Kurdish Group Launches Pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign

A Kurdish advocacy organization has launched an LGBT-inclusive human rights campaign.

The Rasan Organization on Nov. 25 began to paint murals on the walls of three high schools in Sulaymaniyah, a city in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Staffers and volunteers of the Sulaymaniyah-based organization painted the murals with the help of a local artist.

One of the murals contains images of three rainbow-colored couples — two who are gay and lesbian and one who is straight — above a slogan that reads, “love is love.” Another mural simply reads, “equality” in English and Kurdish.

The campaign also sought to highlight domestic violence in the region.

One mural contains an image of a woman with a black eye holding her hand in the air. The Rasan Organization also placed electronic billboards throughout Sulaymaniyah that highlighted domestic violence, child marriage and discrimination against women in the workplace.

The campaign, which ended on Dec. 10, placed four posters throughout Sulaymaniyah on which people could write their thoughts abut the women in their lives and domestic violence.

The Rasan Organization also worked with 30 women at a local prison on improving personal hygiene and other basic skills. Staffers also organized a party for them that included food and dancing.

Ayaz Shalal, a human rights activist who is the deputy director of programs for the Rasan Organization, told the Washington Blade last week during a WhatsApp interview from the Netherlands where he spent the holidays that the reaction to the murals has been “so positive.” He also said the Rasan Organization hopes to implement similar campaigns in the cities of Irbil and Kirkuk.

Shalal conceded, however, there has been a backlash.

The Rasan Organization said in a press release that its staffers received “very aggressive messages” on their social media accounts. They have also been verbally accosted.

Shalal told that local authorities did not allow them to paint the murals on walls along Sulaymaniyah’s main streets “because they were afraid of the public’s reaction” to them. He said he and his colleagues decided to approach the high schools instead.

“We were smart enough to find other walls, which were the walls of the schools,” said Shalal.

The campaign is part of the Rasan Organization’s efforts to promote human rights across Iraq.

The group has launched a research project that seeks to document attitudes towards LGBT Iraqis. Shalal met with a group of 129 imams and religious leaders in the city of Chamchamal in November to discuss ways to promote gender equality.

“Everyone should be equal,” Shalal told the Blade last August during an interview at Human Rights First’s offices in downtown Washington.