The Guardian

‘They would smash your head to death’: escaping homophobia in the Middle East

Youssef heard the shots that killed his boyfriend. Resettled in Australia, his is one of four stories told in a new documentary
‘I was hiding all the time ... I tried to look straight’: a still of Youssef in Birds of the Borderlands. Photograph: Jordan Bryon

“I tried to escape, and then one of them hit me. Hazem never allowed anyone to lay a hand on me.”

Youssef’s breath shortens with each word, his face disguised from the camera as he relives the moment his partner sought to shield him from a group of men on a Baghdad street.

Homophobic taunts and threats had become customary for Youssef and Hazem, but on this Saturday morning, in autumn 2014, the men who surrounded them were prepared for more. What began as physical intimidation quickly escalated to violence.

“[Hazem] grabbed a chair and threw it at him,” Youssef says. “The

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