A gay voice in Iraq: "I’ve almost lost any hope for living the free and fulfilling life I aspire to"

(Editor's note: Scott Long, a visiting Fellow in the Human Rights Program at Harvard and author of A Paper Bird blog on sex, rights and the world, shares with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News this remarkable letter he received from a gay-identified man in Baghdad. It describes both the immediate fears caused by the "emo" killing campaign targeting LGBT and straight Iraqis who don't fit into "the norm," as defined by Shia law, and a longer and deeper burden of anxiety. Long edited the letter slightly for continuity and to eliminate all identifying references to protect the safety of the Iraqi. The letter follows.)

You can’t imagine my delight when I received the message you sent me on [a gay website]. I was so happy I started crying because there are others in this world who sympathize with our suffering and the dark life we’re living here in Iraq. ... I’ve almost lost any hope for living the free and fulfilling life I aspire to and I remain confined to my home...

I live near Al-Sadr city [Baghdad’s huge Shi’ite slum] ... I was born just over 30 years ago and from early in my life, I started feeling that my sexual leaning is different from that of other members of my sex. I started discovering that I’m attracted to men- yes, I started discovering that I was homosexual (mithly al-jens) or a sexual deviant (shaz jenseyan). At this point my torment started in the conflict with my family and the society I live in on one hand, and with myself on the other. There was a conflict between me as a man and my sexual desire. I kept repressed inside me that feeling which tormented me all my life, especially at the beginning of my youth. I was supposed to be enjoying the best years of my life like others, but I was far from this. ...

My problem now is that someone has photographed me having sex. That person blackmailed me and when I refused to pay him, he published the photos online. I’m in constant fear that one of my relatives or co-workers might find out about these photos, at which point they will have no mercy on me and might even kill me. I was threatened that the photos will be sent to everyone that knows me and to my family and relatives. I’m always afraid when I go down the street to buy bread, for example, or when the door bell rings. I fear that someone came to assault me. That feeling of fear dominates my life almost daily.

I’ve encountered many horrors that I was saved from almost miraculously. I was once walking on Palestine Street, when a car stopped beside me. There were three scary looking men in the car and one of them got off the car and approached me. He asked me why I had insulted his friend, because the way I was walking would attract attention in the street. The three started attacking me, so I said let’s go to the police. They were nearby. As I walked before them, they left me and went back to their car. I ran away to the side streets but they were chasing me with their car. I was running while crying and was scared to death they might catch me again. The concrete blocks in the middle of the road saved me however, because they were not able to go through these with their car.

I was assaulted and robbed of my wallet many times when I went out at night. I can’t describe the fear I feel whenever leaving my house, which makes me stop going out most of the time. One day I was at al-Zawra’a Gardens [the biggest park in central Baghdad] with a friend of mine when a policeman noticed us and then came over to arrest us. They took us to the police center where we met a[nother] police officer. The policeman who brought us said that we were “practicing sodomy” in the park, which was not true. They interrogated me and my friend separately and said they would put us in jail. We had to pay them for our release.

I was raped many times by policemen under the threat of their guns. They also threatened to surrender me to extremist groups if I refused. For me, the previous era was a golden era, because homosexuality was tolerated. I’m scared now because I expect death or beheading at any moment. Islam considers homosexuality to be a sin and the Shi'ite authority Ayatollah Al-Sistani published on his website a call to kill homosexuals. ...

We as gays do not exist in this country and we have nobody to represent us. We’re vulnerable prey for whoever wants to attack us and nobody will protect us or stand by our side. We’re excluded by most people, including our own families. One day when I was at work, my sister looked into my stuff and found a CD that had a gay porn movie on it. She knew about me, especially because she used to try to listen to my conversations on the phone with friends. She told my parents about what she found and they turned on me with hate and disgust. They began seriously thinking about forcing me to marry a female cousin to prevent any possible scandal. They pressured me and even threatened to kick me out of the house and expose me to others if I didn't marry her.

Worse than all this is that a few days ago I received a phone call from someone who said he knew where I live and [where I work]. He said he has a film of me having sex and threatened to send it to my workplace and to my family if I didn't agree to what he was asking. He wanted me to give him the names of my emo friends so they can target them. Now in Baghdad young people who wear black tight clothes and have pics of skulls and let their hair grow long are called emo female “wannabes.” These people are being killed by gangs called “Asa'ib” [presumably Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the “League of the Righteous,” a Shi’ite militia whom some blame for the current attacks] and by the Iraqi police. To these gangs emos and gays are two faces of one coin. Photos of their victims were published online and a lot of dead bodies were found in different areas of Baghdad.

I refused to give any names to that caller who threatened me, and I blocked his number. However, I still receive threats through other numbers that I don't recognize. I'm scared to death that these criminals might find out about my full name and my address through my account with the phone company I receive service from. Because if you know somebody that works at the phone company, you can very easily obtain more information about any number you have. This has happened to me once when I talked with someone on the internet and we exchanged numbers. It was only a few days before that person called and told me my full name and address. He obtained that information through my my mobile number.

The Iraqi government stands with the criminals by denying the brutal murders which take place now in Iraq and which they cover up. Gays have always been the easy victims who can't resort to anyone to protect them -- because everyone in this society excludes and ostrasizes gays. As I'm writing, my tears are pouring, because I know I might die for being gay. I wish I’d never been like this, to a degree that makes me want to die and think about suicide constantly. Sometimes I meet a close friend of mine and we hug each other and cry for how miserable our lives are. I'm a human being and we have a right to live with dignity. Why do they kill and slaughter us in the most brutal ways?! ...

Iraq today is governed by people of religion who do not tolerate any dissent and kill people with no mercy. I have friends in many places who were killed in the most brutal ways and in public for being gay. The number of people killed in the latest wave has risen to more than twenty people. Until recently I had some hope that my country's conditions might improve and that the human will be respected in Iraq. But after what's been happening recently I've lost all hope and realized that my country is heading towards the unknown.... I'm scared that I might be exposed at time at work or that my family might find out about me. I'm threatened with death because of the murders that target emos, because society here believes that gays are emos and that they're responsible for such lifestyles. I can't leave home without trying to hide. It's a war against me, inside my home and outside.

(Thanks to Samir Nisus, a young Egyptian activist, for translating this. Be sure to read his own remarkable blog, on sex, sexuality, democracy, and other cogent issues, HERE.)

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