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Gay Iraqi group will close two of five safe houses
Julie Weisberg
Published: Friday October 19, 2007
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Two months after launching an intensive fundraising campaign to try to keep the group afloat, Friends of Iraqi LGBT must close two of its five safe houses in Iraq due to a lack of funds, according to the organization’s founder and coordinator Ali Hili.

The safe houses, which exist in various locations throughout the occupied nation, have provided much-needed protection to countless members of Iraq’s gay and transgendered community who face persecution since the US invasion.

And if at least $2,000 is not raised over the next two weeks, Hili told RAW STORY Thursday, a third safe house will have to be closed -- sending dozens of vulnerable LGBT Iraqis back onto the streets, where they face the possibly of beatings, imprisonment and even execution at the hands of the Shia militias that roam the war-torn nation’s streets.

“It was a difficult decision, but a realistic one,” Hili said of his decision to close the houses. “I thought that the campaign would come up with the money... I think that it was just a matter of time. But it was not what I had hoped for.”

Hili said he has spoken to most of those who will be effected by the closures over the phone recently, and that while uncertain about their futures, they understand the difficult situation the group is in due to the funding shortage.

“’We have to find our own way again,’ they said to me.”

Hili added, however, that while all those who must now return to Iraq’s chaotic streets are in danger, he is especially concerned for the women.

“The most vulnerable are the lesbians... I am trying to make some arrangements,” he said. “I will try to solve the situation.”

Iraqi LGBT was formed in early 2006 after reports of homophobic violence in Iraq spiked. The all-volunteer organization provides financial assistance to LGBT individuals in particularly dangerous areas of Iraq, allowing them to move to relatively safer parts of the country, or seek refuge in neighboring countries.

The chaotic situation in Iraq makes it impossible to document precisely how many gay, transgender and lesbian individuals have been killed as a result of their sexuality or gender expression. But Hili said his group has specific knowledge of hundreds of cases of homophobic persecutions. Every LGBT person in Iraq is in danger, he said.

Last year, five members of the group were taken into custody by Iraqi police during a raid on Iraqi LGBTs headquarters in Baghdad. So far, only one of the five has been accounted for.

Amjad, 27, was found dead and mutilated in the same area three days later.

In all, the group has assisted some 40 gay Iraqi asylum seekers in the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as Sweden, Germany, Canada, Holland, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

But now Iraqi LGBT’s life-saving work is in jeopardy, as the entire organization is facing a critical shortage of funding. Hili said over the past few months, the safe houses have been kept open with generous contributions from family and friends, as well as others closely involved with the group’s human rights work.

According to Hili, 34, the cost of funding a safe house -- which serves 10 to 12 people at a time -- is about $1,800 a month: $800 for rent, usually paid three months in advance; $400 for the salaries of two armed guards for each house, an essential part of securing each facility; and $600 per month for gas, fuel for electricity generators, food, clean drinking water and hygienic supplies.

To put that in perspective: Halliburton's US-Iraq contracts passed $10 billion in 2004 -- with $10 billion Hili could operate 462,000 shelters for a year.

Violence against gays has intensified sharply since late 2005, when Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, which declared that gays and lesbians should be “killed in the worst, most severe way,” Hili said.

Since then, LGBT people have been specifically targeted by the Madhi Army, the militia of fundamentalist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as other Shia militant death squads. The Badr Organization, the military arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and one of the leading political forces in Baghdad’s ruling coalition, has been particularly active.

Several months ago, two lesbians working with Iraqi LGBT were assassinated in the safe house they were running in Najaf, along with a young boy the women had rescued from the local sex industry.

Hili said although he is hopeful that some of his recent grant requests will come through in time, Iraqi LGBT’s financial implosion is imminent.

“This will break a lot of hearts, but I have no other way to do it,” Hili said of the closures. “God knows I have tried my best.”

Friends of Iraqi LGBT is collecting funds at their Web site,