Poignant tributes for Sara Hegazy, the Egyptian activist tortured for flying a Pride flag, one year after her tragic death

Sara Hegazy

The Arab LGBT+ community is dedicating this year’s Pride month to Sara Hegazy, an Egyptian activist who died by suicide after she was tortured for flying the Pride flag.

Hegazy took her own life in June 2020, having struggled with PTSD and depression following her imprisonment, torture and psychological abuse at the hands of Egyptian authorities.

Her tragic death galvanised LGBT+ people around the world, with activists from Beirut to Berlin holding candlelit vigils outside Egyptian embassies to highlight her struggle.

A year later Hegazy’s memory lives on as a group of lesbian and queer feminists in Egypt and Tunisia launch their first MENA Lesbian and Queer Women’s Pride Day in her name.

“On this day, let us remember Sarah Hegazy and all the women fighters we have lost on this path,” read a joint statement signed by 39 movements and organisations.

“Let us stand in solidarity with the millions of lesbians, queer, transgender, sex workers, women of colour, migrants, refugees, precarious workers, unpaid housewives who are deprived of equal opportunities, queer mothers who provide for their children, and all those who are forced into heterosexual marriages due to societal pressure.

‎”To you, we say ‘This is your day.'”

Going forward, the groups will mark 13 June, the anniversary of Hegazy’s death, as an annual day of pride for lesbian and queer women in the Arab world.

“Let us celebrate and the visibility of lesbian and queer women in the Middle East and North Africa, and let that day be an eternal commemoration of lesbian activist Sara Hegazy,” the statement continues.

“In honour of Sara’s free-flying spirit, the one who ‘wants the sky, not the Earth,’ please join us to celebrate this day.”

Sara Hegazy: ‘Prison killed me. It destroyed me.’

Hegazy caught the attention of Egyptian authorities in October 2017 when she held a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. The band’s lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay and an advocate for LGBT+ rights in Lebanon.

It was “an act of support and solidarity… for everyone who is oppressed,” she later said in an interview with NPR.

“We were proud to hold the flag. We wouldn’t have imagined the reaction of society and the Egyptian state. For them, I was a criminal – someone who was seeking to destroy the moral structure of society.”

This rare show of public support for the LGBT+ community sparked an immediate backlash in the largely Muslim country. Hegazy was promptly arrested, the only woman alongside at least 56 others who were arrested for raising the flag.

She was charged with “promoting sexual deviancy and debauchery” and jailed for three months. There she suffered horrific beatings and abuse at the hands of other inmates, while prison officials would “violently assault” and torture her with electrocutions.

When she was finally released on bail she fled to Canada, but her appalling treatment in jail and the pain of exile would have a devastating and lasting impact on her mental health.

“Prison killed me. It destroyed me,” she said after she escaped.

Sara Hegazy died by suicide on 13 June, 2020, leaving behind a handwritten note in Arabic asking her loved ones to forgive her.

On the anniversary of her death, Hegazy’s friends and supporters paid tribute to her by sharing art, photos and videos on social media.

“She was fine, she was beautiful, she was innocent, she was smart, she was kind, friendly, helpful and brave,” one tribute read. “They were evil to her and called her sick, then they killed her with their cruelty and called her suicidal.”

Suicide is preventable. If you are in the UK and are having suicidal thoughts, suffering from anxiety or depression, or just want to talk, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected]

If you are in the US call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255