LGBTQ Members Face Threats in Iraqi Kurdistan

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4/9/21

The plight of Iraq’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer (LGBTQ) community returned to the spotlight last week when Kurdish security forces in Sulaymaniyah reportedly arrested several gay men. The government denied targeting the group, saying its operation was rather to crack down on prostitution. Members of the community told VOA the arrests of at least eight gay men on April 1 instilled fear among them, particularly after security forces reportedly attempted to force the men to undergo physical examinations. “I don’t feel like I’m part of the Kurdish society,” said Zhyar Ali, an activist member of the community. “There is so much discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Kurdistan. You don’t feel there is room for you. It has unfortunately reached a level that most of the LGBTQ members are leaving the country.” Ali lives in Sulaymaniyah, a northern city under the control of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. But in this city officially nicknamed “the cultural capital of Kurdistan,” there are still overt signs of discrimination. Before the government said the raid targeted prostitution, Kurdish local media had quoted the operation supervisor Pshtiwan Bahadin as saying the raid was against “immorality” and targeted some LGBTQ suspects. On April 3, the U.S. consulate general in Erbil in a tweet said it was watching the event in the Kurdish city “with concern.”

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