Finding Syria’s Mr Gay: Film Highlights LGBT Abuse in Syrian War

The persecution doesn’t come only from the ISIS but from family and other militant groups.

2 min read
Hindi Female

Arrests, honour killings and cold-blooded murders.

When Mahmoud Hassino saw the rights of Syria's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community trampled in the brutal civil war, he wanted to tell the world.

In the midst of war, Hassino decided to find Syria’s “Mr Gay” for the international beauty pageant. To use this pageant to create awareness of the abuse.

Hassino, a Syrian journalist and gay rights campaigner, saw LGBT people targeted by all sides in Syria’s six-year-old conflict. He noted how women disproportionately bore the brunt of the violence.

"With the war, gender-based violence reached a peak," 42-year-old Hassino said.

His quest to find Mr Gay Syria is now the subject of a documentary directed by Ayse Toprak, a Turkish journalist for whom Hassino worked as a fixer.

The documentary, to be screened at the Sheffield documentary festival in Britain on Tuesday, depicts the lives of gay and bisexual Syrians in Istanbul as they compete for a place in the Mr Gay World competition.


Oppressors Not Just The Islamic State

When anti-government protests started in cities across Syria in 2011, Hassino hoped one of the outcomes would be more freedom for the LGBT community.

The uprising sparked hopes in a country where homosexuality is illegal. People started coming out about their sexual orientation and there was conversation about gay rights and women's rights, Hassino said.

During the first few months of the war it seemed as though Hassino's hopes had come true.

"It had become easier for LGBT people because people weren't targeted systematically anymore," Hassino told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Berlin, where he now lives.

But soon, they became a target for all groups involved in the conflict.

Gay men in Syria can face arrests, “honour killings” at the hands of family members, or murder by Islamic State and other militant groups.

In the most notorious example, rights groups have accused Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq of killing dozens of gay men by throwing them from buildings or stoning them.


Beauty Pageant To Create Awareness

Hassino, who had worked in Syria with Iraqi sexual and gender minorities, decided to shed light on the abuses by sending a Syrian to the Mr Gay World beauty pageant in Malta last year.

I had the idea of trying to create a media buzz around the situation which also highlights the Syrian LGBT refugee problem.
Syrian journalist and gay rights campaigner Mahmoud Hassino

Even though the competition's winner, Husein, did not make it to the event because of visa restrictions, Hassino himself traveled to Malta to raise awareness of the persecution gay Syrians face.

Hassino now works with LGBT refugees in Germany – many of whom were targeted and beaten up in refugee camps.

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Topics:  Gay   Islamic State   Syria 

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