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In commemoration of 2019 marking 50 years since the Stonewall Riots took place, the editors over at Gay Star News are inviting 50 international guest writers to offer their own stories of diversity and resilience. One of those such guests is Amir Ashour, a gay Iraqi who fled his home country for the United States after college and later founded the very first LGBTQ organization in Iraq, called IraQueer.
In his piece, Ashour speaks up about experiencing same-sex feelings as a child of 9 or 10 but not fully understanding what those feelings meant. He didn’t share those thoughts with others but also says he never considered himself ‘closeted’ and freely expressed his sexuality.
He even says that in middle school, when asked why he didn’t have a girlfriend, he’d say “because I’m not into girls.” But even that was assumed to mean he just wasn’t interested in the girls at his school.
Growing up as a gay Iraqi was difficult, he says, because kids growing up in Iraq are taught to associate homosexuality with sin and abnormality. “Hearing these words pushed me further into isolation,” Ashour says.
One way he says he proactively attempted to learn about his own feelings was to volunteer with international human rights orgs, which no doubt sparked an energy that would later result in him founding IraQueer.
But Ashour says that by the time he was in college, he was “vocal about LGBTI rights” and that “rumors were everywhere.” It was because of his publicly advocating for queer people that this gay Iraqi eventually had to flee his home country. “The more visible I became, the more difficult it was for me to stay,” he says.
“Iraq has a lot of great achievements and positive points, but for LGBTI people, our identities are the equivalent of a death sentence,” Ashour says. He describes being LGBTQ in Iraq as “extremely dangerous.”
He notes rampant discrimination and even “killing campaigns” against gay Iraqi civilians, and notes that in 2018 alone the nation documented 220 killings of LGBTQ people, with no one ever held accountable for the deaths as crimes. “The government … constantly dismisses LGBTI people and refuses to acknowledge our existence and rights,” he says.
Ashour refers to IraQueer, which he founded in March 2015, as “a human rights organization focusing on the LGBTI community in the Iraq/Kurdistan region.” He claims it’s the first and only org to focus on this community, its mission to advocate for LGBTQ rights in the region and raise much-needed awareness and visibility.
Having just earned a masters degree in human rights from New York City’s Columbia University, the gay Iraqi says he plans on turning IraQueer into his full-time job.