Founding Iraq's first LGBT+ organisation

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"Despite all we have faced as a country and our current situation, I strongly believe in Iraq and the Iraqi people. I believe that the country where the first laws were written can not turn into a state that does not respect and apply the law. I believe that the country where writing first started can not become a place where ignorance about different identities and rights is the norm."

In 2015, Amir Ashour founded IraQueer, the first and only organisation for the LGBT+ community in Iraq. Since then, IraQueer has supported hundreds of LGBT+ Iraqis and has developed partnerships with multiple human rights organisations both inside and outside of Iraq. Amir spoke about his journey and his vision for LGBT+ rights in Iraq and around the world at the 2019 Summit in London.

Amir's Story

It's been five years since I was on One Young World's stage talking about LGBT+ rights in Iraq. A lot has changed since. Many influential countries have chosen to become discriminatory and unsafe for people around the world. In Iraq, the government continues to overlook crimes committed against LGBT+ citizens and is often the perpetrator of these crimes. 96% of LGBT+ Iraqis stated that they had been the victims of verbal or physical abuse. I for example was introduced to reasons why I should hate my sexual orientation before I even learned what it meant to be gay. I’ve been detained and threatened by government officials, armed groups, and even friends. Days after 2014’s summit, I was forced to leave Iraq and become a refugee.

But while it is true that these right-wing governments have gained more power, it is also true that we, those who believe in equality and human rights, have also become more powerful! I mean, look around you right now. This One Young World summit is bigger, better, and more inspiring. One Young World has been a crucial part of changing the world for ten years now.

The legal status of civil and political rights of LGBT+ Iraqis has not changed in the last five years. But the story of the LGBT+ movement in Iraq did change. Three weeks after Dublin's summit I started IraQueer, Iraq's first and only LGBT+ organization. Together with a number of other young LGBT+ Iraqis, we launched an online platform that quickly turned into a registered human rights organization dedicated for LGBT+ Iraqis. We realized that the government will not come and hand us our rights, and we can not wait until someone comes and speak up on our behalf. We decided to become that someone and stand for our own rights and the rights of thousands of LGBT+ Iraqis.

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In the last five years, we have managed to put the Iraqi LGBT+ movement on the global map and reach several positive milestones. We have been recognized by different UN treaty bodies and mechanisms, we have produced LGBT+ focused resources in Iraqi Arabic and Kurdish which did not exist in Iraq before us, and we have reached more than 150,000 people in 2018 alone through our animated video project. A movement that started with one person grew to include and support hundreds of LGBT+ Iraqis, has partnerships with tens of human rights organizations inside and outside of Iraq, and is backed by many states around the world.

This journey has been extremely challenging. For the first year or so, I did not have a real income. We said yes to every single opportunity that helped us share our vision. We applied to a countless number of grants and rarely got any of them. I had days when I questioned why I was doing this, and how I can continue doing this. And every time that question came to my mind, the answer was always clear. The best and the only way to do this work is to simply do the work. We have to show the world how much we believe in the cause and the organization in order for them to believe in it too. There were no easy ways, no shortcuts. You have to use all the resources you have. My most valuable resource was the people that I was connected to. The amazing mentors and activists I worked with,, and the many eager and energetic LGBT+ Iraqis who were ready to contribute in any way they could to further the cause.

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I then realized that my childhood dream of one day having superpowers have come true. The only difference was that instead of being able to teleport like Prue Halliwell from Charmed, my superpower is the passion I have for human rights and the belief that social change is possible anywhere.

Despite all we have faced as a country and our current situation, I strongly believe in Iraq and the Iraqi people. I believe that the country where the first laws were written can not turn into a state that does not respect and apply the law. I believe that the country where writing first started can not become a place where ignorance about different identities and rights is the norm. I believe that one day Iraq will be a place where all identities are recognized, respected, and protected. I believe that one day Iraq will be ready for a gay prime minister. And when I become the prime minister of Iraq, One Young World organizers will have an open invitation to organize the summit in Baghdad.

Until then, I, like all of you here promise to stand for my rights, your rights, and the rights of every person who is discriminated against. I will do this through fighting for LGBT+ rights in Iraq and internationally. How will you do it?

You can connect with Amir here.