“OUT OF IRAQ”— The (Un)Impossible Love of Two Gay Soldiers

“Out of Iraq”

The (Un)Impossible Love of Two Gay Soldiers

Amos Lassen

Coming out of the closet for most of us means facing social and family barriers, which most of us eventually overcome. However, for most people in the Middle East (except Israel), coming out of the closet almost inevitably translates as coming out of the country or being murdered. Homosexuality is mostly perceived as some sort of contagious disease for which the only solution in death.

“Out of Iraq” is documentary that follows Nayyef Hrebid and Btoo Allami from the days when they met in a US military camp in 2004 in Iraq (following the American and British led invasion of the country), through their struggle to stay together and to leave the country, all the way to their marriage in Seattle here in the United States. Nayyef worked as a translator and had a university degree, which helped his entry to the US. Btoo was denied refugee status several times, and he fled to Lebanon, where he lived in a limbo for several years waiting for an application with United Nations Human Rights Commission to be approved. Nayyef and American human rights lawyer and activist, Michael Failla, supported him throughout his dangerous situation. Btoo only left the Middle East when a gay Canadian vice-consul helped and because of that he moved to Vancouver.

The resilience of the two men’s love is remarkable. They never gave up hope, and they communicated daily and several times through Skype throughout the years they were apart. Nayeef had a very large wallpaper with a picture of Btoo right next to his bed and the two men remained an integral part of each other’s life during the ordeal, constantly emphasizing that they have a physical, emotional and spiritual connection. In the west, it is easy to become desensitized to love because of the tremendous availability of channels for relationships (night clubs, phone apps, etc), and they may find it difficult to relate to such an epic and profound relationship. This documentary reminds us long-lasting love does exist.

The movie reveals that US refugee policy is not easy. There were concerns that Btoo may have witnessed torture in Abu Ghraib (and therefore became a whistleblower) and this prevented his consecutive applications from succeeding. What this shows is Americans weren’t so supportive at all. Yet towards the end of the movie Nayyef does literally fly the American flag, oblivious to the fact that the US caused the war that destroyed his country. He recognizes that gay men enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein than now. Ultimately Btoo and Nayyef embrace the American dream and settle here.

In 2004 when the two men were in the army, the last thing either expected to find love. But that’s exactly what happened. The beauty here is that they were in danger and could have killed at any moment but it was their love that made them forget that and fight for a better life where they would be together.

The film follows their journey from their first encounter on a battlefield in Iraq to their marriage in the United States a decade later. We see what a difficult journey this was. Members of the LGBTQ community are severely oppressed in Iraq and in a recent survey, it was found that 43 percent of respondents in the country believe being LGBTQ should be a crime.

Then in 2009, when militants started targeting Iraqi translators, Hrebid was put into an increasingly dangerous position and was then granted asylum in the U.S. and he came to Seattle. Allami, however, had a much longer road to asylum. The film follows the emotionally painful and physically dangerous years the two men spent apart, as they tried every option they could think of to be reunited again.In addition to their love story, the film also explores in detail the difficulties Allami faced while trying to seek asylum. Many of the agents he faced also did not seem sensitive to the issues of LGBTQ asylum-seekers. Today, the couple is now advocating for changes to the process in order to prevent others from facing similar setbacks.

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