I’d like to start my remarks by sharing a story of a young man named Subhi Nahas. Subhi, who is now 28 years old, was born in Idlib, Syria. And Subhi is gay. In Subhi’s words, “It was never okay to be gay in Syria,” but for Subhi it got much harder when the civil war broke out. The Assad regime, which had long criminalized homosexuality, began specifically targeting LGBT people – running anti-gay propaganda on TV, calling all dissidents homosexuals, and raiding the cafes and parks where LGBT people gathered. In 2012, Subhi was riding a bus to university, when suddenly soldiers boarded the bus and pulled him and about a dozen other young people off it. They took him to a house where they taunted him, insulted him for his sexuality, and assaulted him. He feared, of course, that he would be raped or killed. But, miraculously, they eventually let him go.
Months later, as if things couldn’t get worse, the violent extremist group al Nusra seized Idlib, and promptly announced over mosque loudspeakers that they would cleanse the city of all engaged in sodomy. Subhi’s life at home – in his own house – worsened. His father increasingly mocked the way Subhi dressed, talked, and walked. One night after a particularly heated argument, the father attacked Subhi, grabbing the back of his head and slamming it into the kitchen counter – an assault that sent this young man to the hospital. Then a gay friend of Subhi’s was captured and tortured by men who forced him to name all the LGBT people he knew, including Subhi. Fearing for his life, Subhi fled Syria, made his way to an LGBT safe house in Lebanon, and eventually arrived in Turkey. Even there, he was unable to escape persecution. A boy he had known growing up had joined ISIL, and was telling people he planned to kill Subhi; and not long after, the former acquaintance called to threaten Subhi from a Turkish phone number.
Power noted that Subhi spoke at a recent UN Security Council Session, the first-ever dedicated to LGBT rights, which she said was an important precedent to set:
But also, it allowed us to convey, in a single voice, and with the authority of the Security Council – which is the premiere global enforcement body for peace and security – it allowed us to convey that it is wrong to violate people’s rights because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And this allowed us to pose a more fundamental question to the nations represented in that room: If we are horrified by ISIL singling out LGBT people for attacks and executions – and, of course, we should be – why shouldn’t we be horrified when other rights of LGBT persons are violated? When, for example, police refuse to investigate attacks against LGBT persons; or when businesses, schools, or other institutions turn away LGBT persons because of who they are. While the gravity of these abuses obviously vary, all of them reject the inherent rights and dignity of LGBT people.
The Sexual Rights Initiative, a coalition of organizations that advocate for human rights related to gender and sexuality at the United Nations Human Rights Council, released its analysis of the 30thsession of the Human Rights Council, which met September 14 – October 2.
The involvement of ISIS and the Government of Syria in the persecution of the LGBT minorites under their hegomony has been recognised as one of the problems experienced by intrinsically homosexual people who happen to live under one or other of these hateful regimes.
Why is it that religious fundamentalists cannot bear the thought of gender and sexual difference as being part of the spectrum of human existence? Except, of course, that any sexual activity outside of the context of heterosexual marriage is considered taboo by over-zealous purists – like ISIS and other religious fundamentalists – whose biological understanding of such matters is limited to the out-dated paradigms of anthropological development. Not so xealous about ‘sexual purity’ are those among the predators of ISIS who believe it is ‘normal’ to rape women and children as part of the prize of domination.
Education in such matters is well overdue – a situation being felt most urgently by such organisations os the United Nations Human Rights Commission, whose watchfulness in this vital area of people’s private lives is now being recognised.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand