“despite the beatings and insults and the humiliating and hard words and despite being deprived of my most basic rights for almost 3 months… I would not give up because I knew I was right… breathing in the free air and crying both from happiness/relief and sadness. I thanked God and prayed and stood there staring at the sea until it was time to escape from Syria.”

A posed portrait of Nathalie (not her real name), 41, who describes herself as a woman who used to be a man. “I’m very happy the way I am, I love myself as a girl. I hate people considering me a transsexual, I’m a full girl!” She is from Aleppo, Syria. She was effeminate as a young man which gave her great problems especially when she entered her 2 ½ years compulsory military service. She faced regular discrimination and punishment during military service because she was effeminate. At the end of the service she was imprisoned in the military jail for 9 month because they knew she was gay. There she was tortured. Back in her home town of Aleppo she faced regular discrimination. She became deeply depressed and tried to commit suicide by jumping from the balcony of her apartment. Things were bad before the war, but they got worse because of the fighting in Aleppo. Her house was destroyed in the bombing. There was chaos and people turned on each other. “No one loved us as a family because of who I am.” She said. People from the LGBT community started being targeted to a much greater extent. She was deeply affected by the murder of her gay friend - “I knew a gay guy that they caught. They slaughtered him and placed him in the garbage. When I heard his story… this guy was so nice to me, this incident affected me so much. He was my friend. If they could kill him then we could see everyone would be a target. They (The Free Syrian Army) even said on TV they would kill us (LGBT community)”. She and her family decided to leave the country due to the bombing and the danger Nathalie felt she was in. “If I was living 1% in ease in Syria, I wouldn’t have come here” she says. Her mother has always accepted her for who she is “My mum is my life, she suffered with me so much. She is like my soul.” Nathalie now lives in Beirut with her mum and her sister hoping to be ressetled. “I want someone to hold me, I want a hand on the heart and a country that offers me security. That’s what my mum has been to me. I couldn’t leave my mum and come alone. I hope this message will reach someone.” They survive on donations and support from NGOs. “I will die before I go back to Syria” she says. Beirut, Lebanon. February 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change


“I don’t want to write about my story because it bothers me a lot, it is exhausting me and makes me cry.”

A posed portrait of 45 year old Abou El Kheir, with his partner, 20 year old Sari. Sari came to Lebanon from the Syrian city of Hammmah, on 15 August 2015: “I was living with my grandparents until I was 7 then I went to live with my father who had remarried. One night, when I was 10, it was a summers night, I woke up to find my father raping me. He raped me ten times over the course of a couple of years. My step-mother saw me once being raped. I didn’t say anything, but still my father turned on me and started to hate me, he beat me, and called me bad names, he treated me like I was a maid. I stayed until I was 15, and then I went back to my grandparents place. All my family was against me. I was living under the mask, because I didn’t want them to know I was gay. All my family treated me badly. My last three years in Syria were terrible because the war started. It didn’t affect my life directly, I was an hour from the fighting, but it affected me emotionally. And we were afraid because everyday we would hear rumors that the war would come to the city.” Sari moved to Lebanon to live with his mother, who is Lebanese. “I lived with my mother for three months.” The relationship with his mother’s husband was not good though and he was thrown out of the house. He spent four days on the streets of Beirut. “I met an old man. I spent a month and half at his house, it was very bad conditions.” He was helped to find a new place for himself where he spent six months. He worked for part of that time but he faced a lot of difficult times. “I was gaining gay features, more and more. People started making fun of me.” Sari says though that all his life his family used to tell him he should be more masculine “I should be a man, they would say. I was always more feminine than my cousins and I think that was a big part of why I was treated badly.” My cousin once asked me “why are you very feminine – later on, you’ll get fucked!” “he was 25 and I w

Abou El Kheir/

“You are rejected here. You will die because you are gay. I’m seeking to live in a peaceful place and feel comfortable. Not spending all my time in fear from police and society.”



“They told me that if I stayed they would not be responsible for my safety. I knew that meant… they will rape me and discover who I am, then they will kill me.”



“They used their hands, their feet, cables, sticks – from 11 to 6 in the morning. I was bruised all over my body… They didn’t ask me anything. They beat me because I am gay.”



“Silence lives inside me in the darkness of fear and a despotic desperation…which settled in the hidden parts of the soul.”



“My society is ruled by religions which strongly refuse my sexuality so I lived wearing the mask of a straight man.”



At first they threatened to cut my head off or shoot me – they would place the knife on my neck and say to me “are you ready to die”