Assem, from Egypt

Assem, an Egyptian LGBTQ-rights advocate living in the US

Excerpted from Gay, Muslim and Seeking Asylum written by Joseph Mayton and published in the Daily Beast on June 18, 2013


A woman wears a rainbow-colored burka during a gay-pride parade in Warsaw on June 15, 2013. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

Assem el-Tawdi, faced massive discrimination in Egypt. He was on the Queen Boat during the infamous raid on a gay gathering in Cairo on May 11, 2001, when over 50 people were arrested. During the crackdown, 23 people were charged with defamation of Islam and were reportedly tortured and raped while being detained by police. Some were handed five years in prison, with hard labor.

Fearing for his life, Tawdi fled Egypt and sought asylum in the United States. He applied, and after proving his homosexual identity, was given asylum in the U.S. and now lives in San Francisco. “Right now, the majority of people in the Arab world are not willing to tolerate our existence, and that has to change. That is what I am trying to do,” he said recently.

To prove homosexual identity, one must prove to immigration courts that they have claims “founded on persecution based on sexual identity,” according to Essentially, this means that someone, like Tawdi, had to prove that his or her identity was the cause of persecution in his or her home country as opposed to homosexual acts, which are criminalized in some American states.

Tawdi is the founder of Arabs4tolerance, a website that seeks to advance understanding and tolerance of all walks of life in the Arab world. While he knows it is a difficult effort, battling for his freedom and his LGBT community is close to his heart. “There is definitely a ‘silent’ revolution going on. LGBT Arabs across the Arab world and beyond are connecting with each other,” he said.

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