Human rights activist and founder of Iraqueer, Amir Ashour, reflects on the importance of Pride events around the world and how to build an inclusive society.
How important has the Pride parade become as a symbol of a city or a country’s attitude towards the rights of its LGBTQ community and the value and respect it has for that community?
I think Pride weeks and parades around the world are extremely important, as they send a clear message of inclusion and respect for human rights not only to locals, but also to citizens of other cities and countries.
Pride alone wouldn’t mean anything if the local authorities and the countries’ governments didn’t actively monitor and protect the human rights of LGBT+ individuals, but it’s still an amazing opportunity for the LGBT+ community to be visible and fight discrimination. Both the LGBT+ community and our allies must go out in the streets and show what we stand for.
Are you aware of difficulties in staging Pride parades in other parts of the world?
There was an attempt to organise Pride in Uganda last year, but the activists and the organisers were attacked and threatened by several groups, forcing them to stop.
There was also an attempt to organise Pride in Beirut a few weeks ago, but religious fundamentalist groups threatened the activists. Unfortunately, the government didn’t do anything to guarantee the safety of the people involved in organising or even attending the Pride event, who were forced to cancel the events.
What would be the prospect of holding a Pride event in Iraq?
Organising Pride in Iraq is not an option at the moment, as we’re still at the dawn of the queer movement. To make this a reality, we need to have allies from the community who can increase our safety measures. Even though we have a large number of youngsters who support sexual and gender diversity, they won’t be able to provide protection to a community that has been oppressed, tortured and even killed for more than a decade now.
We are still in the process of raising awareness and challenging social norms, which will take time. But you never know, hopefully things will change very quickly!
Can you tell us about your experience in Iraq and any responses to you and/or your friends attempting any kind of public display/celebration of sexual orientation?
Being a visible gay activist in Iraq made me exposed to multiple threats from my social circles and even the government. After organising several trainings and publicly speaking about LGBT+ issues and gender identity in the Iraq/Kurdistan region, I was forced to leave the country, and seek political protection in Sweden. I haven’t been back to Iraq in almost three years now.
There are activists who work mainly underground and are trying to promote queer issues through posters and publications, but they’ve still been exposed to hatred and threats.
What do you understand to be the equivalent situations in other countries of the Middle East, given your work with IraQueer?
LGBT+ rights around the Middle East and North Africa are still not recognised, but despite those difficulties, there are organisations and activists working in almost every single country in the MENA region. They work directly with the local communities in many different ways, but also convene together to discuss possibilities for collaboration in the region as a whole. Lebanon has the most progressive movement in the MENA region, but even there it’s still really difficult to enjoy full rights and to be completely safe, especially outside the capital city of Beirut.
Where have you attended Pride events and what has it meant for you to be part of them?
I have attended several Pride events in the world including Stockholm, Copenhagen and London. I have also organised a Pride event in Malmo in 2016 and was in charge of the international programme to ensure that activists from other countries, or who identify with labels that are less represented, are included in the Pride week.
For me, Pride is definitely a celebration of all the things the global LGBT+ community has achieved in the last few decades, and for that we must party, dance, and drink! We need to recognise how far we’ve gone. As an Iraqi gay activist, I think we need to leverage Pride weeks around the world not only to spotlight local movements, but also to connect movements from other unrepresented countries with activists, funders, and governments who can help them expand their work and taking it to the next level.
Unfortunately, not all Pride events do that, as a lot of them tend to only focus on the party side. I think Pride reaches its full potential when participants feel comfortable sharing their personal stories freely.