A bloody and murderous month in Iraq left six gay men dead in two separate incidents. The deaths were incited by Shiite cleric Sattar al-Battat, who condemned homosexuality during recent Friday prayers.
This past month’s violence underscores that LGBT Iraqi’s are increasingly unsafe as American forces turn over authority to the Iraqi government. With no assistance from the Iraqi government (which outlaws homosexuality) or U.S. Forces, gay and lesbian Iraqi’s are mounting a net-centric underground railroad, raising funds to move gays and lesbians in harm’s way out of the country.
Thus far, the action has been small and homegrown– but as this weekend proves, the time has come for American LGBT people and civil rights groups to get involved.
Anti-gay violence out of control
In Baghdad’s Shiite slum known as Sadr City, two gay men were found Thursday shot to death after their families disowned them and tribal meeting led to a decision to kill the men, according to an anonymous official at Iraq’s Interior Ministry who went on to confirm 4 more deaths in the neighborhood on March 26. In those earlier cases, the bodies of the men were found with the words “pervert” and “puppy” written on their chest. “Puppy” is slang for homosexual in Iraq. Witnesses also told CNN that a Sadr City Cafe known as an LGBT gathering place was set on fire.
Sadr City is home to to a majority of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia group. The group was responsible for attacks against American forces prior to a cease-fire in May 2008. According to an A.P. report:
“Sheik Ammar al-Saadi, a cleric at al-Sadr’s office, denied any involvement by the Mahdi army in the killings. He said the Mahdi Army was only urging people to stop practicing homosexuality.
“Such people have brought shame on Sadr city people,” he told The Associated Press. “The blame falls on the security forces who do little to combat this phenomenon or to stop the flow of pornography materials into Iraq.”
It’s clear the situation in Iraq is deteriorating for gays and lesbians as the nation stabilizes. Human rights activist Peter Tatchell recently told the UK’s Guardian:
“Queers are being shot dead in their homes, streets and workplaces. Even suspected gay children are being murdered.
“The killers claim to be doing these assassinations at the behest of the ‘democratic’ Iraqi government, in order to eradicate what they see as immoral, unIslamic behaviour,” he explains.
“This programme of targeted murders has one aim, according to the death squads: the total eradication of all queers from Iraq. It is, in effect, a form of sexual cleansing. The killers boast that most ‘sodomites’ have already been eliminated.”
Furthermore, gay Iraqi’s don’t just have to fear angry mobs, but the government as well. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death and 128 gays and lesbians are on death row and the government has plans to begin executing them in batches of 20.
The LGBT group saving Iraqi lives on a shoestring
In comparison to the orchestrated extermination of gays and lesbians in Iraq, the West has offered little in the way of support. Amnesty International has demanded the names of Iraqi LGBT prisoners to little effect.
Watch a short documentary on the sexual cleansing in Iraq:
In reality, the movement to protect LGBT Iraqi’s is a one-man operation. Ali Hili runs a site called Iraqi LGBT, which serves as the West’s doorway to his efforts to save the lives of his countrymen and women. Since 2006, Hili has coordinated with outside groups and sympathizers in Iraq to set-up a series of safe houses to help gay and lesbian Iraqi’s escape the country. Hili told Pink News UK earlier this year:
“We have also assisted people to escape from Iraq to neighbouring countries, where we have established resettlement projects. Our efforts have got gay refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and we’ve already moved some of them a third safer country, in Europe or North America. These lucky ones are now beginning to rebuild their lives”
Money is a problem for the group. Three of the safe houses in Baghdad closed last year due to a lack of funds and as violence against gays and lesbians increase, so do the demands put on the group.
The site’s fundraising efforts are modest. The site asks:
“Donate to our PayPal Account : [email protected]
Or make cheque payable to (IRAQI LGBT) send it to our address:
22 Notting Hill Gate
Friends can send Donations to IRAQI LGBT:The immediate urgent priority is to Support and Donate Money to LGBT activists in Iraq in order to assist their efforts to help other Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals and Trans gender Iraqi’s facing death, persecution and systematic Targeting by the Iraqi Police and Badr and Sadr Militia and to raise awareness about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world.Funds raised will also help provide LGBTs under threat of killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses, food, electricity, medical help) and assist efforts help them seek refuge in neighboring countries.”
A call to action
This is not enough. We are calling on LGBT organizations to open their wallets and fund this effort. Whether you agree with the war or not, the U.S. gays and lesbians have a moral responsibility to step in.
The U.S. government is unlikely to interfere in an internal Iraqi matter and we can think of no greater cause worth the LGBT community’s time and focus.
Gays and lesbians enjoyed a relative degree of freedom and tolerance under Saddam Hussein’s secular Baathist regime. Since its fall, as we’ve pointed out, life has become a living hell for Iraqi gays and lesbians. Often, when other country’s target gays and lesbians, there is little we as Americans can do. Here, we are presented with a clear way of making a difference in the lives of gays and lesbians who face not just persecution, but execution and death for being gay.
There’s a rally Monday in San Francisco, but protests half a world away are not enough. A failure to take up this issue would be a black mark on any national LGBT organization. They have the resources and they have the organizational capability to fund Iraqi LGBT’s life-saving efforts. The Human Rights campaign donated $7 million to the Prop. 8 campaign. We ask them to match that amount for this effort. We hope other LGBT groups will be similarly generous. As important as gay marriage and other civil rights issues in this country are, the life-and-death struggle in Iraq is, quite simply, more important and, as this weekend proves, more urgent.
We’re asking our loyal Queerty readers to write into LGBT organizations they have donated to and ask them to get involved and to spread the word around. This issue has been barely covered by the mainstream press, but it’s an issue that we can not afford to ignore.–Japhy Grant