Gay Life in Iraq Begins Revival, Though Still Risky
Since the American military withdrawal from Baghdad in June, life there has remained stable. That stability has led to a tentative resurgence in nightlife, and with it some re-emergence of gay life in the Iraqi capital. The act of gay men stepping out of the shadows there has brought freedom for some, at the cost of great risk for others.
Baghdad following last month’s release of the Human Rights Watch Report on gay killings is a tale of two cities. Interviews with men from Sadr City include witnesses to killings who showed scars from attacks on cafés popular with gay men. Attacks included drive-by shootings by men dressed in black on motorcycles who strafed the sidewalk with bullets. Some witnesses knew the names of the killers and talked of the perpetrators coordinating with local Iraqi police in the attacks in the eastern, conservative side of Baghdad.
On the well-to-do liberal side of Baghdad, a different story emerges. At times, gay men walk in groups of friends along the Tigris riverfront along Abu Nuwaz Street, named for a poet who wrote of love between men. Fashionable cafés, popular with gay men, have sprung up in some neighborhoods.
Other than those who Human Rights Watch contacted to participate in its research, interviews suggest few gay men know of the group’s Report. But most have followed American and other international news media coverage of the killings themselves. Local Iraqi politicians and international diplomats have indicated an awareness of the killings, as well as public condemnation of the violence. International organizations and governments appear to be working on the issue behind the scenes, with an awareness of the difficulty of discussing it in deeply homophobic, and increasingly religious, Iraqi society.
According to local gay men and some human rights groups, the killings have decreased significantly in recent months.
–Michael Luongo in Baghdad