SWEET HOME IDAHO

Gay Syrian Man Who Was Forced To Flee His Country Shares His Heartbreaking But Hopeful Story

Shadi_Ismail_EDITSWhen Shadi Ismail’s father caught him in bed with another guy, he took a burning coal from a hookah pipe and pressed it against his son’s arm.

“In my mind, I was thinking I deserve it because I did something wrong,” Ismail (pictured) says in a new interview with Boise Public Radio. “It was awful.”

Ismail grew up in Syria. As a child, he says he always knew he was attracted to members of the same sex. After the burning cold incident, he fled his father’s home to live with his mother. (His parents were divorced.) But, he says, the abuse didn’t stop.

One day, Ismail’s mother ordered her son to be beaten by his cousins. When Ismail eventually ran away from his mother’s home, his brother attacked one of Ismail’s friends for refusing to reveal where he had moved.

Over the years, Ismail’s house was burglarized, but he didn’t report the incident to authorities out of fear that they would require he give his real name and his family would discover where he was living. Another time, he claims he was physically attacked by three men for being gay. That incident led Ismail’s boss, who was also a closeted gay man, to encourage him to request assistance in escaping the country as a refugee.

That was about two-and-a-half years ago.

“I left everything to be who I am,” he says.

Today, Ismail lives in Boise, Idaho. It may seem like a random location to some, but according to him, it couldn’t be more perfect.

Almost immediately, he says, his life improved. Two weeks after arriving, he landed a job. And two weeks after that, he landed a second job. This enabled him to support himself financially. In addition to finding steady work, Ismail also found a roommate, who he says is now like a sister to him.

“If I don’t see her, I miss her,” he says. “This [is what] I feel is my family now. Not there [in Syria].”

Despite everything, Ismail still remains in contact with his family. One day, he called his father out of the blue.

“I did not think about it,” he says. “I [just wanted] to call him.”

Though they didn’t discuss the past or the abuse Ismail suffered at his father’s hand, Ismail says, “[It] was a very good conversation.”

Today, he sends money back to his family, though he doesn’t plan on ever returning to Syria, given the current political landscape.

“Sometimes I cry for it,” he says. “I watch it. I can’t take it.”

Instead, he is looking to the future.

Up next on his agenda: A husband, a dog, and a house.

Listen to Ismail’s full with Jodie Martinson at Boise Public Radio interview here.

Related stories:

Syria Releases 25 Gays Who Dared Attend Parties With Other Homosexuals

How Syrian Police Can Keep Gays Locked Up: Threatening Families Who Want to Bail Them Out

Does It Matter If The Syrian Kidnap Of Lesbian Blogger Is A Hoax Or Not?

Graham Gremore is a columnist and contributor for Queerty and Life of the Law. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.