Gay student: ‘My dad tried to let ISIS kill me’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A medical student from Iraq has opened up about how his parents were willing for him to be killed because he is gay.

Taim, a 24-year-old who only survived by fleeing Iraq for the Lebanon, opened up in a candid interview with the BBC, saying his father threatened to turn him over to ISIS, and that if he had not fled, members of his family would have killed him themselves.

Using the pseudonym, he said: “In our society, being gay means death. When Isis kills gays, most people are happy because they think we’re sick.

“I first realised I was gay when I was about 13 or 14. I too thought homosexuality was a sickness and I just wanted to feel normal. During my first year of college, I started having therapy for it. My therapist told me to tell friends that I was going through a “difficult phase” and to ask for their support.

Taim says his boyfriend was of a Christian background, and his family were Muslims. He said he got into fights with fellow medial students, one of who joined ISIS, over being close to Christians.

A friend then told Omar, the student who joined ISIS, to go easy on Taim, as he was receiving therapy for being gay, the result of which “ruined his life”.

He said: “In November 2013, Omar attacked me with two of his friends. I was just walking home after a really lovely day. They beat me, threw me to the ground and shaved my head, saying to me: ‘This is just a lesson to you for the moment, because your father is a religious man. Watch what you do!’ He meant that I wouldn’t be killed then and there out of respect for my dad, because I’m from a religious family.”

Taim was attacked multiple times, and stopped going to university. He says when ISIS took over, Omar called him and asked him to repent and join up, but that he hung up the phone.

He goes on: “On 4 July, a group of fighters from Isis came to my home. My father answered the door and apparently they said to him: ‘Your son is an infidel and a homosexual and we have come to carry out God’s punishment on him.’

“My dad is a religious man and luckily for me he was able to tell them to come back the next day, to give him time to find out whether the accusation was correct. He came inside the house and started screaming. Finally, he said: ‘If these accusations are true, I will hand you over to them myself, happily.’ And I just stood there, not knowing what to do and what to say, or how to defend myself.”

After his mother arranged for him to go to Turkey, Taim ended up in Beirut.

“If I’d stayed, Isis would have come for me and killed me the way they’ve killed others. If Isis didn’t get me, members of my family would have done it. A few days after I left, I learned that my uncle – my father’s brother – had taken an oath to cleanse the family honour,” he says.

Having arrived in Beirut, Taim says he received a Facebook message anonymously, he thinks from one of his uncles, saying: “I know you’re in Beirut. Even if you went to hell, I would follow you there.”

Now he has refugee status, and has organisations helping him to settle in another country.

“All I want now is to be in a safe place, unreachable by my dad or anyone with extremist thoughts. I want to be safe, to be free, and to be myself – to get my degree and start living… I just want to start living,” he says.

Describing his mother as “the most amazing woman in the whole world”, Taim says he still speaks to her, even if she has to go out of town to get reception.

“All I need is a hug from her.

“I still have gay friends at home but we’re not in contact any more, for their own safety.

“Earlier this year one of my best friends, who stayed behind, was killed.
He was thrown off the main government building.

“He was a great man – a very kind person. He was 22 years old, a medical student, and he was really calm and really smart – a bit of a genius. He used to talk to me about the latest scientific discoveries.”

He has not spoken to his father, and his brother contacted him to say he had left their town, blaming the situation on him.

The two talked about their childhoods via Facebook.

A friend of Taim’s was killed after he left, by being thrown off the Government building. He says a lot of gay Iraqis meet online

He says: “When I first saw the pictures of him, I can’t describe what I felt. The video images follow me in my nightmares. I see myself falling through the air. I dream that I’m arrested and then thrown from a building – facing the same fate as my friend.

“It was devastating to see him go in that brutal way. He was blindfolded but I knew it was him from his skin tone and from his build. It looked like he died immediately but a friend told me he didn’t – perhaps the building wasn’t high enough. The friend said he’d been stoned to death.”

Of what might happen if ISIS were to disappear, he said: “Before Isis, I think that maybe the power of my family protected me. But let’s assume that Isis disappeared this second, the threat to my life would be just as serious, now that I’ve been identified as gay.”

Taim describes ISIS as being “professional when it comes to tracking gay people.”

“They hunt them down one by one. When they capture people, they go through his phone and his contacts and Facebook friends. They are trying to track down every gay man. And it’s like dominoes. If one goes, the others will be taken down too,” he continued.

“It’s devastating to see the public reaction to the killings. Usually, when Isis posts pictures online, people sympathise with the victims – but not if they’re gay. You should see the Facebook comments after they post video of the killings. It’s devastating. ‘We hate Isis but when they do things like this, we love them. God bless you Isis.’ ‘I am against Isis but I am totally with Isis when they kill gays.’ ‘Amazing news. This is the least that gays deserve.’ ‘The most horrible crime on earth is homosexuality. Good job Isis.’ ‘The scene is ugly but they deserve it.’ ‘Those dirty people deserve Isis.'”

Taim says he wanted to speak out in order to honour his friend, but says he is worried for gay people who remain in areas controlled by ISIS.