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“It’s my purpose in life to raise my voice”

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The tickets for QFFU’s ‘I Am Samuel’ sold out in a heartbeat. The lucky guests that were able to attend, witnessed on screen the contrast between cruelty and intimacy in Kenya, and between violence on one hand, and solidarity towards the LGBTQ-community on the other.

Afterwards Iraqi Kurdish activist Zhiar Ali quenched our thirst for digging deeper into these themes, which seemed all too recognizable to him.

Zhiar, after the movie I Am Samuel you spoke with Tessa from Shelter City Utrecht. First of all… What did you think of the movie? Were you able to see it?

The movie was wonderful. I was really touched by Samuel’s story. I think on many levels, LGBT+ people somehow relate to his story.

I myself have had a very troublesome relationship with my family because of my sexuality. It got to a point where I was kicked out of my home and received death threats from my own brother. They ended up disowning me for the simple fact that I am gay. A lot of other LGBT+ youth share the same story, and I think that being afraid to be who you are should no longer be a thing in the 21st century.

Why were you invited to this conversation? What did you talk about?

The movie was really relatable to what is currently happening in Iraq, even though it focuses on Kenya. I was invited to the QFFU by Justice and Peace Netherlands, a project by Peace Brigades International, to help raise awareness about how the same thing is also happening in other middle eastern countries.

For example, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a lot of real estate brokers refuse housing to LGBT+ youth, who are forced into the streets when they are kicked out of their family homes. In fear of sharing the same fate, a lot of gay men end up marrying women against their will, only for the feeling of security and having a roof over their heads.

This kind of discrimination exists in the work field too: LGBT+ youth either get low paying jobs where they usually face harassment from co-workers, or don’t get any jobs at all.

What can you tell us about Shelter City Utrecht and why are you currently residing there?

Shelter City is an awesome program that helps human rights activists grow and understand more about the work they do, as well as giving them time and space to relax and experience a different culture. The program is tailored based on the activist’s needs. Mine was focused on education and advocacy in Europe.
Do you feel safe now, being in the Netherlands? Can you roam around freely?

Yes, generally I feel very safe. But at the same time, I still have this instinct telling me to just “watch out.”

Even though, I feel like it’s my purpose in life to raise my voice if I see injustice. I can’t just stay silent. I say what needs to be said, and am proud of it. People need to understand that being scared and staying silent are not options if we want this movement to get anywhere in Iraq.

The protagonist in I Am Samuel is busy balancing romance and loyalty to his conservative family. Courage, is another main theme. Is this a movie that could have been made in Iraq?

I believe so. Like Samuel, many LGBT+ people in Iraq are sacrificing so much, in order to retain a relationship with their families.

When will your mission be completed?

When people no longer have to die in Iraq because Pride flags are raised by embassies. When transgender people no longer have to deal with looking in the mirror and seeing somebody they’re not. When gay people are allowed to work the job they always dreamt of but can’t because of their sexuality. When lesbian women and gay men are not forced to get married to the opposite sex because otherwise they’d be killed or homeless.

When people no longer have to flee and seek asylum in other countries because they can’t have a future in their own country due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. When everyone can express themselves, their thoughts and feelings, and practice their lifestyle without fear. When so many other things change for the better.

Can you think of one thing that Dutch LGBTQ+ people can learn from Kurdish Iraqi people?

Just be there for each other. We are a minority with many people against us, let’s not create fractions and segregate within the community. We are stronger together, and only together we can bring about change.

Remember, gay rights are only protected in a small part of the world. There are so many places where gay people are still prosecuted and treated as less. It takes a collective effort to change this.

Author: Arjan van Rooijen
More info: Shelter Cities