In Sadr City and Karada, Iraqi gays are being abducted, raped, tortured, and killed, their mangled bodies left in the streets as a caution to others. No formal initiative was announced, no fatwa issued. The violence simply started to pick up last February, as various ethnic and religious factions rode a wave of anti-homosexual sentiment to gain a local reputation as guardians of morality.
After hearing reports of worsening anti-gay violence and making contact with victims in Iraq, Scott Long and Rasha Moumneh of Human Rights Watch decided to take action. According to an October 4 story in New York magazine, the international nongovernmental organization did not go through official government channels—a strategy that has been disappointing and mostly ineffectual in the past, with the U.S. refusing to recognize homosexuality in asylum applications and American officials unwilling to push too hard for gay rights when there are so many other pressing priorities in war-torn Iraq.
Instead, Human Rights Watch offered direct aid to gay men in dangerous cities. Long and his colleagues placed ads on Manjam, an international gay networking site, did their best to verify the applicants' stories, and then wired money for plane tickets.
So far they have helped two dozen men flee the violent hot spots and even gotten a few out of the country entirely. Long continues to agitate for government support, but he knew better than to depend on a policy change to save the men who were in immediate danger.
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