Close-up: Amir Ashour from IraQueer

In every issue of Homotropolis we introduce you to an inspiring and extraordinary LGBTQ person from either Copenhagen or Malmö, and our very first close-up is zooming in on Amir Ashour, the founder of IraQueer. Amir is currently residing in Malmö, and our editor Adam Westman met up with him.

Close-up: Amir Ashour from IraQueer

I actually met Amir Ashour about a year ago for a coffee. We walked and talked about all kinds of things in our lives such as friends, music, travelling and food. At that point I did not know a thing about the organisation called “IraQueer”. But as I got to know Amir, I also got to understand his passion for human rights, especially concerning the situation for the Iraqi queer community. Amir is the founder of IraQueer, the only organisation working for the LGBTQ community in Iraq and the Kurdistan region. Along with a young team of activists, the mission is to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community and spread information, provide support and share personal stories.

IraQueer was launched in March 2015 starting out with Amir alone, and today the organisation counts nearly 40 people. Amir is the only person of the team that has his picture and name revealed on the IraQueer website. All of Amir’s activist colleagues work anonymously and undercover, but they still face a big risk of being exposed inside Iraq, and if that were to happen the consequences of being affiliated with IraQueer are enormous and severe. The exposure would not only affect the activist in question and make him or her a moving target for the militias to hunt down, but it could easily also affect LGBTQ people that have been in touch with or helped by the organisation. The security and safety of the team is therefore one of the hardest and highest prioritised challenges that the activists from IraQueer deal with.

Support from around the world
Amir has made it one of his missions to be open, outspoken and visible and thereby giving a voice to the persecuted and discriminated LGBTQ people who live inside Iraq. As a direct consequence of that he can no longer return to Iraq. His face is too known and it would be putting his own life at risk. Having his name, picture and contact information easily accessible online has meant that both haters and supporters get in touch.

“I receive a lot of hate speech and negativity in my inbox from different groups of people, and the fact that I choose to be all out in the open makes me very easy to reach”, says Amir, who does not let the frequent homophobic messages get to him.

“I focus on all the love and support IraQueer receives, not only from inside Iraq but from around the world. The positive stories from team members, the good results and the steps we take as an organisation in the right direction. This is much more important and it keeps me motivated”, says Amir.

Change from within
In Iraq there is very little knowledge and no real education about LGBTQ issues. Homosexuality is still widely considered to be something shameful and there is no social acceptance and tolerance of LGBTQ’s within the Iraqi society. A big part of IraQueer’s work in Iraq is therefore to educate and give information.

“The LGBTQ people inside Iraq are the only ones who can change things and reclaim their place in society. It is obvious that this will be a long process with many difficulties along the way. Iraq is hostile and dangerous territory for all LGBTQ activist”, Amir explains.

Hope for a better future
IraQueer represents the first step of the LGBTQ movement in Iraq and Amir is hopeful when it comes to the future of the organisation he founded.

“I see us growing and becoming a source of power for the LGBT+ community, and the Iraqi/Kurdish community in general since we promote humans rights for all. I hope more people will join in and support us not only through emails and texts, but publicly as well”, says Amir who plans to remain a vital part of the organisation for years to come.

“For myself, my focus for the next number of years will be IraQueer. It’s my top priority to give it everything I have to see it grow stronger, and then at the right time pass that task to someone else; and start pursuing my own political ambitions and be involved in leading Iraq in the future”.

For more information about IraQueer go to www.iraqueer.org.

Close-up: Amir Ashour from IraQueer

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