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Meet Nayyef Hrebid, the former translator for the Marines during the Iraq war. In a new interview with Vice, Hrebid and his husband Btoo Allami recall their time meeting and falling in love during the war, the struggle to keep their relationship secret amid “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and their eventual escape to marriage in the United States.
“I was born in Kuwait, but grew up in Iraq, where I first realized I was different in school,” Hrebid explained. I remember thinking about a guy at high school and feeling like I was doing something wrong and I had to be better. My family knew I was different too.”
As the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Hrebid decided to enlist with the US Marines as a translator; he’d learned English from listening to American musicians such as Madonna and Britney Spears. The war and subsequent insurgency tested Hrebid’s coping skills; several run-ins with IUDs made him begin to reevaluate his priorities in life, and his underlying need to find love. Then, one day, love found him.
“I was working with the Marines training the new Iraqi army in Ramadi,” Hrebid recalled. “One day I was in the showers, and this soldier with the Iraq army stepped out with his hair so black, shining in the sun and I was like, oh, there is a handsome guy here! But this was the military; we weren’t allowed to come out, so I just kept looking at him and never said anything. I knew his name was Btoo, but I didn’t even know if he was gay or straight.”
“Not long after,” he continued, “we were put on a mission together to clear a hospital of terrorists. So that night, at the hospital, I finally had a chance to talk with Btoo. We sat down together in the dark and we started talking. I told him like ‘hey, I have a friend of mine who loves his friend.’ I started talking to him like that, because I wasn’t sure if he was gay. But he was accepting everything I said. He added his own stories and we sat like that for many nights talking about how I felt about my friends and how he felt about his friends. Finally, we looked at each other and we started kissing. That’s how I realized he was gay.”
Nyyef and Btoo began meeting up in hotel rooms or wherever else they could for a little private time, and to comfort each other as the violence worsened. Accepting that either of them could die in the line of duty, they began to formulate a plan to emigrate to the United States where queer culture flourishes. Nyyef ended up getting asylum thanks to his work as a translator and moved to the US. He’d hoped Btoo could soon follow, but the US kept denying him entry. Finally, Canada granted Btoo asylum, and Nyyef journeyed there to meet him whenever possible. For two and a half years they maintained a long-distance, multi-national relationship. Then, with the coming of LGBTQ protections–including marriage equality–under the Obama Administration, the two decided to take a gamble.
“At that time, Obama legalized gay marriage so I said to Btoo, ‘let’s get married in Canada, and see if I could apply for you to come live with me in the United States’. So that’s exactly what we did. We got married on Valentine’s Day 2014. We then did the paperwork, and went for a visa interview and they told us ‘Congratulations, you’ve been issued a visa to go and live in the United States.’ Btoo and I were just quiet. I looked at this woman and said, ‘can you say that again?’ And she said ‘we can issue him a visa.'”
“We got out the door of the council offices and I did the highest, loudest scream of my life,” Nyyef said. “I screamed because it was so much waiting. I just always wanted to take care of him; I wanted to make sure that when he left everything in Iraq, I was here for him. Love is not just a feeling when you meet a person. Love is what you can do for that person.”
“We share our story to educate the new generation,” he concludes. “So many people just associate homosexuality with sex, but they forget about love. And for me and Btoo, our story shows everyone what we’ve been through, and what we’ve done for love.”
Well done, boys.