Gay Syrian Refugee Implores World Leaders To Take Action Against ISIS

Photo: Courtesy of ORAM.
Syrian Refugee and ORAM Representative Subhi Nahas.
"I am a refugee and I am gay," Subhi Nahas declared before the United Nations Security Council on Monday. Nahas had come to New York City from his native Idlib, Syria, to implore the UN Security Council, the group of nations charged with inspiring and maintaining world peace, to set an agenda focused specifically on protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

Nahas fled his home near Damascus after being persecuted both by the Syrian military and by fighters from the the Jabat Al Nusra group (an affiliate of Al Qaeda) as well as the Islamic State group, or ISIS.

During his moving testimony, Nahas told the Security Council that he knew firsthand how both government fighters and fighters for terrorist groups target people who are gay. While heading to his university by bus in 2012, Nahas says Syrian soldiers forcibly pulled him off the bus because his "effeminacy" incited their prejudice. They called Nahas derogatory terms like "faggot" and "sissy."

"I feared that one of them — or all of them — would rape and kill me. You see, those who condemn us for being different are often the ones who brutalize us sexually," Nahas told the Security Council.

Nahas also told the UN representatives that when the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad began, "government media launched a campaign accusing all dissidents of being homosexuals."

If a victim did not die after being hurled off a building [by ISIS], the townspeople stoned him to death. This was to be my fate, too.

Subhi Nahas, Syrian refugee and LGBT activist
Nahas said he was forced to flee when ISIS took over Idlib in 2014 and began executing men they suspected of being gay.

"At the executions, hundreds of townspeople, including children, cheered jubilantly as at a wedding. If a victim did not die after being hurled off a building, the townspeople stoned him to death. This was to be my fate, too," Nahas said. "I was terrified to go out. Nor was my home safe, as my father, who suspiciously monitored my every move, had learned I was gay."

Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and an advocate for LGBT rights, hosted the meeting. It was the first such Security Council meeting held in the UN's history. The Security Council includes China, France, Russia, the U.K., the U.S., Angola, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Spain, and Venezuela.

And Nahas' story is just one of many. Amid the fighting and turmoil in Syria and Iraq, LGBT individuals find themselves even more vulnerable.

According to the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration (ORAM), the organization with which Nahas is affiliated, LGBT refugees are some of the most heavily persecuted of the world's marginalized people groups. In 78 countries worldwide, same-sex relationships are considered criminal acts.

Many of these LGBT individuals leave their countries, attempting to find harbor in the international community. Their search is not always fruitful. As LGBT people and displaced people, they are "doubly marginalized," ORAM has said.

We're getting this issue into the DNA of the United Nations.

Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Those persecuted by ISIS are in particular danger. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission keeps a timeline of publicized instances of ISIS executing men for allegedly committing "indecent behavior," by being gay.

The Islamic State group has published online video reports of its murders of men accused of committing sodomy. Often, the victims' photos ran alongside the caption "The imposition of religious punishment...on those who commit the acts of the People of [the Prophet] Lot.”

"I have witnessed with my own eyes the annihilation of civility and humanity as I knew them. For millions of Syrians both in and outside the country, time is running out," Nahas said.

Prior to his talk, Nahas and Power spoke briefly to reporters.

"It was a very moving meeting; the attendance was excellent," Power said, although one journalist pointed out that two Security Council members — Angola and Chad, where homosexuality is illegal — had declined to show up to the optional session.

I have witnessed with my own eyes the annihilation of civility and humanity as I knew them.

Subhi Nahas, Syrian refugee and LGBT activist
"We're getting this issue into the DNA of the United Nations," Power explained. She commended the UN on its increased attention to human-rights violations against LGBT individuals, noting that an official report on the matter was released this June.

"But until today, the Security Council has never broached this question," Power added.

A refugee known only by the pseudonym Adnan spoke alongside Nahas. Adnan is presumably the same man New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote about in an August 21 article titled "Gay and Marked for Death."

"The greatest moment of my life was stepping on that plane,” the unidentified refugee in Bruni's column had said of leaving his ISIS-controlled hometown in Iraq. "I was able to breathe again. I hadn’t been breathing.”

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