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Friday, 7 October 2011

Why Syrian LGBT people should join the revolution

01a.ShaamNewsNetwork.WhiteHouse.WDC.6August2011Image by ElvertBarnes via Flickr
By Sami Hamwi, Syria Editor of Gay Middle East

Seven months ago, most Syrian gay men I know were either neutral or pro-Assad. While many have decided later to be on the side of the revolution, some, surprisingly, still believe that this regime is the best for them. However, hope now is in lesbians who have more resilience to fight against this oppressive regime.

I have witnessed over the years how this regime was everything but tolerant when it comes to LGBT people.
  • 1980’s and 1990’s were almost the same for gay men in Syria. Back then, only the lucky ones had land phones. Telecommunications in Syria were an image of the 1960’s communications in most other countries. I still remember the angry voice of the centralist when I used to call my grandmother, who actually was related to us somehow! Those difficulties worked side by side with the paranoia most gay Arabs have to limit any possibility of regular inter-gay relationships or friendships.
  • 1995 marked my first tries to explore cruising areas. I was often harassed by policemen and/or secret police, who have always tried to intimidate young people to fulfill their sick needs of control.
  • In 1996, I was asked several times by secret police for my ID, and told not to sit or go to certain places at certain hours i.e. “not to cruise during peak cruising hours”, if I want to avoid “social humiliation” as they eloquently said.
  • In 1998, I personally witnessed a raid on a park in Aleppo. It was horrifying… People were beaten and dragged to police cars. I remember thinking that I have to run in order not to be identified as a “regular cruiser”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only raid I have witnessed.
  • In 2001, nearly a year after Bashar al-Assad became the current illegitimate president of Syria, raids were made on hammams and cruising areas in Damascus and Aleppo. Police and secret police raided gay places and parties for the next 9 years. Some raids were more regular and reoccurring to form real campaigns targeting gay people in the years of 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010.
  • In 2010, when gay life in Syria started to take some kind of a shape and form, police started their most vicious campaign targeting hammams, cruising areas, and gay parties. More than 35 men were arrested in a single gay party and were exposed to their families and communities. The lucky ones managed to escape to other countries, and the rest were left to face the social punishment.
Lesbians are highly persecuted by family members if they tried to express their sexuality in any form. The regime’s claims about women being equal to men before the law are mere lies to anyone who knows how the Syrian society functions. I personally know someone who was literally sold to an older man as a “wife”, while in fact she is more like a servant to him and to his family only because she told her older sister “I am attracted only to girls, I cannot imagine myself with a man”.

I remember the day when former Tunisian president Bin Ali fled Tunisia to be the day that brought back my long lost dream of living in free Syria. While I was surrounded by people like me at work, who have always dreamt of a free country, some of my gay friends shocked me with their ignorance of what had been happening to us, gay people, in Syria, and with their little remembrance of what has been happening to gay people over the last decade. Most of them have always known my political views and some of them stopped or at least avoided being in contact with me.

It is a fact that this revolution had reshaped my social relationships. For example, my uncles have become in real enmity with me because most of them do not want the change to reach Syria. However, this doesn’t change the fact that I had never been in good terms with them even before this revolution started.

The last seven months have also revolutionised my homophobic friends’ views on homosexuality with more gays and lesbians joining our group of activists. I preferred to keep my sexuality hidden from them for years, and at some points I regretted it, especially now when I hear the words “gay” and “lesbian” spoken with lesser hate and more acceptance. Nevertheless, I still find it too soon to dream of acceptance by those people who I admire for their courage because homophobic jokes and statements are still being made in the absence of other LGBT people. Yet, it is a dream this revolution has revived as well as many other long lost dreams.

Gay people of Syria should follow the lead of Syrian lesbians who have been fighting for freedom. It is the time for dreams, even though the most desired dream is yet to be accomplished.
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