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Throughout many North African and Middle Eastern countries, homosexuality remains against the law. In Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for example, it’s punishable by death. But today Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched the “No Longer Alone” campaign in which LGBTQ North Africans and Middle Easterners offer video messages of encouragement to queer people living in those regions. It’s similar to the “It Gets Better” project but entirely in Arabic.
The campaign videos feature several gay, bisexual and trans men, plus at least one trans woman and several lesbians. Among them is Omar Sharif Jr., the openly gay Egyptian actor who broke new ground by discussing his homosexuality on Arabic language TV in July 2015 and penned a piece for Hornet about his push for queer rights in Egypt.
In one video, a gay man from Algeria named “Rayan” says he was sent to a Raqi (a religious healer) who repeatedly, painfully hit him all night in an attempt to drive out the woman who was allegedly inside of him.
Here is the main No Longer Alone campaign video:
In addition to the testimonials of harassment and isolation they face, the speakers also offer encouragement. Lebanese musician Hamed Sinno — the artist who spoke out after Egyptian police arrested seven people for raising a rainbow flag at his concert — said, “What I didn’t realize was that there is nothing wrong with me. It’s the people around me who were wrong.”
Omar, a gay man from Iraq said, “You are not alone. We are with you. You’ll meet many people — heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals — who will stand with you.
Writer Abdullah Taia reassures viewers, ”You’re gay; it’s not a disease. You’re not against religion or Islam. You’re not against culture, or the state or your family.”
Several regional LGBT activists have told HRW “they were frustrated by one-dimensional international media coverage portraying the region as hell on earth for LGBT people,” adding, “Such coverage fails to recognize the agency of LGBT activists from the region, or renders them completely invisible.”
As such, HRW released an in-depth study called Audacity in Adversity detailing specific types of LGBTQ activism happening throughout North Africa and the Middle East, including creative approaches for building community, gaining public support, ensuring access to HIV prevention and treatment and changing abusive policies on the local, national and international levels.