It's not safe to be gay in Syria. All same-sex sexual activity is illegal -- LGBT people can face prison sentences of up to three years if their sexual orientation is exposed, and while it's unsafe for just about everyone in Syria right now, the persecution of the LGBT community has gotten even worse than it used to be in the midst of Syria's civil war.
Unfortunately, Syria isn't that unusual -- more than 75 countries throughout the world still enforce anti-homosexuality laws (many with much harsher punishments -- including the death penalty) -- which leads many LGBT refugees to seek asylum in other countries out of fear for their safety.
Subhi Nahas is a gay Syrian who left home after being terrorized for his sexual orientation by the Syrian military, insurgent militias, and even members of his own family. The San Francisco News outlet KQED reports that after an attack from his dad left him hospitalized, Nahas escaped to Lebanon and then fled to Turkey, where he began receiving death threats from ISIS for being gay, before he was eventually granted asylum in the U.S. Now he lives in San Francisco, among a community where he finally feels safe, loved, and supported.
Nahas was recently invited to tell his harrowing story at the first-ever meeting on LGBT rights at the United Nation Security Council, and now that he's safe, he's doing everything he can to help other Middle Eastern LGBT Refugees.
Nahas is working with the San Francisco-based Organization for Refuge, Asylum, & Migration (ORAM) -- the same organization that helped him find asylum in the U.S. -- which provides legal assistance to LGBT refugees and asylum applicants throughout the world. ORAM also provides tools, training and resources to aid workers working with LGBT refugees.
One of these tools is a five-language glossary of LGBT terms -- which ORAM's executive director Neil Grungras told KQED is super essential "so when refugee professionals interview someone who is gay, they don’t call him a male prostitute instead of calling him a gay person, which is very, very common" since “a lot of refugee professionals only know insulting terms for LGBT people around the world.”
According to Nahas, there are at least 400 other LGBT Syrian refugees who have escaped to Turkey, where they still face some very real threats -- "In Istanbul and Ankara, groups raised banners calling for gays to be killed," he wrote in a recent story for the Huffington Post. "My friends are feeling alone and terrified about what might happen to them; the same loneliness and fear that I once felt."
"We may not be able to do much to improve conditions for LGBT people in Syria, Iraq or other countries," he continued. "But we sure can help the individuals who manage to escape."