Iraq + New York + USA

Growing Up Gay in Iraq

Gay / 23-29 / Middle Eastern / Other

Amir is the Founder and Executive Director of IraQueer, the first and only human rights organization focused on the LGBT+ in the Iraq and Kurdistan regions.

I never really had a coming out story! I always thought I was never really inside anything to come out! But that still did not mean that I could live my life without having to explain and justify my gender expression and sexual orientation. But I always found myself having to find a balance between trusting my feelings, and expressing the feelings I am expected to express as a person living in Iraq.

While I was in high school, my aunt asked me if my girl best friend and I are together. In college, my family and friends were asking me if I had a crush on anyone in my school! My answer was always no, and I always said “I’m not into girls.” They would always assume that was temporary and think “He’s not into girls now,” or “He’s not into girls in his school.” I never really corrected them because I thought it’s on them as they are adding this temporary status to what I am saying. I also feared the consequences that could come out of me explicitly saying who I am and who I am into.

But when I was about to go to college, I started volunteering with human rights organizations. Those experiences have opened my eyes on the discrimination faced by women, children, refugees and others. But what struck me the most was how each of those groups in Iraq had organizations and activists speaking up on their behalf. But the LGBT+ community had no one who spoke on their behalf. On our behalf! We were so invisible and rejected that not even human rights activists in the country believed in our rights.

For a loudmouth like me who argues with everyone, that was not okay with me. I was not okay with being invisible. This led me to working with human rights of LGBT+ people in Iraq, and now leading the first and only LGBT+ organization in Iraq’s public history.

I started my career with LGBT+ rights when I was still not “publicly” gay, and did not have a formal sit-down with my family and friends to tell them I am gay. Instead, I gave an interview to the Huffington Post where I mentioned that I was gay and that’s why I am leading IraQueer. I made an active choice that I will not treat my sexuality differently than how my siblings have. I only mentioned my sexual orientation because it was relevant to my work and to the focus of the article. I have told those that I care about that while their love and support would mean a lot to me, I will no longer ask for it if it is coming on the expense of internalized fear and self-rejection.

All these different choices that I have made put my life in danger. I was attacked by some of my closest friends. I was detained twice. I was threatened by armed groups. I was abandoned by extended family members. I am not allowed back in Iraq, and now live my life as a refugee.

But despite all that, I wouldn’t change a thing! Being gay was the reason why I am a person who is able to think of other people’s struggles and can relate to them! It’s why I became a human rights activist who is standing up for his own rights and those who are discriminated against. Can things this good be born out of a “sin”? The only sin was the one I was told by conservative groups who do not even know what being gay means! Why would I ever choose the words of those who know nothing about my identity over my own?

I am celebrating my 28th birthday! I have never been more confident and clearheaded as I am today! I’ve never been more passionate and committed to what I do as I am now! I am lucky that I have found my calling in life. But to be honest, I don’t think I would’ve ever found my passion if I hadn’t found myself! If I didn’t learn, understand, and embrace who I am! And that is something I can never regret! Deciding to be myself was/is actually the best decision I have made in my life!