Blog Posting Written by: Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, July 2012
In March of 2012, U.S. and international media outlets reported a renewed wave of violence against LGBT individuals inside Iraq. Since that time, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) has conducted nearly 50 interviews (and counting) with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis who fear persecution and/or face serious protection concerns inside Iraq because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. About 45 interviewees identify as gay males and two are transgender persons, assigned female but identifying as male.
The Current Situation on the Ground for Gay Iraqi Men:
Protection concerns and vulnerabilities vary within the gay Iraqi community depending on whether the man is able to, or chooses to, hide any outward manifestation of his sexual orientation. Those that suppress any outward manifestation of their sexuality do not face immediate physical danger. Most are able to maintain jobs and leave their homes without facing serious protection concerns, but cite the psychological aspects of hiding a huge part of their identity as unbearable, and suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, all fear being “outed” and discovered by their families who may become suspicious of their sexual orientation because the men have never been married, or have been married but are now divorced.
Those whose sexual orientation is either known to their families or the general public face severe outward, physical harm, in addition to severe psychological trauma. A small number of the men interviewed were put under house arrest by family members after their sexual identity became known. This often includes severe beatings and intense pressure to marry in order to cover up any scandal. Other men were beaten by family members, mostly fathers and brothers, but then immediately kicked out of their homes with nowhere to go. This forced them to live house-to-house, depending on sympathetic family members or friends. Even those with relatively safe housing do not leave their homes, unless it is absolutely necessary, out of fear of being harassed, found by family members wanting to harm them or picked up by police or security forces. A large number of men have been subjected to severe sexual violence, including rape, from family members, police, security forces, and members of the larger community. Many also reported physical violence at the hands of these perpetrators, and, to a lesser extent, militant groups like Jeash Al-Mahdi or Al-Haqq. Like those who have not been “outed,” a disturbing number of gay men, with whom IRAP spoke, wished they were dead, could change their sexual orientation or be “normal.”
Particular Protection Concerns and Vulnerabilities for Transgender Iraqis:
Both transgender individuals, born female but identifying as male, that IRAP interviewed stated with certainty that they would never be able to live full-time as men inside of Iraq, because of the persecution faced by LGBT individuals there. IRAP has identified several particular protection concerns and vulnerabilities for transgender individuals (although similar to gay individuals).
First, both transgender interviewees said that both gender reassignment surgery and hormonal treatments are not available within Iraq, which presents a huge obstacle to their need to live full lives as men. Both interviewees have sought treatment outside of the country, but still within the Middle East and North Africa region – specifically, Iran and Egypt, both countries with a well-documented history of persecution against LGBT individuals.
Second, transgender people are more vulnerable to attacks because they are more visible than other sexual minorities, as their appearance does not match their assigned gender at birth. One transgender interviewee reported several instances of feeling fearful and being harassed when involved in situations that required him to show his national ID – which states his gender as female, even though his appearance conforms to male gender norms. There is also a similar lack of familial support. One transgender Iraqi, who was diagnosed with “gender dysmorphia” at an early age, was beaten by his father and mislead into taking female hormones.
Third, transgender individuals have less access to resources that would enable them to leave their current situations and seek asylum in another country. This is due to their assigned sex, and to the fact that, as “daughters,” they are even more dependent on their family for money, permission to travel and a passport to do so.
Lastly, these two transgender cases have described the psychological trauma that comes with being transgender, saying they cannot stand having to live as women. One transgender interviewee, who lives as a woman to protect himself from both society and his family, stated that he hates looking in the mirror, feels isolated and has thought about suicide. The other trans individual, who lives and presents himself as a man to the public and his family, said he would rather die than have to dress or appear as a woman, and has attempted suicide on more than 10 occasions.
Overall, in spite of a decrease in media attention, the level of physical and sexual violence, and mental stress, that LGBT Iraqis face inside Iraq has not subsided since these interviews were started in March 2012. IRAP is continuing to monitor the events unfolding in Iraq concerning LGBT persons and advocate for their protection needs and resettlement to safety.