On Feb 14, 2017 DW reported: A year ago, Syrian activists based in Berlin organized a Mr. Gay Syria contest in Istanbul. But, with anti-gay hate crime on the rise in Turkey, they now fear for the winner’s safety. Naomi Conrad reports.
“I felt like I could take off my mask,” Hussein, a slight 24-year-old Syrian barber with a trendy lopsided haircut, told DW over a Skype call from Istanbul.
Back home, in a town close to Aleppo, Hussein, who has asked DW not to use his full name, could never have imagined that one Valentine’s Day he would stand on a stage in a small but packed venue in downtown Istanbul and be coronated “Mr. Gay Syria 2016” with a cheap plastic crown.
Mahmoud Hassino, a cheerful Syrian refugee who works for a Berlin-based LGBT support center, told DW that the idea was “to create a media buzz” to raise awareness about the plight of gay, lesbian and transgender refugees from the Middle East, where homosexuality is often stigmatized and sometimes outright outlawed.
When Hassino first devised the plan over a year ago, he thought that Istanbul was a liberal enough place to hold such a contest. Still, he said, the promoters didn’t publicize the event widely: They kept a low profile, “just in case.”
But overall, Hassino said, he did not feel that Istanbul was a particularly homophobic place.
He has since revised that judgement: In Turkey, homophobia is not uncommon and hate crimes are on the rise, according to activists.
Though homosexuality is legal in Turkey, the LGBT community continues to face harassment and abuse as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempts to restrict freedoms that are not in line with his religious beliefs. Citing security concerns, last June authorities banned Istanbul’s Pride parade, which had drawn thousands of people in the past and was the largest in any predominantly Muslim country. And a wave of hate crimes has targeted the transgender community, as well.
Hassino is afraid for former contestants’ safety: “It’s not safe anymore, to have someone in the spotlight.”