Over five weeks between March and April, Syrian police and Secret Service agents have raided gay parties and cruising areas arresting more than 25 men for “having a homosexual act”, “dealing, buying or consuming illegal drugs”, “organising illegal ‘obscene’ parties”, “facilitating drug dealing and consuming”, and “encouraging homosexual acts.” Basically, all things that would shut down the average American gay bar.
A senior Syrian police officer handling the anti-gay campaign says, “Syrian authorities’ major interest is the safety of people, we targeted those parties only because of the increasing rate of drug use, while our presence in those parks and squares is because of the increasing rate of robberies.”
Call me crazy, but gay men trying to avoid the police don’t spend their time in public robbing people and pushing drugs. So the police line may sound nice, but it’s also patently false. When you’re raiding private parties and then charging men with “encouraging homosexual acts,” that’s not law enforcement, it’s institutionalized homophobia and human rights violations.
But what’s more heartbreaking is that many of these men are still in police custody (see: prison) because their families refuse to visit — or bail them out. At first glance it may sound like the Muslim country’s filled with homophobic conservative families, but their refusal to get involved may hint at a more insidious part of Syrian life.
Members of Syria’s Secret Service regularly blackmail, harass, and use members of the LGBT community for their own political means. If someone’s a known homosexual, police can monitor your activity and threaten you with imprisonment whenever they like. And if your family accepts you and gives you any means whatsoever to express your sexuality — a bed to sleep with men, internet access to get gay news, or a space to call gay friends — they’re basically harboring and aiding a criminal, leaving them susceptible to police charges and manipulation as well. No wonder families would rather not get involved.
A gay arrest in Syria is a scarlet letter. These men will likely remain ostracized by their communities, unable to get jobs, and open to arrest for the rest of their lives. Embracing them only leaves their family members open to the same fate. The state’s use of families as a tool against homosexuality is the cruelest punishment of all.