Sami Hamwi,* the sole gay Syrian writing from inside that benighted country, has issued a call for gay people to join the fight against the Assad regime.
Hamwi, who is known to the author, writing for the website Gay Middle East (GME), says that many gay Syrians he knows have been reluctant to join the demonstrations racking the country not just because of the violence surrounding them but also because they think they are better off under the current regime.
An officially secular country, where homosexuality is illegal, Syria has a reputation as being tolerant of ‘discrete’ gays.
But Hamwi cites numerous instances where the regime has attacked gay people.
Cruising areas are where gay men often meet and where Hamwi first met other gay men and, he says:
“I was often harassed by policemen and/or secret police, who have always tried to intimidate young people to fulfill their sick needs of control.”
“In 1998, I personally witnessed a raid on a park in Aleppo. It was horrifying. People were beaten and dragged to police cars. I remember thinking that I have to run in order not to be identified as a “regular cruiser”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only raid I have witnessed.”
Many raids have happened since Assad was ‘elected’ in 2001. Hamwi says these amounted to campaigns in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
The campaign last year was “their most vicious campaign.”
“More than 35 men were arrested in a single gay party and were exposed to their families and communities. The lucky ones managed to escape to other countries, and the rest were left to face the social punishment.”
Amongst those who fled was a gay Palestinian who had spent four years in prison and “was severely tortured on trumped-up charges because he was gay,” according to Michael Luongo quoting Neil Grungras, the Executive Director of ORAM, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration.
However, writes Hamwi, when the ‘Arab Spring’ first broke out:
“Some of my gay friends shocked me with their ignorance of what had been happening to us, gay people, in Syria, and with their little remembrance of what has been happening to gay people over the last decade. Most of them have always known my political views and some of them stopped or at least avoided being in contact with me.”
“The last seven months have also revolutionised my homophobic friends’ views on homosexuality with more gays and lesbians joining our group of activists. I preferred to keep my sexuality hidden from them for years, and at some points I regretted it, especially now when I hear the words “gay” and “lesbian” spoken with lesser hate and more acceptance.”
“Nevertheless, I still find it too soon to dream of acceptance by those people who I admire for their courage because homophobic jokes and statements are still being made in the absence of other LGBT people. Yet, it is a dream this revolution has revived as well as many other long lost dreams.”
Hamwi writes that gay Syrians follow the lead of lesbian Syrians “who have more resilience to fight against this oppressive regime” which should be followed.
“Gay people of Syria should follow the lead of Syrian lesbians who have been fighting for freedom. It is the time for dreams, even though the most desired dream is yet to be accomplished.”
*Sami Hamwi is a pseudonym. Apart from his GME contributions, he blogs at Syrian Gay Guy.