As a U.S.-led coalition and Russia step up airstrikes against ISIS, LGBT people in the region remain cautious — even anxious — about their prospects.
It’s no secret that ISIS, the terrorist group that currently controls large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, loves to execute people on suspicion of homosexuality. Western media has been repeatedly subjected to images of men, often drugged and blindfolded, being thrown from buildings and stoned to death in towns and cities through ISIS-held territory. The strict interpretation of Sharia law that ISIS imposes requires the execution of anyone accused of homosexuality.
British Prime Minister David Cameron specifically called out the murder of gay men — or those suspected of being gay — as one of the reasons politicians should support air strikes in Syria.
“They have beheaded aid workers, organised systematic rape, enslaved Yazidi women and thrown gay people off buildings,” he wrote in a memorandum to a parliamentary committee. “All these atrocities belong to the dark ages.”
But for those living in Syria, the reality of Western intervention is very different. Gay Star News spoke with gay Syrians and asked for their thoughts on more air strikes against ISIS.
“The British intervention will make the local LGBTs more vulnerable,” said Armen, who lives in Syria’s largest city Aleppo. “It places them at risk because IS and the other fighters will take revenge on them.”
The dangers faced by LGBT people aren’t limited to just those in Syria and parts of Iraq under ISIS control as the entire region is inhospitable to gay rights.
“Our problem isn’t only with IS but with all the Arab regimes and the legislation in the region that means LGBTIs have no role in society,” said Ratteb, a gay Syrian who was exiled to Beirut. He described ISIS as “the cancer of society,” adding, “If these big countries like the Britain [sic] really want to help our main concern is changing the law [that criminalizes homosexuality] to help us effectively become active parts of the society.”
Jawad, a Syrian refugee who now lives in Helsinki, questioned whether support for gay Syrians had anything to do with Western involvement in defeating ISIS.
“Britain isn’t getting involved in the war to protect gays but for its own benefit, just like every country interfering in the war in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
LGBT Syrians have no legal rights or protections — except for the ability to legally change gender. Those in Iraq aren’t even offered that. While ISIS may seem extreme for murdering gay people in its territory, the Iraqi government has been accused of aiding militias in exterminating LGBT people. In Syria, the punishment for homosexuality was three years in prison until the penal code was suspended at the start of the Civil War.
In the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, only Jordan can claim some semblance of LGBT rights, with homosexuality decriminalized in 1951 and the legal right to change gender. Bahrain legalized homosexuality in 1976, but doesn’t have an equal age of consent and offers no transgender rights. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The former carries a prison sentence of up to 5 years. The latter two mandate chemical castration, life imprisonment, or the death penalty — in Saudi Arabia, the death penalty is automatic for second offenses.
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