UPDATE AT BOTTOM – VP Biden speaks to a source of mine regarding torture.
On Wednesday, after hearing several emotional speeches, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution that “calls upon the government of Iraq to prevent the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and protect the right to life and the right of all its citizens to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The resolution, sponsored by openly gay council member Bill Rosendahl, is the first public statement by a city or official government body in the United States condemning the torturous actions and murder of gay men in Iraq. Among the atrocious actions is the rounding up of gay men, gluing their anuses shut and giving them a diarrhetic, causing their digestive systems to shut down, ending in death.
The hearing began with an opening from Rosendahl, stating “While we’re standing here in this great country, right now, in Iraq . . . We are seeing gay people rounded up and killed. As I’m standing here, our people are being murdered. Our government needs to focus on it.”
Rosendahl then handed the proceeding over to Hossein Alizadeh from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, whose organization's motto is “Human Rights for Everyone. Everywhere.”
Mr. Alizadeh read a letter from a 25-year old gay man in Iraq who feared for his life.
“My problem is that I’m a gay, and as a gay man I can’t live a normal life in Iraq because,” the letter read. “Every time I walk on the street I wonder what may happen to me today. To protect myself, I have to lie to everyone and pretend that I am a straight person. It is really hard to be a 24/7 liar out of the fear of death…I keep asking myself if this is going to be MY LIFE!!!
“I have no one to turn to.
“My family doesn’t know about my homosexuality…if they find out, they will disown me because I will become a disgrace to them. They may even try to kill me to protect their honor.”
The letter is posted in full at the bottom.
While reading this letter, Mr. Alizadeh played a PowerPoint presentation that included text from posters distributed throughout Baghdad, calling for the death of homosexuals, as well as witnesses and quotes from news reports.
Mr. Alizadeh concluded his presentation, stating, “There are hundreds of people like him in Iraq that are being tortured to death and killed everyday.”
Following the reading of the letter, Ally Bolour, Immigration Attorney specializing in LGBT asylum and co-chair of the IGLHRC board, spoke. “I’ve been working human rights, asylum cases for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk from all over the world. And after almost thirteen years of being in this business, I’ve seriously thought I’ve seen it all. When I heard and what I saw what’s happening to Iraqi gays, just one word came to mind, one phrase – unconscionable, ” Mr. Bolour said. “How can we as the civilized west, the civilized world, sit by, idly, and not do something?”
The floor was then opened up for public commentary. The crowd in the chamber room contained many union members present for other issues, including the service workers' union SEIU, who were waiting to hear a resolution that would pressure the local airports to provide health insurance to their members.
When those from the public spoke in support of the Iraq resolution, the union members stood in solidarity. In a further show of support, Jose Morales, member of the executive board of the SEIU of local chapter 1877, spoke with a translator.
“We’re an organization that opposes discrimination wherever it is,” Mr. Morales declared. “Whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Mexico, and we’re here today in opposition to what’s happening in Iraq. So we’re here today to demand dignity and respect all over the world for our people.”
Rosendahl then stood up, amending the resolution's motion and heightening its urgency by adding a call to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “to take action, to end the persecution and murder of Iraqi gays, including but not limited to making a strong public and international statement, condemning the action and exerting all necessary pressure on the Iraq government to take action.”
At this point, council members took emotional stands of support for the resolution. Councilmember Tony Cardenas stood first. “We as a country stand for equal justice and equal rights for every single human being,” he said. “I think the city of LA should stand up and say we’ve been made aware of this, and because we’re aware of it, we’re saying as a city, that we shall not stand silently and just watch it happen.”
Councilmember Janice Hahn followed with an emotional declaration. “It’s just so hard to hear. It’s so hard to listen to this. It’s unbelievable torture. And it’s interesting that we’ve had this broad civic debate in this country about where we stand as Americans on torture,” she said. “This is certainly a level of torture that I think really rises above all the memos, the war memos, that we’ve seen released during the last month.”
“And when I say the pledge of allegiance, when it gets to the end phrase, 'with liberty and justice for all,' I always add 'someday,'” she continued. “I believe there is not justice for all at this moment, and as long as we hear stories about that on this planet I will not be able to say that there is liberty and justice for all anywhere. An injury to one is an injury to all. We pray that this type of torture will come to an end.”
District 10 Councilmember Herb J. Wesson, Jr. had an important objection to Rosendahl's earlier statement. “I take issue with one statement that you [Rosendahl] made when you said 'these are my people.’ That’s not true. They are human beings. They are our people. And I think we need to get away from that. People need to just start seeing people for who they are.”
He continued, “I feel real personal where it relates to this because there’s not a member here that doesn’t have a relative, even if you don’t want to admit, that is either gay or lesbian. I got like nine in my family! OK. Every week it seems like I get a new addition. That’s my family, ok. That’s my people.”
He then referred to the importance of the resolution. “The least we can do is stand up and say, 'We know this is going on, it’s wrong, and we’re lifting our voice, saying it’s wrong. Stop it.' I don’t see a reason why the president could not say something about this.”
Councilmember Ed Reyes followed. “This is the 2nd largest city in the country. For this council to make a statement, it will be heard. It will be heard by many.”
Mr. Reyes then made a connection between the torture and the bullying of LGBT youth in America. “Right now, today, throughout the country today, there are children who are being bullied, there are kids being attack because of the way they are, how they behave, because of the tendency to be different. And that’s wrong. And it’s all connected. The message of allowing this to occur, of sticking our heads in the sand, it’s wrong.”
“The United States went to Iraq on the basis of protecting human rights,” Councilmember Jose Huizar reminded the chamber. “And when we see it’s actually gotten worse in respect to gays and lesbians we got to raise the flag and say, 'This is wrong.'”
President of the Council, Wendy Greuel, then called for a vote. The resolution passed unanimously 12-0 to thunderous applause.
I’m a 25 year old graduate student from Baghdad and my name is Ahmad.
I want to thank you very much for caring about me and my problem. Finally, after many desperate years of hopelessness I found a group of people that understand and care about me.
My problem is that I’m a gay, and as a gay man I can’t live a normal life in Iraq because:
• My life is in danger. I live in continuous fear of people finding out that I’m gay.
• I can’t express my deepest emotions. I can’t love…I can’t tell those who I care about that I love them… It is like being tortured from inside.
In the past few months I have heard of many cases of violence against gay men, including killing, torturing, and public humiliation of us. The religious vigilantes (known as Maghawer) have kidnapped many men suspected of being gay. No one knows anything about the fate of those gays.
The Maghawer’s most popular method of torture for homosexuals is putting silicon glue on their anus to shot down their digestive system and then force them to take laxative drug to make them suffer.
Every time I walk on the street I wonder what may happen to me today. To protect myself, I have to lie to everyone and pretend that I am a straight person. It is really hard to be a 24/7 liar out of the fear of death…I keep asking myself if this is going to be MY LIFE!!!
I have no one to turn to. Not even other gay men or my family members. Recently I have been blackmailed by men I had sex with in the past. They told me either I have to have sex with them again or they will out me to my family, neighbors and even classmates. I had to choose between scandal and public humiliation and prostitution. But I decided that I can’t have sex with people I don’t love … so I decided to transfer to another college in Northern Iraq.
My family doesn’t know about my homosexuality…if they find out, they will disown me because I will become a disgrace to them. They may even try to kill me to protect their honor. I always have to pretend in front my family that I ‘m “normal”…but like any other straight man, my family wants me to marry a woman … I try to avoid that conversation as much as I can but there is a lot of pressure on me to get married.
I am not happy with myself. I am not proud of who I am.
A while back I went to a psychologist to see if he can treat me. I told him about my problem…he told me that homosexuality has no treatment in Iraq and only experienced doctors in developed countries can give me therapy.
The news made me so depressed that I started thinking of committing suicide. I feel even without vigilantes killing me, I AM ALREADY DEAD FROM INSIDE.
I just want to know what wrong I have done. Do I have a choice to be gay? Do I want to humiliate myself? Do I want to live in constant fear and anxiety? Do I want my family & friends to hate and abandon me if they discover my truth? Do I want myself to be killed on the hand of uneducated people for something I didn’t choose?
I don’t want to make it long for you…but I want to let you know that I have already suffered too much and I don’t have the power to go through more pain and suffering.
And finally I want to thank you for your support and help…
My Regards and Best Wishes to ALL of YOU…
I will soon blog about my own personal account, including a public comment at the hearing I gave.
UPDATE: A friend of mine works for Councilmember Rosendahl and was able to talk to Vice President Biden this morning about the torture. This is his account:
I was part of a group of 15 or so people who got to spend 45 mins with the veep this morning. After the handshake and photo opp, I asked him if I could ask a question. I mentioned the UN report, the call for action by Amnesty Intl, and the reports of horrible anal glue torture. I asked him what the US govt could do.
He gave me a very long and detailed answer, condemning not just the attacks on gays, but also marital rape in Iraq and Afghanistan. He conceded the answer he was going to give me would not please me, and went on to explain that the Iraqi and Afghani government is either too ineffectual to act, or is afraid of offending the religious zealots who perpetuate the attacks.
He said that last time he was in Iraq the Us military intervened to stop an attack on a man who was being assaulted for being gay. He assured me the US military would continue to act, but it is virtually impossible to know of the events as they are happening, let alone prevent them.
His comments were sobering and quite discouraging — although I was mildly encouraged that such a high-ranking US official was clearly aware of the details of the issue. The noise being made has not totally fallen on deaf ears.
Later, as he ended the Q&A session and was preparing to leave, he turned back to me, looked me in eye, and told me he wanted me to know he would not forget the issue, and what the administration would not let it go.
More noise and continued attention to this and other human rights abuses, not just against the LGBT community, is imperative.