Article Source: GRLبنت
‘Locked’ is an LGBTQ advocate & humanitarian worker originally from Northwest Syria but has resettled in Gaziantep, Turkey. He shared his experiences as a gay man in both Syria & Turkey and the struggles that LGBTQ refugees face upon displacement.
“When LGBTQ people flee the war in Syria, they do not flee seeking safety for their sexual orientation. People they know from their native villages & cities also move to Turkey, making it unsafe for LGBTQ to be openly gay, or else their community could come after them. Unfortunately, most LGBTQs in Syria do not know themselves. Many of them live double lives with their families forcing them to get married. This results in unhappy marriages where children also suffer due to their parents fighting.
After fleeing Syria, I felt much safer as an LGBTQ person in Turkey. For instance, the gay dating apps in Turkey have many people on them, but in Syria, they do not. This is because the dating apps are used to catch LGBTQs by radical Islamists. Then they try to blackmail you for being gay; this happened to me. Someone threatened to share one of my photos unless I paid them. So, I decided to publish the photo myself & I received heavy backlash, but I refused to be backed into a corner for being myself.
On top of this, I was kidnapped twice in Syria (2016, 2018) due to being gay, a human rights defender, & a civil activist, but they decided not to kill me since they lacked any evidence that I had committed a ‘crime’. So, instead, they beat me to the point that I had to go to the hospital’s ICU, where I was treated for serious fractures & bruises. Their reasoning for subjecting me to torture was that I was secular and an intellectually open person. But kidnapping was not the only suffering I endured. I faced constant harassment, security pursuits, calls for investigation & surveillance. Many cannot understand the constant struggle of saying, ‘I’m here and I deserve to live.’ The hardest feeling in the world is being scared that you’ll be killed for speaking your truth.
After all these experiences, I try to help LGBTQ individuals in Syria as best I can by using fake accounts to raise awareness and by supporting my friends & community. Recently my friend in Syria told me that he was gay & struggles with his sexuality. Due to his circumstances, he feels that he has no right to live, but I am trying to help him realize that he does. Sometimes the people who have suffered the most are the ones who feel the most for others.
In Gaziantep, there is no space to be gay causing LGBTQ persons to suffer from mental health problems in their personal lives. Many Turks & Syrians here do not recognize the mental health or emotional issues attached to being LGBTQ. Further, LGBTQs lack financial support since they do not have access to jobs. Employers will not hire them because they are LGBTQ, even though they are highly qualified.
LGBTQ Syrian refugees suffer from war trauma, but they also struggle with trauma from their sexual identity. The journey for Syrians in Turkey has been difficult, and many LGBTQ refugees are not receiving the support & protection that they need. We need to do better as a community.
When it comes to seeking help in Gaziantep, the NGOs that are meant to help LGBTQ are not useful. LGBTQs that are in serious danger can apply for resettlement but will wait for years to get a response. I am still waiting to be resettled, even though I continue to receive threats. I reported these threats to NGOs, but they did not take any action. I even communicated with an international NGO through their WhatsApp helpline, but they never responded to me even though they read my messages. This shows their lack of interest.
Despite the constant oppression & fear that we are under, it consoles me knowing that there are many straight supporters for LGBTQ people. This is consoling for us since our community is unable to defend itself. Most times, we cannot participate in advocacy campaigns since most of us living in the Middle East are still in the closet. I am living proof of this since I am unable to put my real name on this post to protect my personal safety. I would like to thank all the people who have supported me through my journey & to those supporting the LGBTQ community in the Middle East.”