'LGBT+ Iraqis are in desperate need of attention.' We meet the man leading Iraq's queer movement

Last month was a milestone for Amir Ashour, as 29 January marked three years since he was forced to flee his home in Iraq in fear for his life.

Originally from Sulaymaniyah, Amir says he was beaten up and arrested because of his sexuality often, leading him to seek asylum in Sweden. It's from there that he's been working around the clock to make life better for LGBT+ Iraqis through his organisation IraQueer – the only LGBT+ rights organisation operating in Iraq.

He does this through "knowledge production and international advocacy," with IraQueer leading the first queer movement in the country's public history. Since starting in 2015, the group has produced information that has not been available in local languages on issues surrounding sexuality and gender. The organisation has also engaged directly with United Nations agencies and state missions to lobby for the rights of Iraq's LGBT+ citizens. In addition to those huge tasks, IraQueer has also helped hundreds of queer people across the country find safe housing, seek asylum and get the medical support they need.

Amir himself has been involved with human rights campaigning since he was 20, volunteering with children at an internal displacement camp. He tells indy100:

The bond I formed with my fellow volunteers, the kids and their families helped me discover my passion for human rights. And being gay myself made me focus on LGBT+ rights in Iraq – a group that was neglected by all including most human rights activists.

LGBT+ people in Iraq face life-threatening situations every single day, Amir tells us without hyperbole.

We're targetted by armed groups, the government and even our families. We don't have access to any safe space inside the country.

We don't even have real access to each other!

When we're not a target for violent abuses, we are facing the fact that we are isolated and have no access to any resources.

He tells us that he has been detained twice because of his sexuality, attacked, threatened and abandoned by his own friends and family. But as the old adage affirms, what hasn't killed him has only made him stronger and more determined to help others like him.

The decision to be more visible and advocating for my rights and the rights of people like me was the best decision I've taken in my life. The bond I have with those who continued supporting me has never been stronger, and the people who come into my life now know exactly who I am.

I am exactly who I want to be and because of that I am able to focus on time and energy on growing and chasing my goals, instead of hiding and caring about what other people think.

The persecution and hatred for LGBT+ people in Iraq, Amir believes, comes down to a combination of faith and "traditional values" influencing the wider population.

Fundamentalist religious leaders have been the drivers of all killing campaigns and hateful and misleading information about LGBT+ individuals.

At IraQueer, we're connected to many queer people who also believe in religion and do not see a reason why both identities couldn't exist within the same person.

Despite being hounded out of his country in fear of his life, Amir tells us that he doesn't understand why he cannot return home, and that eventually being able to do so as an out and proud gay man is one of his goals.

I was born and raised there, went to school and worked there, I've volunteered with several projects and have most of my loved ones there.

But I cannot go back because I chose to be public about who I am and what I stand for? 

Are we so afraid of diversity that we are willing to kill others whom are different from us?

But despite that, I've learned that home is a feeling, not a place. Home is where I can be myself, do what I'm passionate about and be surrounded by people I love and admire. 

I will continue to do so until I am able to go back. Everything I do is because I want to go back and help change things there in person.

And how can you help Amir achieve his goal of protecting Iraq's queer community? By making your voice heard, by urging those people who we democratically place in positions of power to help, and by giving a little here and there, of course. As Amir tells us:

LGBT+ Iraqis are in desperate need of attention. 

British people and others who come from other states should push their governments to protect queer people more. 

Whether by taking in more Iraqi queer asylum seekers, pushing their embassies in Iraq to play a bigger role, or donating to IraQueer as we offer safe housing for LGBT+ individuals when we have the resources.

If 200 people donate just £1, we can pay for a queer person's goods and expenses for a month!

And simply, just by sharing our work with their network. You never know which people you know could benefit from knowing about what we do.

For more information on IraQueer and Amir's work, click here to visit their official website or click here to follow Amir on Twitter.

LGBT History Month is an initiative from the charity Schools OUT UK and aims to promote equality and diversity throughout the entire month of February for the betterment of everyone. Click here for more information, resources, events taking place throughout the month or find out how you can help.

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