Iraq: LGBT community struggles for recognition, rights in Iraqi Kurdistan

"My mother left the can of petrol in the room and gave me a lighter. As she stepped out, she said with a stern face, ‘I want to see flames coming from your body when you come out of this room.'" For 13-year-old Hawre, this was heartbreaking, as his only “crime” was being gay.

Hawre's face drops as he recalls the incident from 2002 in a quiet corner of a cafe in Sulaimaniyah. Things are not as bad as they used to be for Hawre, despite occasional degradation and humiliation that he and other gay individuals face from family members and strangers. Most of his friends have accepted him, his family has finally come around and made peace with his sexual orientation, and jobwise he is doing well in the media industry in this corner of the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. Hawre said he knows about 30 other people who are gay and their suffering continues, often in silence.

It is not clear what the size of the LGBT community is in the Kurdistan region because most members hide their sexual identity and have no organization to represent them. They face regular abuse from family, friends and society in general. Technically speaking, they are engaging in “illegal activity” for having gay relations in the eyes of Iraqi and Kurdish law.

“Because the source of our laws in Kurdistan and Iraq is from Islamic Sharia, homosexuality is considered unlawful and un-Islamic, and therefore it is seen as a crime,” lawyer Shokhan Hama Rashid from the Women’s Legal Assistance Organization told a Kurdish TV channel. “This phenomenon [homosexuality] exists in Kurdistan, but it is hidden. … It is widespread amongst the youths and even among married couples.”

On June 1, the US Consulate General in Erbil took a stand for LGBT rights and hoisted the rainbow flagon the consulate compound in honor of Pride Month. The impact was immense. It received hundreds of comments on Facebook in Kurdish and English, creating a lively debate with many cursing the United States, the LGBT community and the Kurdish government. Many people argued that homosexuality was “alien” to the Kurdish culture.Read more via Al Monitor