On Dec 28, 2016 Huffington Post reported: Bassel Mcleash, a gay Syrian refugee, came to Canada on the Rainbow Railroad.
The 29-year-old HIV-positive man, who once had to keep his sexuality a secret to avoid prison, arrived in Toronto in May as part of the organization’s refugee resettlement program. A few weeks later, he was marching in the city’s Pride Parade right next to Justin Trudeau, the leader of his newly adopted homeland.
In an interview during a TEDx Toronto conference this year, Mcleash sat down with The Huffington Post Canada to talk about what it was like being in Syria’s compulsory military service when the war began.
“I lost three of my friends just because we were attacked. We were sniped. We never knew who attacked us.”
He made it to Egypt after the war, only to discover the military regime was more anti-LGBTQ than the Muslim Brotherhood they overthrew. The discovery of his HIV status trapped him in an untenable situation, until a friend introduced him to Rainbow Railroad.
The Toronto-based organization, inspired by the Underground Railroad, helps LGBTQ people “as they seek safe haven from state enabled violence, murder or persecution.” They are at the tail-end of an attempt to save 60 lives in the last 60 days of 2016 (You can donate here to help).
Mcleash also reveals what he said to the Prime Minister during Pride, and what he would say to any Canadian who still thinks resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees was a bad idea.
Can you tell me how you got out of Syria and what the situation was like when you left?
I was born and raised in Damascus. When [the war] started I was actually serving the compulsory service in the military. I didn’t have a choice. In my own military base, I lost three of my friends just because we were attacked. We were sniped. We never knew who attacked us.
When I got out, I came back home to Damascus and found things that are not as settling as I expected. Things became really awful, bombings and explosions and people lost their life on their way to work. A year after the military, I had an opportunity with my work to travel to Egypt.
Were you in the closet before that?