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No longer alone: LGBTQ people from West Asia and North Africa share stories of self-discovery

‘It's not a disease. You're not against religion or Islam. You're not against culture, or the state, or your family.’

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The LGBTQ community has it hard enough in most countries. In the Arab world, it’s particularly difficult. In a new video campaign (above) by Human Rights Watch and Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, LGBTQ rights activists from West Asia and North Africa are speaking out.

Titled No Longer Alone, the video highlights the journeys of 18 LGBTQ Arabs as they share their stories of self-discovery, self-acceptance and coming to terms with their sexual and gender identities, in spite of social stigma and challenges – whether personal, religious or social.

“I felt like a freak of nature. That there was something completely wrong with my existence even. People would make fun of me, hit me. I used to feel very alone,” says Hamed Sinno, a famous Lebanese singer-songwriter, who identifies as queer. “What I didn’t understand was there is nothing wrong with me. It’s the people around me who were wrong.”

Abdellah Taïa, a writer from Morocco, admits, “I never thought that one day I’d have the strength to face society and say, ‘I’m gay whether you like it or not.’”

As HRW wrote about the video, “For many, their personal experiences of isolation and abuse led them to activism.” They also explained that although some of the activists preferred to have their faces hidden or their voices altered, they sent an important message to LGBT people in the Arab world, that one needs to come out in order to make a change.

To accompany the video, HRW also released a 75-page report titled “Audacity in Adversity: LGBT Activism in the Middle East and North Africa”, which is based on interviews with 34 activists from 16 Arabic-speaking countries. They have also released a separate series of videos, with individual activists. You can watch some of them below, and the rest on HRW’s YouTube channel.

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