Bissam looks out over Bolu, a city in western Turkey that was his home for the two years he spent as a refugee in the country. He has since resettled in the United States. (Bradley Secker) Ali Reza, left, and Pedram are both from Iran. They felt compelled to leave their country for Turkey because of their homosexuality. They are awaiting resettlement in Canada. (Bradley Secker)
Beginning in Damascus, Syria, in 2010, photojournalist Bradley Secker began to document the lives of gay Iraqi refugees that had fled Iraq to escape homophobic violence. Shortly after chronicling their stories, Secker crossed borders and traveled to Turkey, following Iranians, Turkish Kurds, Syrians and more Iraqis who were claiming asylum abroad or fighting for their rights in their home country.
Hundreds of individuals from the Middle East apply for resettlement overseas every year because of increased discrimination against their sexuality or gender identity. They wait for their cases to be processed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) so they can move to a third country. Iranian LGBT refugees in central Anatolia in Turkey wait an average of two years for their cases to be processed before being resettled in Europe or North America. Over time, Secker’s intimate portraits of the lives of 11 gay Iraqi men in Syria seeking asylum became the stunning body of work “Kütmaan,” taken from the Arabic word for hiding or concealing.
The images in this series were taken in the cities of Kayseri, Isparta, Nevsehir and Diyarbakir in Turkey’s southeastern Kurdish area, where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kurds have sought refuge and are fighting for legal equality and acceptance and to live without discrimination or fear. Caught between the LGBT and Kurdish political movements, individuals are looking for freedom in a notoriously conservative area of the country.
In “Kütmaan,” Secker attempts to portray the waiting, the ambiguity, and the highs and lows of the resettlement experience in Turkey and Syria. Placing names — sometimes faces — and stories to the number of men and women who seek asylum, Secker hopes to lift the veil of the often faceless or nameless refugees and amplify their voices. The individuals shown here have agreed to take part in “Kütmaan” and share their stories in hopes of raising further awareness about a deeply stigmatized group.
Dani, 23, from Tehran, sits under a poster advertising the Istanbul Pride event in Turkey in 2012. (Bradley Secker) Diyarbakir, Turkey, is known as Amed by Kurds, who represent a majority of the population and see the city as their regional capital. (Bradley Secker) Batu, 19, left, and Azat, 26, drive around the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. They identity as transgender, and Azat works as a transgender sex worker. They are both members of a Kurdish LGBT rights group called Hebun LGBT. (Bradley Secker) Umut, left, and Batu in Batu’s home in Diyarbakir. Both are members of Hebun LGBT, a group fighting for women’s, Kurdish and LGBT rights. (Bradley Secker) From left: Khosrow, Arash and Navid rest at home in Isparta, Turkey. They are all Iranians claiming asylum on grounds of their sexuality and hoping to be resettled overseas. Khosrow and Arash are now in North America after successful cases with the UNHCR. (Bradley Secker) Raha, from Iran, was living in Isparta, Turkey, and was seeking resettlement through the UNHCR. He recently made it to the United Kingdom, where he is claiming asylum based on his homosexuality. (Bradley Secker) Sourena in his kitchen in Isparta. Sourena left Iran and applied for resettlement in Canada via the UNHCR on sexuality grounds. He was successful and now lives in Toronto. (Bradley Secker) Mahmoud, 29, stands in front of his door at home in Damascus, Syria. He says the girl in the poster cries for him so he doesn’t have to. After years of waiting in Syria for resettlement, the civil unrest that lead to war motivated Mahmoud to return to Iraq. (Bradley Secker) Nasser, 29, is a newspaper photographer from Baghdad. He has scars on his legs and testicles from what Nasser described as a homophobic assault. The attack killed his boyfriend and left Nasser near death in a garbage dump outside of Baghdad. (Bradley Secker) A copy of a refugee certificate belonging to Ahmed, a gay Iraqi refugee, issued by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Damascus. (Bradley Secker) Merjan from Iran sits in her home in Isparta, Turkey. She said that she left Iran because life was too tough as a transgender woman. Merjan died in Turkey from a long-term illness while waiting for her application for resettlement to be processed. (Bradley Secker) Arash, 30, from Tehran, has been in Turkey for about a year and left Iran because of difficulties surrounding his sexuality. Hoping to be resettled overseas by the United Nations, Arash recently received news that his case was rejected by the agency. He is trying to work out his next move and is still in central Turkey. (Bradley Secker) Friends enjoy an evening of Iranian pop music together in Isparta. (Bradley Secker) Reza, 29, left, and Khosro, 47, came to Turkey from Iran together nine months ago once family and friends found out about their relationship. They say that their families threatened to kill them because of their sexuality. The couple is awaiting news about the progress of their file with the UNHCR in Turkey, where they are renting an apartment. (Bradley Secker) Mojtaba, 27, is a gay man from Iran who sought asylum in Turkey. Citing loneliness in Turkey, he applied for resettlement in Canada, where he now lives. (Bradley Secker) Mahmoud watches pigeons fly in the evening from the roof of his house in the Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab, Syria. In Iraq, Mahmoud was a high-ranking officer in the Baghdad police force, assisting in the release of many men accused of homosexual-related charges. (Bradley Secker)