side of the table as them. I am scared for myself as much as I am scared of myself, so I chew on my words, and when I do write my truth, I write it under false names.

I am sorry that our homeland is so quick to abort its children. No one wants to be exiled.
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