LGBT community fear living openly in Kurdista
A wall in the city of Sulaimani, Kurdistan Region, displays art and a message of co-existence. File photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Imagine living a lie. A life of lies, secrecy and often depression only to conform to cultural norms so that you or your family isn’t endangered or murdered.
This is the case for the LGBT community in Kurdistan. Many have gone through their life living under a veil of shame, pain, resentment and confusion because of who they are and not “what” they were taught to be.
Many people in Kurdistan are often surprised to find out that an LGBT community exists here while others actually believe that there are "no gay people in Kurdistan". Others believe it's a sickness that can be cured with medical, psychological, or spiritual treatment, which logically isn't the case.
LGBT communities do exist in Kurdistan in all ethnicities, religions and cities, and some of them have removed the veil of silence and secrecy to be heard.
Farshid, a 32-year-old man from Iranian Kurdistan now living in Europe, said he was about 9 years old when he realized he was “different.”
"I was nearly 9 when I realized that I had a different sexual preference,” said Farshid. "It was complicated in the beginning. I only knew that I liked men and I had no feelings about women. I continued living with a feeling of being ashamed. Due to religion and Islamic law, homosexuality is a big sin and crime and the punishment is death.
"Living in a Muslim country I experienced a life full of shame, fear, daily stress and low self-confidence because I was living and carrying a mentality that my family and society gave me. It was so difficult that several times I thought about suicide. But the only thing that kept me from doing it was my love to my mom and my family."
"Despite living in a free country now, it's still difficult to accept myself and realize that I have the right to live as any other human being because I have a different sexual preference," he added "I blame this all on the society that I grew up in."
While same-sex sexual activity is technically legal under Iraqi Penal Code which applies to the Kurdistan Region, the LGBT community often come under harsh scrutiny in a conservative, religious society where preferring the opposite sex as a partner is still taboo.
David, a 25 year old accountant and Arab from Baghdad who now lives in Erbil, detailed how he was attacked twice, once for being suspected as gay in Baghdad as well as in Erbil.
"In Baghdad, some street boys suspected me of being gay and they attacked me, hitting me, kicking me and tearing my clothes off. In Erbil, I was sitting in a car with a friend kissing when some men came from out of nowhere and attacked us. They beat us for an hour and a half. We pleaded with them to leave us alone and not report us to the police. We were still taken to the police and had to sign a pledge not to repeat the offense,” he detailed.
David explained of stories he's heard of Iraqi police officers arresting gay men or those suspected of being gay who were imprisoned. As soon as they were released they were killed by their families.
"They were killed by being beaten with building bricks on their heads and other brutal ways," he added.
In general, most people within the LGBT community say they feel relative safety, but only because they work hard at hiding their sexual affiliation.
Others live in constant fear, with Aziz, a 19-year-old Kurdish student from Duhok living in Erbil saying: "I personally don't feel safe at all, this place likes to dictate what people say and how they think and you will get punished or killed by the authorities if you publicly defy the system."
Aziz said his family doesn't know for sure if he is gay, but one family member who suspected it threatened to "bury him alive.”
Aziz thought he was going through a phase when he was 13 and liked having sexual interactions with other boys because it was "somehow more accessible" but the feeling grew stronger as he got older and he now finds himself in a place where he wants to have a mutually loving long-term relationship.
Mahmoud, a 32-year-old Turkmen working in education from Kirkuk also fears for his safety.
"The danger comes from the community and their anger about being gay because there is no law to protect us from being killed. That has happened many times to men and women. That happened last year to someone I knew," he explained.
Everyone who spoke with Rudaw said some of the biggest challenges faced by the LGBT community is to hide your sexuality and pressure from their families to get married and have children or getting used to being alone.
Nasr, a 24 year old company manager and Kurd from Sulaimani living in Erbil said that there is pressure not just from the family.
"The society discriminates against unmarried people generally, gay or not," he said. "You can't even live anywhere in peace if you are not married. They even discriminate in governmental establishments."
Nasr realized he was attracted to men when he was around 8 years old. Growing up in a religious family and being religious himself as a teenager, he felt shame and intentionally hurt himself wanting to redeem himself from what was believed to be a sin, to a point of contemplating suicide.
Women in the LGBT community in Kurdistan often have a harder time talking about their sexuality than the men do.
Neem, a 34-year-old healthcare professional and Kurd from Tuz Khurmatu living in Sulaimani said she was scared when she realized she was attracted to both men and women.
"The biggest challenge for me as a bisexual girl is telling a potential partner that I'm equally attracted to men and women," she explained. "They usually think that I'm not loyal or I'll eventually leave them for the opposite gender."
Blue, a 17-year-old Kurdish girl from Sulaimani realized she had an attraction to girls when she was around 11. She said that she didn't think it was a big deal at first but realized it could be dangerous in this society.
"I've had people try to "make me straight" and I lost my best friend of nine years once she found out I'm a lesbian," Blue said, adding that if her parents found out, "I'd definitely be killed."
Noor is a 20 year old student in Erbil originally Arab from Baghdad who is bisexual.
"I tried to deny for a long time but after falling for a girl at 15, it was impossible to deny it after that so I decided that I am who I am, that I should love and accept myself for who I am," she said. "Now I've fully accepted my sexuality and I'm even proud of it. You are who you are and you have to love and accept that self."
Noor also had a message for other people who may be struggling with their sexuality in Kurdistan that mimicked the advice of others interviewed.
"No matter what anyone tells you or criticizes you or even if they send you hate messages for being a part of the LGBTQ community, remember that you're perfectly normal. Nothing's wrong with you no matter what anyone ever tells you. You should be able to be your true self and love it,” she said
Foreigners also struggle with the same issues as others in the local LGBT community and have to mask themselves to blend in.
Jason, a 29-year-old analyst from America said he was around 12 years old when he realized he was gay and when his family later found out, he was kicked out of his home.
"Fortunately, my family is not going to kill me. That is a real threat for some people who are from here. However, my danger is ensuring my life progress is not interrupted. Being too public could ruin my career opportunities," he said.
However, he explained how it is easier for males in Kurdistan to meet and date.
"Because we live in a gender-segregated society here, it is easy to travel together, go out together, and even rent rooms together as two men, he explained. "People scrutinize a man and a woman or two women alone much more.
"However, two men enjoy a lot of social freedom without being assumed to be gay. This gives us a general freedom in Erbil, surprisingly more than In the United States. In the United States, there is a huge stigma to friendship and closeness between men and everyone would assume we were gay (and attack us) if we were there."
What does the LGBT community want in society?
"We want you to know we are everywhere. Maybe at your home as a brother or sister maybe at work as your coworker or at your school... So please accept us. That's all what we want," said Mahmoud from Kirkuk.
Source Rudaw By A.C. Robinson 29/1/2019