A YOUNG GAY MAN WAS recently arrested in Iraq for chatting with gay men by phone. Police told his father he had been released, but his body was found a few days later, blindfolded and shot in the head and rectum.
"They always shoot their gay victims in the rear end, then in the head, because they believe that all gay males actively practice sexual intercourse," wrote Ali Hill, who has lived in London for several years. Hill is the co-founder of Iraqi LGBT, which advocates for the country's lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people. They face murder, wrongful arrest, torture, and brutality from government forces and militias because of their sexual orientation in what the group is calling a "campaign of sexual cleansing."
Men who are known to be gay from rumor or their appearance are in constant danger of attack, according to Hili and other members of Iraqi LGBT, which has documented at least 450 murders in Iraq based on sexual orientation since 2003. Gay men and transgender people have been burned alive, beheaded, and beaten to death by members of the police or militias, like Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the country's primary Shiite political party. Lesbians have also been targeted to a lesser extent.
In late 2005, respected Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling for the death of gays and lesbians "in the severest way possible."
That fall, Hili and allies in Iraq set up a network of safe houses where lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people took refuge. With funding and support from the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, Netherlands-based Hivos, and U.K.-based OutRage!, the network at its height had five safe houses in various parts of the country.
Their location was kept top secret, advertised only by word of mouth and heavily guarded. Nonetheless, residents and leaders of the houses were assassinated or threatened.
In the southern Shia city of Najaf, the thirty-four-year-old taxi driver who guarded the safe house was shot execution-style after being stopped at a police checkpoint in March 2007, according to Iraqi LGBT. The previous month, a twenty-nine-year-old gay tailor was beheaded in Karbala, and in Baghdad, a twenty-one-year-old was found dead after receiving threats and being arrested. Then, last fall, two lesbians who ran the safe house in Najaf...