Making History: Telling My Story to the U.N. Security Council

Three years ago, when I escaped Syria, or even three months ago when I arrived in the United States, I would never have imagined I would be selected to make an historic address to the United Nations Security Council about the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender refugees like me.
08/25/2015 03:48 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2016

My name is Subhi Nahas. I am Syrian. I am gay. I am a refugee.

Three years ago, when I escaped Syria, or even three months ago when I arrived in the United States, I would never have imagined I would be selected to make an historic address to the United Nations Security Council about the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender refugees like me.

On Monday, it was my great honor to speak before Ambassadors Samantha Power (United States) and Cristian Barros Melet (Chile), who hosted a closed discussion amongst Security Council and other United Nations members at the Council's first-ever meeting addressing the plight of LGBT refugees and human rights.

It was never okay to be gay in Syria. Not before the civil war that tore apart my homeland in 2011 and definitely not after pro-Islamic militants took over. Homosexuality was illegal. It didn't and doesn't matter if you are in fact gay, or if others simply believe you are because of the way you walk, talk, dress or behave. For any reason you can be arrested by the police, harassed and physically assaulted on the streets by community members and even harmed in your own home by your own family.

In 2011, when the civil war broke out, the government purposefully targeted LGBT people. Knowing that we were a vulnerable community they conducted an anti-gay propaganda campaign on TV, calling all dissidents homosexuals. The government stepped up its enforcement of the anti-gay laws and conducted raids at cafes and parks where it was known that the LGBT community gathered.

After al Nusra Front arrested a gender nonconforming man and searched his phone, they announced at mosque that they would cleanse the town of people who were involved in sodomy. They started arresting people, torturing them to confess their sins. Some were killed.

The government condoned and justified the violence against LGBT people or those assumed to be gay.

None of these murders were known to the outside world. The militants weren't as bold as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), more frequently known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who started posting their exploits killing gays online. Photos and videos of armed militants throwing blindfolded men off the tops of buildings into exuberant crowds who watched and participated by stoning them to death spread across the Internet.

Then one day I became the target. In 2012 I was riding the bus on my way to university, where I was studying for my certificate in English Translation, when we were stopped at a checkpoint. Soldiers boarded the bus and took many of the young people, including me, to a house in a secluded area. I immediately noticed the blood stains on the chairs and tables near me. I was scared, especially when the soldiers noticed the way I talk and walk. They began to taunt me, calling me faggot, sissy and more Arabic pejorative terms that don't translate into English.

Then the longest 30-minutes of my life happened. They separated me from the others where they continued to harass me. I was afraid they would rape or kill me.

I was lucky. They let me go. I went home.

Yet my home wasn't a safe place either. I was constantly under my father's watchful eye. He knew where I was at every second. Like the soldiers, he ridiculed how I dressed, how I talked, my mannerisms and how I walked. One night, when I returned home late after being out we got into an argument. We shoved each other, but then he violently attacked me, taking me by the back of my head and shoving my face into the ceramic kitchen counter. My chin smashed against the counter. I went to the hospital. The scar I now have is a reminder of that terrible night.

I knew then that I had to leave Syria. It was death or my life. I escaped to Lebanon staying at a LGBT safe house for six months. I struggled in Lebanon and left to Turkey where I lived for two years awaiting the fate of my future.

It was in Turkey that I became a stronger, out activist and found ORAM -- Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration. For the first time in my life I didn't feel alone. I was surrounded by impassioned activists who genuinely cared and wanted to protect me and my friends.

This became more important as my activism attracted the attention of militants back home in Syria. They threatened my life, especially when a friend of mine who joined ISIL told a mutual friend that he wanted to kill me because I am gay. He told me ominously that "I would see his face soon." Around the same time my family also called urging me to return home. I do not know if they were cooperating with ISIL or if they were threatened. I just knew that I was still not safe.

A couple of months ago I started my new life in the U.S. I also have been continuing my work at ORAM to help other refugees like me. You see, it's not over. In fact, the situation is perhaps growing more desperate and urgent than ever.

There are at least 400 other LGBT Syrian refugees right now in Turkey awaiting their turn to get to a safe host country. Turkey, which is a temporary host country for refugees, is becoming more hostile toward LGBTs by the day. I receive messages daily from my friends showing me photos of where police pellets hit them during the attack on Istanbul Pride in June, and telling me about escalating harassment and violence against LGBT people throughout July, including a gay activist being raped in his home. In Istanbul and Ankara, groups raised banners calling for gays to be killed. My friends are feeling alone and terrified about what might happen to them; the same loneliness and fear that I once felt.

Through ORAM I am working to pave the way for my friends and other refugees -- human rights defenders, LGBT, religious, women and anyone who is persecuted for who they are or their beliefs -- escape to a safe haven and ultimately to a new place they can call home.

We may not be able to do much to improve conditions for LGBT people in Syria, Iraq or other countries. But we sure can help the individuals who manage to escape.