Iraq has never been a great place to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. But since the U.S. invasion began five years ago, it has become much worse, according a gay Iraqi who fled to London two years ago.
"Are gay people in the United States, Britain and Australia aware of what their governments have done to our country?" writes Ali Hili on his group's blog, Iraqi LGBT (www.iraquilgbtuk.blogspot.com). "Their armies invaded and occupied our land, destroyed the infrastructure of government, and created the chaos and lawlessness that has allowed religious fundamentalism to flourish and to terrorize women and gay people."
The chaos and resulting power grabs have made Iraq an extremely dangerous place to be queer or gender variant. "Violence against gays has intensified sharply since late 2005," he writes.
So Hili formed Iraqi LGBT, a group dedicated to providing safe houses for LGBT people living in the war-torn nation. And the University of Pittsburgh's LGBT group, the Rainbow Alliance, is hoping to help.
The group, which recently had to close three of its five houses because of financial constraints, provides safe group housing, food and medical care for LGBT people living in Iraq. Many of the residents it serves need medical treatment for HIV or gender transitioning.
"With strong social and political oppression against homosexuals and specific targeting by Islamic militia groups, LGBT Iraqis face abduction and death in the streets," says Sean Casey, director of the Global Equality Network for Heartland Alliance. A Chicago-based nonprofit human-rights organization, Heartland Alliance handles U.S. fund-raising for the group.
Aaron Arnold, the president of Pitt's Rainbow Alliance, interned with Casey last summer and learned about Iraqi LGBT through him.
"We'd done some international issues before; we figured our membership would be pretty interested," says Arnold, a junior majoring in sociology with certificates in African studies and women, gender and sexuality studies. The student group is collecting funds and plans to match students' donations with money from its own coffers. Next week is Pride Week at the university, so Rainbow will be staffing a fund-raising table on campus and hopes to collect money then. (To donate without visiting campus, click the donation button on www.iraqilglbtuk.blogspot.com.)
Some students, says Arnold, have objected to their fund-raising efforts, but he thinks it's because they're misinformed about what the group seeks to do.
"I think a lot of people on the surface hear that we're trying to support LGBT people in Iraq and [think] that it's antiwar or not patriotic," he says. "We're just trying to emphasize that these are human beings that were leading relatively normal lives until the infrastructure of their country collapsed. It's not a statement about war; it's a statement about humanity."