This is the third in a series of personal accounts written by Bader, an LGBT refugee and current IRAP client.
Bader is a 23-year-old who decided one day that he didn’t want to live in danger and in unhappiness, and so he fled from his home country. After a long journey, he is now in Lebanon. Bader is an LGBTIQ activist and a human rights supporter, and also sometimes writes and sings songs inspired by his experience.
For reasons of security and privacy we are not using his real name.
UNHCR Lebanon holds special meetings for LGBT people, and at one of those monthly meetings we were asked if we wanted to join other group meetings and activities. I was one of the people who volunteered. We were told that it won’t be specialized in LGBT issues, so most of the other people in those meetings are probably unaccepting.
The other day I went to such a meeting. It was the first time that they had invited some LGBT people to attend. There were people from all over the world: I met Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Sudanese, and Yemenis. The subject of the meeting was discrimination, and the purpose was to help all of them accept and understand each other, regardless of their different cultures, religions, beliefs, nationalities etc. through different activities.
At first, we set some ground rules for the meeting, like mutual respect, confidentiality, and so on. Then we all were asked to gather in groups and write down the different kinds of discrimination that we are facing. As many refugees wrote about discrimination based on nationality, race, religion, and others, I decided to take a chance and write down discrimination based on gender and sexuality. My friend and I dared to speak about it when we stood up to present.
You might think that it’s okay, but not in a conservative Middle Eastern country and in a space full of people who have possibly never heard of such things, or they have heard about it but consider it a sin. I realized that my friend and I, part of the LGBTIQ community, were strong enough and that’s why I felt I should represent those who weren’t able to come to such a gathering because they’re afraid of the rest of the people in the community. I had to put in extra effort to be friendly to people, as I became the face of LGBTIQ people by speaking a lot about it in this meeting.
I also realized how this might be the first time they ever got close to someone from the LGBTIQ category and how much I am possibly being judged in their heads, since they can’t be disrespectful at a UNHCR meeting. I felt that the other participants in the room were shocked and it seemed like the first time they heard about it.
Then we went on to do an activity in which we had to role play. My other friend dared to come up with a role play about a feminine guy who is getting bullied. It was great to have someone else’s support.
After a delicious lunch, two people joined the meeting and told us about their experiences when they faced discrimination but overcame it and became successful. One of them was a Syrian girl who managed to find her way as an artist by getting involved in painting in refugee camps in the different places that kids attend. The second person was someone who is unable to walk due to being born in the seventh month and not having enough oxygen in the body. He talked about how people discriminated against him, how helpless he felt, and he overcame it. He is now working in the profession he wanted to be in ever since he was five years old. Finally, we were given a time to create a plan for an activity that could affect change.
I consider this a productive day and one more step towards building an understanding community.