Protection of Identity in the Face of Violence, Stigma and Death – Global Issues

Warin, 23, poses next to a queer rights mural in Sulaymaniyah. Not long after, it was destroyed. Credit Andoni Lubaki/IPS
  • by Carlos Zurutuza (Sulaymaniyah, Iraq)
  • Inter Press Service

It may be a trendy cafe in Berlin, Paris or any other European capital, but the sunset call to prayer reminds us that we are in Sulaymaniyah. It is the second city of Iraqi Kurdish Autonomy after Erbil.

We cannot reveal the exact coordinates of the cafe, the full name of the person who brought us here. He is wearing white shorts and a t-shirt and has a rainbow bracelet on his left wrist. She asks to be identified as Kween. “It’s just ak in Kurdish for queen,” he explains. Kween is a trans woman.

The youngest of five children in a Kurdish family in the eastern Diyala region of the country, the 33-year-old Kurd admits to IPS that he was a “boring person” for the first 25 years of his life.

“I learned to suppress my needs. But I first dressed as a woman in my mother’s clothes and put on make-up when I was only five years old,” she recalls. In clothes, she adds, “I feel myself and the person I’ve always been.”

But this freedom, achieved mostly in solitude, comes at a price. How can one forget the beating his older brother gave him when he was first caught at the age of six; bullying and harassment at school…

He was almost killed when he was 24 years old. Someone contacted her online and asked to meet outside of town. But there were five of them and they were waiting for him to be beaten. Completely numb from the beatings, covered in mud and blood, Kween still mustered the strength to go to the local judge’s office.

“You have two options: either file a complaint and tarnish your family’s name forever, or just stop doing what you’re doing,” the judge told him. When he got home, he couldn’t tell what he was going through or why in the first place. Even today, no one in Diyala knows that Kwee is a woman.

Against all odds, he has been working with a foreign NGO for the protection of vulnerable groups for several years. Among other projects, he is working on a list of Kurdish words to talk about the rights of the LGBTI community in a non-offensive way.

Example: Hawragazkhwaz (literally, “someone attracted to members of one’s own sex”), so far the only inclusive form for “homosexual”; miles away from commonly used terms that include ideas like “pedophilia” or “rape.”

Kween hasn’t decided to have surgery or hormones yet, but she hasn’t had much time to do that either. She says that her work at an NGO and the search for a place in society for members of the LGBTI community take up most of her time.

“If I have a mission in life, this is it.”

“Immoral Behavior”

A transgender woman is beaten, burned alive and dumped; assailants torture, then kill a gay man while forcing his accomplice to watch; a lesbian is stabbed to death while demanding an end to her “immoral behavior”.

These are just three of the many incidents covered in a March 2022 Human Rights Watch report on the LGBTI community in Iraq. The kidnapping, rape, torture and killing of queer people by armed groups, “often by state security forces,” are also reported.

HRW researcher Rasha Younes said in the report, “Members of this community are at risk of being captured and killed by the Iraqi police and live with complete impunity.”

The images of the gays thrown from the roof by the Islamic State are still in everyone’s memory. Doski Azad, a trans woman of Kurdish origin, also shared Instagram before her body was found in a ditch last February. He was killed by his own brother.

“I know a lot of people who never go out,” Varin, a 23-year-old activist extraordinaire, tells IPS from the same terrace. Thanks to the Internet, she discovered that there are people like her who do not identify with any gender expression.

He works at an active swimming pool, but studying chemistry opened up a job opportunity in Qatar that he didn’t want to miss.

“I dressed up as a sassy woman for the job interview, and of course I showed up with long sleeves so the tattoos wouldn’t show,” she laughed out loud.

Varin Suleymaniyeh points to “about 30 members” within the LGBTI community. They meet in such cafes. Social networks also make it easier to meet each other.

Do they organize protests? No, it’s too dangerous. In fact, the mural he was going to choose to pose for our photo has already been vandalized (it will be completely destroyed in a few days).

Despite the threats, this Kurdish city has become the safest place in the country for members of the LGBTI community. Many strange people from the south of the country seek refuge in cities such as Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The situation is in no way comparable, but Warin points out that Erbil is still a very conservative city, “one of those cities where time stands still during Ramadan and you can never let your guard down.”

Suicidal tendencies

In April 2021, several young men from Sulaymaniyah were arrested for “homosexuality and immoral behavior”. The leader of the operation labeled it as such in front of the press. Sulaymaniyah police refused to answer IPS’s questions. Nevertheless, the harassment extends to anyone who dares to show any support.

Such is the case Rasan, a local NGO is forced to answer to justice for constantly “promoting the LGBTI community”. They are still awaiting trial after the latest lawsuit by a member of the Kurdish parliament.

Tanya Kamal Darvesh, Director, from her office in Sulaymaniyah RasanIPS assures that their mission is not to promote the LGTBI community, but “to raise awareness about it in society.” But more worryingly, arrests of collective members are still common currency in Iraqi Kurdish. region.

“Instead of acknowledging the existence of these people, they insist on criminalizing them: they accuse them of prostitution, drug trafficking or any other activity to get them off the street,” the human rights activist denounces.

“All clans, parties, leaders, whether religious or political, are aligned in their enmity. strange collective. “They often stick to religious themes to justify violence or simply make politics out of it,” said Darvesh.

Their vulnerability is enormous, and the psychological impact of intolerance towards this group is depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and even suicidal tendencies.

This is the diagnosis given to IPS via video conference by a trauma psychologist who preferred not to reveal his real name for an interview. She has been working with victims of sexual violence and torture in the Middle East for more than a decade and wants to avoid a veto at all costs.

Apart from attacks at almost every level, he also highlights the risk of being “out of the labor market or from their families in an area where they play such a key role”.

After several visits to the region, the expert got a chance to meet Varin and Kween in person. “Apart from giving hope to the community, they also offer a place to ask questions,” he said. “Just by being a visible freak, they’re already showing great courage.”

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service