Iraq’s Underground Queer Railroad – Safe Houses and Escape Routes Save LGBT Lives by Peter Tatchell
Iraq’s underground queer railroad
Safe houses and escape routes save LGBT lives
By Peter Tatchell
Guide (USA) – January 2009
In the bad old days of slavery in the United States, there was the “Underground Railroad” – a clandestine network of secret routes and safe houses – which spirited thousands of southern slaves to freedom in the north.
Today, 200 years later in Iraq, a modern version of the underground railroad is saving the lives of LGBT people who are fleeing Islamist death squads. It is providing safe houses in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and is smuggling LGBT people to neighbouring countries, where it helps them apply for United Nations humanitarian protection.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, homophobia and the terrorisation of LGBT people has got much worse. Militia’s linked to Shia political parties in the US-backed “democratic” government of Iraq are shooting dead queers in their homes, streets and workplaces.
This programme of targeted assassinations has one aim: the total eradication of all “sodomites” from Iraq. It is sanctioned by Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has issued a fatwa urging the killing of LGBT people in the “worst, most severe way possible.” Sistani is praised by President Bush as a “leading moderate”.
“Since establishing the safe houses project in 2006 we have provided refuge for dozens of gay people who were being hunted by death squads,” reports Ali Hili, coordinator of Iraqi LGBT.
“We have also assisted people to escape from Iraq to neighbouring countries, where we have established resettlement projects. Our efforts have got gay refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and we’ve already moved some of them a third safer country, in Europe or North America. These lucky ones are now beginning to rebuild their lives,” said Mr Hili.
K is a 33 year old architect who escaped to Amman in Jordan. He now helps run the Iraqi LGBT support group there; aiding other LGBT refugees from Iraq. Seven out of 23 Iraqi LGBT refugees who have been smuggled to Jordan have had their applications for asylum approved by the UNHCR and been able to move to countries like the United States, Sweden and Germany.
This heroic work is not without its risks and sacrifices. Two lesbians who ran the safe house in the city of Najaf were assassinated, together with a young boy they had rescued from the sex industry. Last summer, the coordinator of the Baghdad safe house, Bashar, was machine-gunned to death in his local barber’s shop by an Islamist hit squad.
The lack of funds is a perpetual problem. Two of the four safe houses in Baghdad had to close earlier this year because of a lack of donations to keep them running. Right now, Iraqi LGBT will soon run of cash. Money is needed to pay rent, electricity and food bills for the 10-12 refugees who are crammed into each house.
Don’t let our queer martyrs die in vain. Please make a credit card donation via PayPal to Iraqi LGBT. Help them continue their brave, inspiring, life-saving work: http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com