Have you any Gay Images From Northern Ireland

Gay History

northern gay and block mounted paisley ayatollah


Northern Ireland’s gay history is slowly coming to light in our national institutions.  Recently we spotted the Northern Gay and block mounted Paisley ayatollah  on display at the Ulster Museum.

This is only part of some of our history, but the museums and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) have more, and indeed are always looking for more material to add to their archives and develop their ability to reflect everyone’s history and in particular those of the minority groups which are often under represented.

A quick search on the PRONI websites brought up 15 distinct areas:

  • Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Advocate
  • Sexuality
    …If you think you’re gay or a lesbian, you may be worried about how people will react if you tell them…
  • Sexual orientation discrimination

…It’s against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation. You’re also protected against harassment or bullying at work…

  • Information and support for people with HIV and AIDS

…There are support services, information and advice available across Northern Ireland for people newly diagnosed or living with HIV…

  • Support services for victims
    …If you have been a victim of crime or abuse in Northern Ireland, there are organisation and groups who can give you free advice, support and practical help to help you deal with the impact of…
  • QueerSpace
  • Hate crime
    …Hate crime is a crime against a person usually because of their race, religious belief, sexual orientation, political opinion, gender identity or disability. Hate crime can take many forms…
  • Pushing the boundaries: Society & law
    …A Series of talks exploring society and the law which consider broad areas relating to the changing perception of what constitutes acceptable behaviour within society…
  • Rainbow Project
  • Human rights in the workplace

…Your human rights are protected by the law. If your employer is a public authority, they must follow the principles of the Human Rights Act…

  • Equal State Pension rights for transsexual people
    …Transsexual people can apply for equal treatment rights for social security purposes. This could mean getting the State Pension paid early, or having some National Insurance contributions…
  • Easter Rising: ‘Irish volunteers centenary project’

…PRONI was pleased to host ‘Irish Volunteers Centenary Project’, a talk by Donal McAnallen about experiences in the Easter Rising…

  • Talking to your child about sex and teenage pregnancy
    …Young people who can talk about sex with their parents tend to delay having sex and are more likely to use contraception when they do. However, you may find the idea slightly awkward, or you…
  • Religion or belief discrimination

…It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your religion or certain beliefs. Find out about your rights and what you can do if you’re worried about religion…

An important thing for all of us in the LGBT community of Northern Ireland is our history, but unfortunately a lot of it has been forgotten, or not written down, or in some cases is still hidden away in individuals homes.  We would like to develop further our access to our history, by asking everyone to dig our their history and by contacting us we will work with the museums and PRONI to develop a central resource.

Please do contact us with details of what you have and we will then arrange with the correct repository.  All information will remain confidential regarding your personal details, unless yu expressly give us permission to disclose them when lodging the items on your behalf.

Further reading:


Boys On Film 2: In Too Deep

In Too Deep
Peccadillo Pictures
5 060018 651637

Boys on Film 2: In Too DeepThe title of this collection In Too Deep (sounds, well, it is, a bit ‘nudge-winkery’, but the reference is to one contribution (Kali Ma), set near a swimming pool, and implicitly to some sexual / emotional encounters in the nine movies on offer here. Two are from the USA, both set in New York City, two from Australia both set in Sydney, and one each from Sweden, Canada, France, Mexico (Bramadero, a word meaning number of – ambiguous – things. It is practically a dance piece, two beautiful men meet, it is hardly social-realism, maybe it is ‘magic realism’ in a building which was either abandoned in mid-build, or possibly it is on a major public holiday but the occupied buildings we see are not en fête; no bunting, no banners, no people, and is deserted. The men have sex, and… stirring… it is). The actors and director, as in the rest if these reviews, will be unnamed, as they are available on Peccadillo’s website.

Canada’s and one of Australia’s contributions are very short, The Island shows the Director-performer, (Trevor Anderson) trudging through northern Alberta, the snow is deep, but so packed he can walk on it – for a person from damp, ‘temperate’ Ireland, it’s just a bit seeing him walk on water. ‘The island’ is imaginary, a macho man phoning-into a US talk show suggested that all “homos” should be dumped on an island to “give each over AIDS”, and die out. Do such people think we breed? Where do Gay women fit in? And are there no bigots in Canada? If there are, no Canuck seems prepared to own up to it. While going walkabout in snowy Alberta Trevor daydreams about this “homo Utopia”, at which point the film bursts into full glorious [Techni(?)]color and animation. The full northerners’ nonsense notions about warm countries comes in full spate. Sun, check; sex, check; sangria, or vino anyway, check. There are no typhoons, hurricanes, or tsunamis. This too-short short is a real charmer.

Love Bite involves two teenage blokes (mid / late teens), in one of their bedrooms, smoking a spliff. One attempts to tell the other, very handsome, bloke, that he has a secret. For some reason said bloke thinks he is queer and is disgusted, a wee piece unlikely in a major Oz city these days, but let that particular hare sit — the boy is a werewolf. The end of the vid is very gory. The performers are Will Field and Aidan Calabria. The other item is Working It Out about the problem of a couple in a commercial gym, one is consumed with jealousy. His partner tries to calm him down. The chap isn’t having it, he is the sort of person who ‘dresses’ for the Gym, his ensemble is red, including a baseball cap he wears reversed. (Is this a ‘dig’? The fashion among US teens died the death about 1990.) Needless to say Mr. Jealous is the one who gets off with the guy who joined them on their exercise machines. The tale is a bit glib, the performers were not terribly engaging and gyms are not very photogenic. This is not an ex cathedra statement, probably everybody else who has watched this little comedy of modern manners thought it was hilarious. I was slightly bored, and would have gone on to the next item, if i were not in ‘reviewer’ mode. The actual next (and last) ‘item’ was Futures & Derivatives.

It was interesting because one could barely grasp the gist of the thing. It is, on the face of it, about a portly ‘businessman’ trying to impress a (very Big Business)-man on how up to speed is the accountancy (?) firm he works for. It isn’t, really. An outside expert is brought in to put a ‘presentation’ onto DVD, said ‘expert’ works through the night. There’s an arnacho-hippie under that suit’n’tie. He creates a serviceable DVD, though it also contains images of calm seas and cloud formations. He decorates the office walls with large paper flowers and other decs. Which turn-on the office drones when they arrive the next morning. Mr. Big, Mister Beauchamp (pronounced ‘bo champ’) seems to be able to take all the extraneous effects in his stride, and the contract (content unspecified) is given to the company.

Lucky Blue refers to a budgerigar, the pet of a travelling family, ‘carnival’ workers, in Sweden. An image of Lasse, the cute son of the family, is on the cover of this vid, behind his shoulder is the back of Kevin (Kevin? – in Sweden?) the tall, slender, blond boy he lusts after. The end of the yarn has Lasse singing a silly love song to Kevin. It is, officially, a contribution to a ‘talent show’ – the boys kind-of get away with it. And, implicitly, live happily ever after. Yes, it is sweet, but not tooth-, or mind-rottingly so.

The puzzlingly named Cowboy, from Germany, features an estate agent or surveyor, played by Oliver Scherz, sizing up a farm that has fallen on hard times; rusty machinery, a house dissolving into the overgrown vegetation. He encounters the only resident, a beautiful wild boy; tall, slender, blue-eyed, blond (any devout Nazi’s wet dream, Pit Bokowskipossibly more than metaphorically), played by Pit Bokowski, (info for impatient persons who may want to Google his ‘particulars’ asap). They meet at the ruined farmhouse and out-buildings and engage in interestingly explicit sex, the wild boy remains on the farm while the estate agent drives away to his city home, and girlfriend.

Weekend in the Countryside features the lovely Théo Frilet and Pierre Moure, and a ‘mature’ man who seems to be the owner of the farm, or small estate, the two young men are staying on. The narrative is slightly off-centre. Théo’s character is afraid of the dogs the man keeps. The latter is relaxed about the matter, (it is not stated – but the great Napoléon was, after all, – terrified of cats), but Pierre Moure’s character, apparently is not. Théo / Charles, goes to swim in the nearby river and encounters the three barking dogs. He takes to his heels, trips, and takes up a self-defensive, fœtal, posture, lying on the ground. The dogs’ master calls them off and apologises. Théo leaves the town by train, the other young man goes to the station, and sneers through the train window, “pedé”, Englished as “faggot”, but he had approached Charles in the shower. He placed his hand on Charles’s (rather lovely) bosom – and was, gently, rejected. So who was the queer? This is an interestingly ambiguous ending – it probably would not be as effective in the Anglosphere. It’s not that we are ‘superior’, or more ‘advanced’, we are actually more crude. Think of the situation bisexuals find themselves in, in the US and the UK, despite the – English, in particular, taking a high and mighty attitude to ‘America’. Incidentally, this isn’t ‘Anglophobia’, a Mortal Sin according to Ireland’s ‘revisionists’, – it is a observable fact of sexual culture.

Kali Ma is set in New York City, and features what is (or was) called in the US an ‘East Indian’ mother and son i. e. not a Native ‘Red Indian’ (a designation deeply resented by Native Americans). ‘Ma’ is played by Kamini Khanna, who is, well… oblong  She is seen, in the opening scenes dancing, singing – and cooking.  Almost simultaneously, it seems, we see her son in, presumably his High School, ogling a honkie athlete (?) showering. He then goes to the

Manish Dayal

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 04: Actor Manish Dayal attends the “The Hundred-Foot Journey” New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on August 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

locker room and changes his clothes, we see his (Manish Dayal)’s fine, quite athletic, body. There is a close-up of his neat bum, wrapped in his gunks (underpants for the uncultured). He gets beaten up by a honkie (Brendan Bradley) and is seen lying in the locker room with messages written all over his naked body. One is the ambiguous “Property of Kit” (it may not be ‘Kit’ as Manish’s lovely neck is not flat), “Fag” is prominent. ‘Kit’, if my well-out-of-prescriptionBrendan Bradley specs are not failing me, is not the boy in the shower.

This is where cuddly ‘Ma’ (I hope this isn’t a Hindi or Urdu word) becomes ‘Kali’ (goddess of destruction and even death). This has happened before, and her son had told her the bullying was a thing of the past. She is seen martially tramping to the house of the honkiie boy, (on a rather grand Estate / Scheme, the kitchens are 21st century ‘state of the art’ (yes; I live in a hovel)). When she raps on his door, he (Brendan Bradley) is sneerily amused. He makes crude remarks about the boy he enjoys bullying. She chases him around his own house, and and out into a swimming pool area. There they have a (very funny) fight, choreographed by Ron Keller of KFX Entertainment. Miraculously, she ties him to a metal chair with her pashmina, and tosses him into the pool.

Her son (his name is spoken in the course of the action, but I can’t interpret it, yes, not merely poverty stricken, but ancient too) appears at this point. He dives into the water, unties ‘Kit’ and revives him.

In the next scene, the boys (in the same now very dry-looking, clothes they were seen wearing in the course of the action are sat at a table. ‘Ma’ places the feast she has prepared before them. Then orders them to “EAT!” They look slightly rebellious at first, but when she barks the order at them, they grab – at the same piece of bread. Neither of them really objects to this improper piece of table manners.

What happens next is left to the viewers’ imagination[s] – fevered in my case…

This wee gem, sorry for the cliché, – but it is, – was “Written and Directed by Soman Chainani, and was “Made in partial fulfillment of the Degree Requirements of the MFA [Master of Fine Arts – we hope] Film Program at Colombia (New York City – we hope, arís – upstart]. Not being familiar with Indian sub-continent languages, and too idle to ‘Google’, we don’t know this person’s gender, (possibly a Gay man?)
If this spritely, professional-looking movie is only ‘partially’ part of a Colombia University degree, they are clearly worth having.
There is one slip in continuity, as noted above. Other ambiguities are meant to be there.

Seán McGouran



Maggie & Me


Maggie & MeMaggie & Me

Damian Barr


ISBN 978-1-4088-3809-9

This is a sort-of autobiography of a man in his mid-thirties, of (religiously) mixed parents in industrial Scotland. Such things matter in the central belt of Scotland, but it is more a matter of ethnic origin than religious feeling. The vast majority of RCs in Scotland are of Irish origin, and that mark (of Cain?) can stretch well beyond the fifth generation. Damian Barr’s ‘Catholic’ parent was his mother who was religiously indifferent, if not somewhat hostile to the church, on the grounds that she was divorced. ‘Damian’ is definitely a ‘Catholic’ name, it became popular in the twentieth century due to a Belgian priest who ministered to lepers in Molokai a south Pacific island. He (Mr. Barr) may, given his age, have been named for the central character in a Hollywood horror movie. Given that that character was the Devil, no less, in disguise, that notion may be inaccurate. But there were an awful lot of ‘Damian’s’ so named in the late 1970s an early ’80s. The Belgian missionary’s surname was rendered ‘Damien’.

Damian Barr was sent to State schools rather than semi-independent Catholic ones. Despite the ‘Taig’ name he wasn’t given too much hassle. That, in ever-increasing quantities, was brought on by the fact that he was deemed to be queer quite early in his schooldays. ‘Gay Barr’, ‘Gaymian’ and other more brutal nicknames followed him from primary to secondary school. That he was very tall and willowy from his very early teens didn’t help, nor that he was the smartest in his class. His first encounter with genuine disappointment was not getting a big prize in his secondary (the Scottish equivalent of a Grammar) school for being an all-round brilliant pupil. He was half way out of his seat before another boy’s name was called, and he was surprised at how angry and disappointed he was. Despite that, he tended to win every other prize worth having, including one to study in Cambridge. He had been expecting to go to Strathclyde. He wasn’t snooty about that eventuality, but Cambridge was a usefully long way away from prying family, neighbours and ‘friends’.

It really isn’t much of a ‘story’ but it is very well written and he tells us about his intimate friendship with a handsome fair haired boy, “Mark”, who decides in their very early teens that there is something wrong with the relationship. He (Mark) become heavily involved with girls, a large plurality of them. He doesn’t get forced into marriage because the girls, mostly, insist on condoms being used. Mark acknowledges Damian when the latter returns to the isolated housing estate (called ‘schemes’ in Scotland) on the periphery of Glasgow they lived in. Some ‘schemes’ are enormous, the ‘planners’ forgot to include amenities, like shops, much less social spaces like club premises; churches and church halls weren’t even an afterthought. Public transport was heavily used for shopping (women had to travel into Glasgow, up to twenty miles away, to get basics. Entrepreneurship in these matters was entirely in Indian hands. The grocer’s son encountered in school was called ‘Ahmed’.

Damian eventually discovers the deeply closeted Gay life of his school, his scheme, and later the ‘Gay Scene’ in central Glasgow where he had happy times in the pubs and discos. He was earning money working part time and weekends in shops mostly, and had something like genuine privacy because none of his elders were particularly interested in him, or his younger sister. They were quite enthusiastic about pointing out that she was more masculine than he was. This tomboy eventually settled down, and trained as a nurse, after Damian made good his escape to Cambridge, then London. (His family were quite proud of the fact that he got to university, especially one of the few they could name.)

This is a fairly well-trodden path in terms of queer autobiography, except for its straightforward approach to his sexuality. He writes at one point “I was gay” a simple, slightly relieved, acknowledgement of a fact. There are no dramatics, melo-, or otherwise. There are a number of comic interludes in this narrative from his schooldays to disastrous job interviews. Towering over teachers, school bullies, and interviewers isn’t always useful, it can provoke some into pointless aggression, Pointless, because Damian Barr could probably pick such people up and give them a good shake. He also encounters men he has made contact with through advertisements in a magazine made up of adverts for, mostly, unwanted hardware. They are mostly middle-aged and not quite the Adonai they implied in their ads.

Most readers will probably enjoy this well-told tale, and find an awful lot of points in common with his progress through his adolescence. And if you try the internet you might get this treat for pennies (not that one begrudges Damian a good return on the work he put into this text).

Seán McGouran

PS Thatcher doesn’t loom large, or small, in this text – quotes from the good Lady preface each chapter – in the manner of uplifting Victorian books.

Britain’s concentration camps for gay men



Historian and author Simon Webb writes about the gay men who were kept in concentration camps in the UK.

We are most of us aware that gay men were routinely sent to the concentration camps of the Third Reich for no other reason than that their sexuality was unacceptable to the Nazis.

A special section of the Gestapo, the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion was set up by Heinrich Himmler in 1936, with the avowed intention of rooting out homosexuality wherever it was to be found in Germany.

In Britain during the 1930s and 1940s, gay men were certainly imprisoned for what was then classified as criminal behaviour, but few people know that there were also concentration camps operating in this country between 1940 and 1946, to which one special category of gay men were sent.

In 1940, following the fall of France, an estimated 30,000 Polish soldiers arrived in Britain; men who had fought alongside the French army in an effort to stave off the invading Germans.

They were led by a former Prime Minister of Poland, General Wladyslaw Sikorski. Fearing that this country was itself about to be invaded, these troops were rushed to Scotland to defend the east coast against possible landings of German troops launched from Norway.

Britain was thus indebted to the new Polish government-in-exile, which was led by Sikorski. Without the Polish troops, Scotland would have been all but undefended against German attack.

General Sikorski was not universally popular with his fellow countrymen and opposition groups emerged which threatened his position as leader of the Polish government and commanding officer of the tens of thousands of Polish soldiers.

The solution, at least as far as Sikorski was concerned, was simple. These enemies would have to be neutralised.

General Sikorski – the man responsible for the concentration camps in Scotland
On 18 July 1940, General Sikorski told the Polish National Council in London: “There is no Polish judiciary. Those who conspire will be sent to a concentration camp.”

Since he and the others were likely to be in Britain for the foreseeable future, it was plain that the concentration camp of which he talked, would be set up in this country.

General Marian Kukiel, appointed Commander of Camps and Army Units in Scotland by Sikorski, received a secret order relating to what were described as, ‘an unallocated grouping of officers’, who were to be held in a special camp.

Not only did Sikorski wish to see senior officers and political rivals who might challenge his authority tucked out of the way, he also wished to purge the Polish army of what he termed, ‘Person of improper moral level.’

General Sikorski was an austere and autocratic leader and had very strong ideas on what constituted acceptable behaviour.

He loathed drunks, gamblers, the sexually promiscuous and especially homosexuals.

So it was that along with all the men he feared might interfere with his leadership of the Polish government-in-exile, generals and senior politicians from pre-war Poland, Sikorski made the decision to lock up many other men of whose conduct he happened to disapprove.

The site chosen for this, the first concentration camp to be established in Britain, was the Isle of Bute.

Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, before the Second World War. The first Polish concentration camp was established here in 1940

The inmates of the new camp were at first housed in tents. Not all were military men.

Among the first to be imprisoned there were men such as Michael GrazynskI, President of the Polish Scouting Association. Another important prisoner was Marian Zyndram-Kosciakowlski; who was Prime Minister of Poland from 1935-1939.

The atmosphere in the camp on the Isle of Bute was toxic.

The senior officers, no fewer than twenty generals were held captive there at various times, refused to have anything to do with what were known as the ‘pathological cases’; I.e. the drunks and homosexuals.

This led to the development of a sub-culture of gay prisoners, who tended to stick together; a situation which represented something of a scandal to those running the camp and it was decided that the ‘pathological’ types should be separated from the political prisoners.

A new and harsher camp was set up on the Scottish mainland at Tighnabruich and the gay prisoners transferred there.

This village, voted in 2002 ‘the prettiest village in Argyll, Lomand and Stirlingshire’, is on the coast, facing the Isle of Bute. The commandant of the new camp was Colonel Wladyslaw Spalek.

How was it possible that the Polish government-in-exile was allowed to operate concentration camps in this way, without any objections from the British government?

After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the British needed all the help they could get to defend their country against a German invasion.

The Allied Forces Act was accordingly passed that same year.

This gave the governments-in-exile of Poland, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium and Czechoslovakia the legal right to raise their own independent forces from among citizens of their countries resident in Britain.

Their army camps and military bases were to be regarded as the sovereign territory of the various countries concerned and, as such, immune from interference by the British police or any other authorities.

How this worked in practice was that if General Sikorski took a dislike to any Polish person living in this country, he was able to draft that person into his army and then have him arrested by the military police and taken off into captivity as either a deserter or mutineer.

This neat little trick meant that any Polish man whose behaviour, sexual or otherwise, did not meet with Sikorski’s approval was apt to find himself being shipped off to Scotland and held behind barbed wire.

In another grim echo of the situation in Nazi Germany, not only were gay men marked down for imprisonment in the camps; communists and Jews were also likely to fall foul of the Polish government in London.

One of the most famous prisoners on the Isle of Bute was the writer, journalist and biographer of Stalin; Isaac Deutscher.

Although born in Poland, Deutscher, a Jew, had emigrated to Britain where he made a life for himself before the outbreak of war in 1939.

In 1940, following Dunkirk and the Fall of France, he travelled to Scotland to volunteer for the Polish army which was now based there.

No sooner had he joined up, than Deutscher found himself arrested and sent to the camp at Rothesay.

Being both a Jew and also a communist, he was regarded as a dangerous subversive by senior figures in General Sikorski’s administration.

Rumours began to circulate among MPs in London that something unsavoury was going on in Scotland.

Names began to emerge of Polish citizens being held for no apparent reason in secret installations.

In all cases, the men being detained seemed to be Jews.

On February 19 1941, for example, Samuel Silverman, MP for Nelson and Colne, raised the question in the House of Commons of two Jewish brothers called Benjamin and Jack Ajzenberg. These men had been picked up by Polish soldiers in London and taken to a camp in Scotland.

The following year, Adam McKinley, MP for Dumbartonshire in Scotland, asked in the House what was happening on the Isle of Bute.

The government, which had no wish to upset a valuable ally, refused to provide any information.

Under the terms of the Allied Forces Act, the British had in any case no legal right to interfere in what was happening at camps and army bases being operated by the Polish Government in Exile.

Having found that they were apparently able to operate concentration camps on British soil with complete impunity, the Polish leadership opened new facilities for holding political prisoners and others at Kingledoors, Auchetarder and Inverkeithing.

The last named of these was located just eight miles from Edinburgh.

These were dreadful places which looked like the traditional idea of a concentration camp; barbed wire fences, primitive accommodation and watch towers containing armed guards.

Those living nearby heard rumours of maltreatment, starvation, beatings and even the death of inmates.

In a number of cases, the reports of deaths by shooting turned out to be quite true. On 29 October 1940, for instance, a Jewish prisoner called Edward Jakubowsky was shot dead in the camp in Kingledoors, for allegedly insulting a guard.

The Polish camps were to operate for another six years.

Increasing unease on the part of British MPs and others, led to questions being asked in the House about what precisely was going on in Scotland.

Matters came to a head on 14 June 1945. Robert McIntyre, the Member for the Scottish constituency of Motherwell, stood up in the House and asked the following question:

“Will the government make provision for the inspection, at any time, by representatives of the various districts of Scotland of any penal settlements, concentration camps, detention barracks, prisons, etc. within their area, whether these institutions are under the control of the British, American, French or Polish governments or any other authority; and for the issuing of a public report by those representatives?”

This caused something of a sensation; the suggestion that there were concentration camps in Scotland.

That same day, Moscow Radion made the same accusation, citing the detention of a Jewish academic called Dr Jan Jagodzinski in a camp at Inverkeithing.

This provoked widespread interest and the world’s press began to ask what was happening in these Polish camps.

Cutting from the Brisbane Courier and News, 15 June, 1945

In an attempt to defuse the anger being felt, the Polish government-in-exile agreed to allow journalists to visit the camp at Inverkeithing.

This action did little to reassure anybody. The first prisoner to whom reporters spoke turned out to be yet another Jew, by the name of Josef Dobosiewicz.

He alleged that a prisoner had recently been shot dead in the camp. The commandant conceded that this was true, but claimed that the dead man had been trying to escape.

Once again, the local police had been powerless to act, under the terms of the Allied Forces Act.

A year after the Second World war had come to an end, the camps were still in existence and still seemingly holding Jews.

On 16 April 1946, the MP for Fife West, William Gallacher, asked the Secretary of State for War to look into the case of two more Jews being held in a camp in Scotland; David Glicenstein and Shimon Getreudhendler.

It is impossible at this late stage to know precisely what was happening in these camps.

That they were in fact concentration camps is undeniable; that after all is what general Sikorski had announced that he would be setting up.

We have no idea at all how many gay men were sent to the camps, nor how long they were held there.

The same is true for the statistics relating to communists and Jews.

What is beyond dispute is that from 1940 onwards, men in this country were being arrested and taken to concentration camps for no other reason than that they were gay.

Simon Webb is the author of ‘British Concentration Camps: A Brief History from 1900 – 1975′.

Kiss Me Softly (Kus me zachtjes) 2002



Director:   Anthony Schatteman

Writer:   Anthony Schatteman

Stars:   Ezra Fieremans, Tim Bogaerts, Marijke Pinoy

Another welcome short movie, this one is from 2002 and is about 17 year old Jasper who cannot be himself in his family.  His father, Lukkie Luk, is a singer and he draws in all the attention within the family to himself, and Jasper is left almost in limbo trying to find ways of handling this whilst also trying to find answer to the typical questions of a teenager growing through adolescence.

'Being Gay Isn't As Sexy As ISIS'


Lucy Sherriff


One Young Man’s Fight For Rights For Iraq’s Queer Community

“Being gay isn’t as sexy as ISIS. So no-one pays us any attention.”

These are the words of Amir Ashour, a 25-year-old Iraqi and the founder of the country’s only organisation for its queer community.

Amir left behind his home and family a year ago and is currently living in Sweden. There, he hopes to register and expand his charity IraQueer, as it is illegal to do so in Iraq.

He has received multiple threats from both officials and his friends because of who he is and the work he does.

“It’s incredibly difficult being away from my family – I’ve been missing birthdays, everything – and the more work I do for IraQueer, and the more people know about it, the harder it’s getting for me to be able to return to Iraq,” Amir says.

amir ashour

Amir Ashour, the 25-year-old founder of IraQueer

Politicians and other influential personalities see us as a threat, and no longer see us just as a young group that is publishing information on a website,” he explains.

“It’s hard to be so far from home and everything I know, but it would’ve been harder to be home and be forced to be away from myself and what I believe in.”

Back in Iraq, Amir was attacked by his own friends, “both because of my work and who I am”.

He was ridiculed for his clothes, his voice, his size, “everything”.

“People would make everything relevant and try to connect it to my sexuality and of course use it as an insult. A lot of people stopped hanging out with me because they were afraid of the stigma that came with hanging out with me.”

Although he says he could ignore most of it because he had a good circle of friends, being gay affected his everyday life.

“It’s just not possible to even talk about the queer community inside Iraq,” Amir explains. And that was the reasoning behind launching IraQueer, which aims to provide support and information for the queer community in Iraq and Kurdistan.

“We’re sharing stories of people who lived their entire life in Iraq and are from Iraqi families. They went through the normal education system and work the normal kind of job, and they are no different from anyone else. The only difference is that their sexual orientation is different.

“So, we bring it closer to home. And we try to publish anything that is related to the queer community, even if it’s just a rumour, because sometimes rumours are the only thing that we have.”

One of the main threats to the queer community in Iraq, Amir explains, is the armed militias in Baghdad and other cities.

“The main one that has been practising all the killing campaigns in Iraq actually announced a partnership with our government a few months ago, under the name of ‘fighting ISIS’.

“The last campaign we documented was in January this year, while in July 2014, [the militia] killed 35 gay people and sex workers in one day. Not even one report was made about that.

“Not one single person has been imprisoned for killing a gay person.”

And, Amir adds, that’s just the numbers they’re aware of. “How many more people have just disappeared? Especially with what’s happening with ISIS and people being displaced.. We can’t keep track. And the government is making it impossible for civil society organisations to run safe houses. If an organisation wants to do that, then they are charged with running brothels and prostitution.”

amir ashour

Amir has been forced to expand IraQueer from outside Iraq

Earlier this year, Iraq submitted a periodic report to the UN, which Amir says glossed over its treatment of the queer community.

“The Iraqi government was presenting so many perfect things about what it is doing, and how it is trying its best,” Amir says. “But this is such a cliché.

“So since then IraQueer has been highlighting all the violations they are doing.”

With the help of OutRightsAction International, IraQueer wrote “a lot” of recommendations for the Iraqi and international communities on how they can force the government to commit to basic human rights standards for LGBT+ people.

“Even if homosexuality is against religion and Islam is the main force of law in Iraq, killing is illegal. That is not something people can debate and argue.”

I ask whether the rest of the world underestimates the battles faced by the LGBT community in Iraq and Kurdistan.

“I love that you asked this question,” Amir enthuses. “It is the first time anyone has asked me this question.”

That’s when he points out “sexier things” are happening in Iraq.

“ISIS is sexier,” he states simply. “When it comes to Iraq, people think ISIS is the main problem. It’s the same with Syria, for example. People are not paying attention to what Assad is doing, they’re watching what ISIS is doing.

“Unfortunately we [the queer community] is not as sexy as ISIS, and until that is solved, we cannot compete with that attention.”

Amir cites human rights not being a political interest as the reason “almost no-one” is doing anything about what the queer community is facing.

“Even though it is a human rights violation.”

“Iraq has ratified so many of the international treaties that should make sure there are equal rights for people, regardless of their sexuality and gender identity. So why isn’t the international community holding Iraq accountable for these things?”

In August, Iraq criminalised homosexuality, a huge step back in IraQueer’s fight for LGBT+ rights.

“In its report to the UN, the Iraq government clearly said homosexuality is a sinful act according to Islam and it’s illegal. That it’s something that could disturb the public and create problems.”

And, according to Amir, Iraq is excusing its human rights violation by using the fact it is fighting terrorism and it is “normal” for a country in its situation to have such violations.

Whether or not there is room for homosexuality in Islam is still up for debate. But Amir says the question is not whether Islam should create room for the queer community, as they are simply “two different things”.

“I know a lot of people who are Muslims and queer at the same time.

“Islam does criminalise sexuality – that is clear. But Islam also promotes love and peace and no killing and all these human values, so why not go with these instead of violence?”

Iraq needs to be a secular state, he adds. “Because Islam was sent to people more than 1,500 years ago, and that alone just tells you that it is really outdated when it comes to laws.

“Maybe it had great laws back then and maybe people still want these values in their life, but religion should be a private practice that you choose to follow or not, instead of a law that everyone needs to follow.

“You are born with your sexuality but you are not born with your religious beliefs.”

Although he comes from a family with a “long religious history”, Amir converted “or whatever you want to call it” from Islam seven years ago.

“It’s not that I have anything against Muslims,” he explains. “It’s just that Islam doesn’t work for me.

“Not just because of my sexual preferences, but just the whole thing. I think I have values and principles that work as good as having a religion.

“I have a lot of people who are Muslims in my life, including my family, and I respect them. We both respect that we have different views.”

Unfortunately, not everyone shares Amir’s values of respect.

Working for IraQueer is dangerous job for Amir’s colleagues, all of whom have to work underground for fear of being exposed.

“A lot of our members don’t even know each other,” Amir explains. “The main reason we want to do that is because some of our members agreed to join but didn’t want to know anyone else and we decided we would work this way for a while until everyone is comfortable with being connected to each other.

“We didn’t want to put unnecessary pressure on the others. Everyone connects with each other through me. I’m the only public face associated with the organisation.”

There are few – if any – resources for the queer community in Iraq and Kurdistan. And very little is published on the subject by the outside world.

“Even if journalists are sent to Iraq, they could actually put their lies in danger if they ask about these questions, especially if they don’t know who to ask.

“There were five to 10 pieces on the queer community in Iraq on the internet before we launched. Now, IraQueer has about 3,500 readers visiting the site every month. We have 4,000 followers on social media and our weekly posts on social media reach around 2,000 people. These numbers are of course small compared to other bigger outlets but compare that to almost non-existent.. it’s something that we are really trying to work on.”


Amir’s colleagues have to work in secret for fear of reprisals

The people of Kurdistan, Amir says, have no information on homosexuality, bar what IraQueer provides.

Amir continues: “People are not only exposed to what’s happening but they’re also exposed to our side of the story. We are telling our own story.

“The most important thing that we’re doing is reaching out to the LGBT community. We have a section dedicated to the stories of the community.

“The stories of the people who are telling their own experiences proves that people are wrong. A lot of people say that we did not have homosexuality and that the US brought it with their invasion in 2003.”

Amir pauses, then adds: “Like they dropped a gay bomb or something.”

Despite the severity of the situation, we can’t help but share a giggle at the ridiculousness of the idea.

But it’s no laughing matter for those who lead a double life in order to preserve a single one.

“A lot of people are married and have a secret life on the side,” Amir explains. ” know no-one who is publicly gay in Iraq. It is definitely going to get you killed if you are public. Best case scenario is that you’re going to lose your job, education, whatever you have in your life – even if it is a volunteer project.

“It is impossible to live an openly gay life.”

Even though IraQueer’s staff work in secret, it is still a huge risk. “That’s why a lot of our meetings are very small, four or five people so that it’s not suspicious. And that’s why they don’t happen on a regular basis.”

Amir started working in human rights during his second year at Sulaymaniyah University, in Iraq, when he was 19. “In the beginning I was just volunteering for some local and international NGOs and working with kids and women.”

But, he says, he started his “real career” in human rights after graduation – around three years ago – when he landed work with two organisations based in New York.

“I was their representative in Iraq and my main focus was working with sex workers and women who were fleeing from crimes and facing violations.”

However, it wasn’t long before Amir realised he was not fulfilling his calling.

“When I was working with the charities, the project was really important but it was more an emergency response. That was not leading us to start a real change, it was more reacting to events. I had the idea of starting something like IraQueer in the last year of my work with the charities – but of course I had to move out of the country.

“I was already very public about my sexuality and activism – through talks and attending conferences – so I thought why not just take it to the next level?

“I wanted to start something where we don’t only help the LGBTQI+ community but actually turn them into active agents and making a change.”

Amir continues: “When people started realising what I was doing and who I am was not a phase, I started facing a lot of problems with the projects I was leading.

“Funders stopped funding, members stopped working and volunteering with us. It affects every single aspect of your life. People are forced to live double lives.”

But Amir says he never “came out” to his family and friends.

“I don’t believe in that term. Because I was never ‘inside’ anything.

“If people ask, it depends on how relevant it is that I answer. I never said that I wasn’t gay and now if some people are questioning my sexuality, I’ll make a ‘come out’ video that is one second long and it’ll just be ‘I’m gay’, and just be done with it. For me, it’s irrelevant, and no-one says ‘the first straight Prime Minister of this country’. No-one points out the sexuality of straight people.”

And, speaking of Prime Ministers, Amir is admirably positive about the future.

“If I ever go back I want to be able to run for the Prime Minister. I want that opportunity to be available. And, if it’s not available, then we will work until it is.”

First on Amir’s list, however, is stopping the killings.

“We need to make it impossible for people to be killed or attacked based on their sexual orientation. That’s our number one demand.

“But of course, like any other country in the world, we want to be an active agent in rebuilding Iraq. And Iraq is in desperate need of being rebuilt. It is facing problems on so many levels.

“The country needs all the capacities of the citizens that they have, regardless of who they sleep with. That is is irrelevant.

“We want equality in everything.”

Amir is an ambassador for One Young World, a global forum for young leaders aged 18-30 which gathers youths from every nation in the world to develop solutions to some of today’s – and tomorrow’s – most pressing issues.


Hollyoaks gets complaints for being “too gay”

Hollyoaks reveals all


Hollyoaks executive producer Bryan Kirkwood reveals that he receives complaints from viewers for its gay story lines.

Speaking to the Star, the Hollyoaks boss said: “We get told off all the time for being too gay and having too many gay characters.

“I don’t think you can be too gay, quite frankly.

“The idea that people object to two boys kissing is really bizarre to me.”

However, the former Eastenders boss did concede that, at times, certain story lines can get a little carried away when raising awareness.

He explained to the paper: “Sometimes it has been like we are hitting the audience over the head with a pamphlet.

“We have to keep that lightness of touch, otherwise it becomes a little too worthy for its own good.”

The show recently featured the first ever Hollyoaks Pride, to coincide with celebrating 20 years of Hollyoaks.


How do you prove you are gay?

A culture of disbelief is traumatising asylum seekers!

People who have been persecuted because of their sexuality are facing Home Office officials who refuse to believe them, use explicit questioning and make stereotyped assumptions

Immigant looking out window

A Ugandan man, Robert Kityo, was denied asylum last week on the basis that the Home Office wasn’t sufficiently convinced that he was gay. The question of evidence is the problem facing gay men and lesbians seeking protection in the UK because of persecution due to their sexuality. Often coming from one of the 80 countries where gay relationships are a criminal offence, they are faced with a culture of disbelief when they seek protection here.
It used to be the case that claims for asylum from gay men and lesbians were refused as the Home Office reasoned claimants could return to their home countries and just be discreet: refrain from same-sex relationships and hide their sexuality.

It took a case at the supreme court to overturn this. In the same way as you cannot be expected to hide your religion, the court said you couldn’t be expected to hide your sexuality.

Since then, the Home Office has changed tack in the way it refuses these asylum claims. Instead of telling applicants to be discreet, it just doesn’t believe them when they say they are gay.

So how do you prove you are gay? No one arrives in the UK with a certificate stating their sexuality, just as no one in the UK has such a certificate. Instead applicants have to rely on the believability of their oral testimony at their Home Office interview. At which stage your own feelings about your sexuality, your reluctance for it to be known publicly, your lack of words related to sexual issues (in English or your own language) all come into play. Plus having to relive the trauma of how you were persecuted.

And to compound this, research we at Asylum Aid did with Amnesty International UK all shows that the Home Office is using too rigorous a standard of proof.

Princess Oni from Nigeria has been through the asylum process herself. She told me that it is like a vicious circle. You find it hard to disclose the harm that’s happened to you and the reason for it and the Home Office official looks doubtful and repeats questions. This makes you feel more anxious and confused and speak less coherently, and the official disbelieves you further.

How much better if a circle of protection were used where the official believed the claimant – as is recommended in rape cases in the UK. Seeing encouragement from the official, claimants find it easier to speak out. Less stressed, they’re more likely to remember everything relevant to their case, and the evidence they provide will be more complete. This enables the official to assess their credibility more accurately and make a decision that is right first time.

At Asylum Aid we regularly provide legal representation for asylum applicants who have fled violence, imprisonment, discrimination and ostracism by the state and/or by their family simply because of their sexuality. We frontload these cases. This means we spend time taking down the applicant’s narrative, supporting them to tell us all the traumatic details. We supplement this with medical reports. And we obtain country reports – what is the current situation for gay men or lesbians in Uganda or Nigeria or Jamaica?

In rejecting Kityo’s case, the Home Office defended the guidance and training it has given its staff to deal with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex applicants. When compared with how LGBT cases are dealt with throughout Europe, it has a right to be proud of its guidance.

Our asylum system is forcing vulnerable teenagers to relive their trauma
Gillian Hughes
Read more
However, our experience and that of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) is that that guidance is not routinely implemented, nor is the training. Despite the guidelines, UKLGIG’s research found Home Office officials using inappropriate and sexually explicit questioning and stereotyped assumptions about lesbian and gay relationships.

Lesbians interviewed by social researcher Claire Bennett talk about not being able to win in a system that feels like a game where the Home Office is trying to catch you out. Having a sexual identity that had been repressed for so long suddenly “outed” and then disbelieved is felt as a devastating blow.

One woman told Bennett, “It’s my life … And you look at me and you tell me that you don’t believe me … it’s almost as if you’re denying me my very existence.”

• Some names have been changed

The Guardian Logo

Read also:  Daily XTra – Uncertain future for Gay Syrian Refugees

LISTEN: UK Man Loses Entire Family After He Comes Out As Gay



By The Gay UK, Oct 26 2015 08:43AM

A caller to a radio station talks about how he lost everything when he came out as gay to his Jehovah Witnesses family.

CREDIT: lofilolo / | FILE PHOTO

CREDIT: lofilolo / | FILE PHOTO

A caller to LBC spoke about how he lost everything within 24 hours after he came out to his parents. The man called James, spoke about how his entire family “disowned” him because of their religious beliefs. He and his family are Jehovah Witnesses.

James’s heart wrenching call also revealed that he hasn’t spoken to his mother in 4 years after he came out to her. Whilst he was recovering in a psychiatric hospital she phoned him one night to ask if he was gay.
ALSO LISTEN: Gay Man Talks About ‘Shock’ Cure Given By 1970’s NHS
After he said that he was gay, his mother said, “Well I’ll always love you, but, if you ever have a boyfriend, you know we can never see you again and you will be disowned.”

He said that although he still lives in the same town as his family, if they see him about, they stop whatever they are doing and walk away.

A gay Muslim speaks: Why I left radical Islamism

Peter Thatchell

London, UK – 11 November 2015



How I came out as gay & rejected superstition & intolerance

By Sohail AhmedPeople in a Crowd

Sohail’s story is a contribution to the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s on-going LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign, where we give a platform and voice to LGBT Muslims and ex-Muslims.

Sohail Ahmed writes: 

I was born into a practising and very devout Muslim family in East London. My mother wears the niqab and my father keeps a long beard. Both my parents are fundamentalist Salafi-Wahhabi Muslims.

I was brought up in a household where music and TV were not allowed. I was taught that the non-Muslims, the kuffaar, are the sworn enemy and cannot be trusted. I was told that my country of birth, the United Kingdom, was at war with Islam and was the enemy. I was taken out of assemblies at school by my parents, so that I wouldn’t be influenced by western ‘propaganda’.

I was taught this radical form of Islam both at home and at the local mosque I attended every weekday in Leyton. I became engrossed in Islam; reading Islamic books in my spare time. Eventually, I became quite knowledgeable in Islamic theology and was well known in the Muslim community as a person who was religious and very well versed in the teachings of Islam.

People would come to me with their questions concerning religion and their doubts. I explained to them the finer points of Islamic theology, and removed their doubts. Later, I went on to lead the prayers during the holy month of Ramadan as my pronunciation and recitation of the Qur’an was highly proficient.

What I have not mentioned yet is the fact that I am also gay. It was hard enough growing up in a fundamentalist family, but growing up in a fundamentalist family and being gay was even worse. Somehow, I had always known that I was different. When I hit puberty I realised that I had feelings for the same gender. Initially, I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was what everyone experienced. Only later did I realise that most people experienced attraction towards the opposite gender.

It was about the same time I first learned about Islam’s teachings on homosexuality. Before that, sex and sexuality had been considered a taboo subject and had not ever been discussed at home.

I discovered that Islam taught that gay people were transgressing against God and were abnormal. Consequently, I never accepted myself as gay. I didn’t even accept that there was such a disposition as being gay. I thought that my feelings towards other men were because of the whispers of the devil, and were not reflective of my true nature.

Imagine if someone told you everyday of your life, every minute, that you are evil. That you are the work of the devil. That you are unnatural and an abomination against God. Imagine the effect that would have on your psyche. Now imagine that person was you. Imagine you were the person who was telling yourself that you were evil, devilish and an abomination. And imagine you really believed in what you were saying.

That was what I was experiencing every second of my living and breathing existence. I was trapped in a prison set in hell. But instead of this being a physical prison, with physical bars, this was a prison within my own mind. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t escape from this enormously detrimental predicament.

Hiding my sexuality from others taxed me greatly. Every moment I was terrified that others would find out, either at school or at home. This constant terror caused me to suffer from several anxiety attacks. Every time my parents would call me from my room, I would think that they had discovered my sexuality. I lived my entire teenage life in the shadow of this constant sense of dread.

My sexuality and the internal struggle I was dealing with as a result drew me even closer to my religion. I was constantly praying, praising God, and reading the Qur’an. I would ask God every day to remove my affliction of being attracted towards other men. I would beg him to change me so that I could attracted to girls. I so desperately wanted to be normal. I envied my friends for their heterosexuality. Why couldn’t I be straight like them?

I read various religious edicts saying that the way to cure oneself of the disease of homosexuality was to get married to a girl. Because of that I begged my parents to get me married off to someone. I am from a Pakistani ethnic background, so such arranged marriages are quite normal. Thankfully, my parents declined my request, otherwise I would have destroyed not only my life but the life of an unsuspecting innocent girl also.

First doubts about my faith

I had full faith in Islam. I was absolutely sure that it was the right religion. Out of all my peers, I had the most faith and belief in Islam. So when I began to have doubts about Islam it hit really hard.

My first doubts were within the paradigm of Islam. The Qur’an teaches that magic is real, that angels taught the people of Babylon the dark secrets of black magic with the proviso that they not practice it ever.

So I asked myself: How do I know the prophet Muhammad wasn’t a magician? This question put me into a state of great perplexity. No matter what I tried I couldn’t shake the doubt off. I asked some of my peers and read on the subject but couldn’t find anything that would resolve my doubt.

Also I began to doubt the morality of some of the things I believed in.  Was it really right to kill apostates? Where was the freedom or justice in that? Was it right to stone people to death for any reason, least of all because they had had sex outside of marriage? Was it right to chop off the hand of the thief? What if the criminal was a victim of circumstance? Was it right that Islam treated women as inferior second class citizens? These burgeoning questions drew me into a well of confusion.

The doubts themselves weren’t the problem. It was the fact that I was convinced that I would burn in hell forever and forever that was the issue. All my life I had believed in God and Islam. Suddenly I was doubting the validity of the very religion I had myself preached all these years.

I was no longer a true believer in Islam. I was a doubter. Would God ever forgive me for that? Would I ever be accepted into heaven? This fear of being punished for eternity drove me crazy. I tried everything I possibly could to increase my faith, my imaan, but nothing worked.

I fell into a cycle of despair. I thought I was one of the most evil people on earth. Not only was I attracted to other men but also I had just lost my faith. I was convinced I was being punished by God and that I deserved the torment that came my way. My self esteem dropped. My studies suffered. I ended up having to leave medical school because of the severe depression and anxiety that I was suffering from. I just couldn’t keep it together anymore.

Ever since I can remember, I always enjoyed science at school. It was my favourite subject. I was fascinated by how the world worked, and it gave an outlet to my natural intellectual curiosity and creativity. I always came out on top in every science class I was in.

However, there was a problem that arose out of my curiosity: the contradiction between my fundamentalist Islamic beliefs and evolution. This contradiction always troubled me. It came to the fore when an Imam at the mosque I used to attend came out and said that evolution did in fact happen and that it does not contradict Islam. The name of this Imam was Usama Hasan. I had become well acquainted with Hasan over the years as a member of his congregation. I respected him deeply. Hence, when he publicly said that evolution did happen, and he openly preached it from the pulpit, I was deeply perturbed.

So, after a few years of living in this existential hell of not believing but wanting to believe, and of being gay but not wanting to be gay, I decided to question some of my most basic beliefs about the Qur’an.

I had always been taught that the theory of evolution contradicted Islam and that it was untrue; that Adam and Eve (or Hawaa), were the first humans that were directly fashioned and designed by the hand of God. For the first time ever, I approached the subject with an open mind. I listened to what Usama Hasan had to say on the subject. I listened to and watched Richard Dawkins discussing evolution. I did a lot of research on the topic by reading books, browsing online and watching videos. As such I came to the definitive conclusion that evolution did in fact occur.

Now that I had accepted evolution as fact, this posed a grave threat to my religious belief system. I again referred to Usama Hasan and other progressive Islamic thinkers, and decided that evolution did not contradict the Qur’an. I had reconciled evolution with my religious beliefs.

Subsequently, I wondered what other things I could change my mind about when it came to Islam. I began to read at length about progressive Islamic theology. Slowly but surely, all my fundamentalist beliefs fell away, one by one. I no longer believed in stoning people to death.  I no longer believed in cutting off a person’s hand as a punishment. I no longer believed in violent Jihad or holy war.

I had now become a progressive Sufi Muslim. Spiritually, I was happy where I was. Religion finally made sense to me and it felt good. At last I could reconcile my religion with my own personal inner moral compass.

Accepting my sexuality

After a few months of being a progressive Muslim, I decided to look at all the scientific research that had been carried out on the topic of human sexuality. After carrying out this extensive exercise going through scientific literature, I came to a number of conclusions: that being gay was entirely natural, that it was not a choice and that it could not be changed.

After I realised that, I came out to myself. This was the most liberating experience of my life. I was finally at peace with who I was. I was no longer trying to convince myself that I was something other than what I was. This happened beginning of last year, so I came out to myself at the age of 21.

Once I came out to myself, I realised that my religious views regarding homosexuality made no sense. If God had made gay people, why would he throw them in hell for being gay? God was supposed to be all merciful and just. Why would a just God make someone gay, make them experience love and attraction towards the same gender and then demand that that person never have a relationship? That just seemed deeply unjust and unfair.

So I decided that I would look into alternative interpretations of the textual sources of Islam when it came to homosexuality. After looking into the theology behind progressive, gay-inclusive interpretations in Islam, I came to the conclusion that being gay didn’t go against Islam. The book written by the Islamic academic Scott Kugle, “Homosexuality in Islam”, helped me greatly with this.

I spent the next few months blissfully. I was comfortable with both my religion and my sexuality, and I was proud of both. Furthermore, for the time ever I felt proud to be British. I realised how lucky I was to be born in Britain as a British citizen, with equal rights to every other citizen regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexuality or political viewpoint.

This pride in my nationality only grew as I became more interested in politics and realised all things the British government to help others who were less well off, both for the poor in the United Kingdom and the poor abroad.

However, my old doubts returned again. How did I know Islam was the true religion? In fact, how did I know God even existed? Was Islam like the other religions in that it was made up by people?

All this time I had been afraid of looking into these questions. I always had that fear of hell that terrified me into submission and to a blind conforming orthodox faith. But now I had already questioned some of the basic assumptions about my religion and I had as a result changed my views. Why couldn’t I now go on to change my view about the very existence of God? I decided then to put my fears of hell to the side and to look at the deep philosophical question about the existence of God with an open mind free of duress.

I had always been convinced that Islam was the true religion on the basis that there were ‘scientific miracles’ in the Qur’an. When I looked into these so called scientific miracles, I realised that the miraculous facts had been forced onto the language of the Qur’an retrospectively by Muslim apologists.

In fact, the verses in question were so ambiguous, and the link between the modern scientific interpretations and the actual intended Arabic meanings of the words so tenuous, that there was nothing resembling a miracle in the Qur’an at all. Furthermore there were scientific, factual and historical inaccuracies.

I also questioned the story of the life of Muhammad. Imagine a similar man came to me today, I posited. How would I view him? I’d view him as an individual who was suffering a form of mental illness whereby he was experiencing religious delusions. In fact, people who suffer from schizophrenia are well known to have religious delusions and hallucinations.

How likely was it that Muhammad actually split the moon in two, or that he flew to heaven on a winged horse? Put it another way, why was I embarrassed in talking about these fairy-tale-like parts of my religion with non-Muslims? If it was the ultimate truth why be embarrassed about it?

I studied the philosophy and the physics behind the creation, or start, of the universe. I came to realise that it was entirely plausible that the universe came into existence without there being a God. I also studied the religious arguments for the existence of God. I watched many debates, including some debates by Hamza Tzortzis, William Lane Craig, Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins. I asked many people who were knowledgeable in Islam about my doubts about the existence of God, but none of them could answer my questions. Finally, after months of research and questioning, I realised I was agnostic. I didn’t believe in Islam or the existence of God anymore.

Coming out to the world

Once I realised that I was gay I knew straight away that I would want to tell others. I couldn’t live a life of lies, hidden and secret. I also decided that I wanted to tell the world that I was no longer Muslim. I knew I would face a backlash for doing so, but the freedom of living life in openly and honestly far outweighed, in my mind, the negative repercussions of coming out.

At first I came to those who were closest to me. My best friend at the time was the first person I came out to as gay and as ex-Muslim. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. He reacted, much to my surprise, very positively; he hugged me and said that nothing had changed between us. After that I slowly came out to my other close friends. A few weeks later, I had come out to total of seven close friends, all of whom were Muslim, and all of them had been very accepting.

One of my friends, who would regularly make homophobic remarks and jokes, especially supported me. I came out to him straight after he made a homophobic jibe against a person I knew at university. At first he didn’t believe me, but when he realised I was telling him the truth, he shook my hand and told me that he would stand behind me no matter what. Within a few seconds his views of gay people had completely changed for the better, and he would since then remain one my staunchest allies.

During this time, my relationship with my family had been deteriorating. I would regularly have arguments with my parents on issues related to religion. Every time my mother or father would make a misogynistic remark or would say something denigrating against the ‘kuffaar’ I would become extremely angry. I would challenge their views and we would get into impassioned arguments. These arguments and disagreements continued for a few months, until one day I became so angry and exasperated with my parents’ mode of thinking, that I blurted out the words that I no longer believed in God. Immediately my parents told me to pack my bag and leave the house.

I tried to reason with them, but all efforts failed. Dejected and half angry, I packed my bag with whatever I could fit into it, and I left the house. I made my way to a cheap hotel, and stayed the night. The following day, I contacted homeless charities. They all told me to stay at a friend’s or a family member’s house. The only person I could go to was my grandmother. So I went to her house.

She listened empathetically to my story. Tactically, I did not tell her about my agnosticism. I simply told her that I was ‘unsure’ whether God existed. She proceeded to phone my parents, who responded angrily. I took the phone from my grandmother and spoke to my mother on the phone. There were raised voices. My mother gave the phone to my father, who told me that I had return home, because they had discovered something that I had been keeping a secret from them.

Upon hearing the words, my blood ran cold. I realised with exactitude what my father was talking about. He was referring to my sexuality; to the fact that I was gay. Finally, my greatest fear had come true. My parents had found out. I don’t think I have been as terrified as I was at that moment. I was too afraid of going home, for fear of what my parents might do to me. After a number of ensuing calls, my father and mother managed to calm my fears and convince me to come home.

When I arrived home, my father took me out into the garden, so that my little brothers and sisters wouldn’t be able to overhear what we had to discuss. He was afraid that in hearing what I had to say that I may somehow influence them and turn them gay. He asked me a number of questions. Had I ever had sex? Did I have a boyfriend? When did I know I was gay? Why hadn’t told them about my sexuality? I answered the barrage of questions as honestly as I could, whilst always mindful of my safety. As a result, I lied to my father and told him that I had never slept with another guy before.

He said many things to me that day. Many terrible things. Things like I was disgusting, evil, twisted, that I was abomination against God and that I was unnatural. I tried the best I could to defend myself and my identity as a gay man. In the end, my father told me that I could only stay in the house if I agreed to be exorcised. As I had nowhere else to go, reluctantly, I agreed.

Over the next few weeks, I was repeatedly exposed to exorcisms, or ruqyah. I underwent at least four exorcisms. Every exorcism would send me skidding into a spiral of depression and anxiety. Even though my rational mind knew that the exorcisms had no truth behind them, because of the environment in which exorcism was carried out, because everyone there believed in the exorcism, because everyone believed that I was possessed by demons, it created a kind of force-field of belief, that drew me into it and affected my own beliefs.

It was like I was being sucked into a black-hole of despair, evil, superstition and irrationality. I began to consider whether I really was possessed. I began to wonder whether I would end up shaking uncontrollably. Would the devil in me cause me to speak in tongues? These questions thrust the sharp knife of desolation and desperation deeper into my heart.
They culminated in a suicide attempt.

After two months of repeated exorcisms I’d had enough. There was nothing left for me in life. There was only the deep pervading darkness of melancholy and despondency. I had no future. I would never be accepted. I would never experience happiness, joy or love. My mental field of vision was severely constricted and all I could see was the shadow of depression.

I was in the process of preparing to hang myself using the wardrobe in my bedroom, when my father walked in on me. That is most likely the only reason I am alive today writing this story. I talked to my father and he convinced to not kill myself. I thank him for that much, if not anything else.

After the suicide attempt, I decided that I could no longer stay with my parents. I contacted the housing department at my university and I found suitable student accommodation for myself. A few weeks later I moved out. Moving out was quite uneventful. My parents didn’t even say a word to me.

Settling into my new place was fraught with difficulty. I experienced severe depressive episodes and homesickness. But after a few weeks, and once the new university academic year started, things looked much better. I made a lot of new friends. It felt liberating being free to tell everyone about my sexuality. My depression and anxiety greatly improved. The prospects of my life suddenly looked much better than they had ever done.

I met a few other ex-Muslims at my university, Queen Mary, and together we decided we would run the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism society. After a few months of feeling comfortable in my new identity as an openly gay ex-Muslim, I decided to come out to all of my friends and the wider world. I came out on Facebook, simultaneously as gay and as an ex-Muslim. The effect this had was far larger than I ever would have thought. People who I had never met were talking about me. Everyone was talking about the preacher who had come out as gay and had left Islam. I got many hate messages. But I also got many messages of support. I was overwhelmed by the support I received, and I for once felt accepted and loved for who I was.

At one point, a few guys who were angry because I left Islam harassed me on campus. They threw the word murtad¸ a word which means apostate, at me as insult. I was deeply hurt by this and fell into yet another episode of depression for a couple of days. But I recovered quickly, and I was back to my active and happy self in no time.

Right now I’m quite an activist. I campaign for ex-Muslim rights, against Islamist radicalisation on university campuses, and for women’s rights and LGBT rights.

I now refer to myself as an agnostic deist Muslim. I am agnostic about a personal God, but I think there is likely to be something or someone that started the universe or multiverse. I still follow the customs and traditions of Islam but not the superstitious, intolerant, extreme aspects. I am happy, at last.