“I came to Ireland in September, 2016. I was brought here as a Syrian refugee, the main reason being the war. They brought me here to protect me because I’m gay. You could be in prison, in some Arab countries you could be killed. You can’t be out, it’s not acceptable at all. Very rarely will you find someone who understands, especially amongst older people. But we were living quite discreetly. We had our life in Syria, I had some gay friends. There is no community that supports gays but we supported each other. The subject of this story has been anonymised to protect their identity and the identity of their family members.
“When the war started, I had finished my degree, graduated and moved to Lebanon. I got my degree from Damascus University, Syria as an interior designer and when I went to Lebanon they didn’t accept my degree because it was from Damascus. I started working in Lebanon as a hairdresser. Working as a hairdresser was actually my dream but my parents were a little bit against me doing that. It’s all creative, it’s all art.
“It was easier to live in Lebanon. It’s actually a nice place to live as a gay man, compared to other Arab countries. I was out – kind of. Lebanon is one of the best Arab countries to be gay in, I would say. Why? I don’t know the reason. Lebanon is really open to Europe, maybe. Lots of people there are very French educated.
“Growing up, I had two friends – both gay. We grew up together in the same small town, a Christian town. It was tough to always feel different. Everyone [knew] us as ‘the three boys’. They didn’t know us, they didn’t know that we are gay, or they had no idea what gay is. But they just looked at us like, ’they are different’. And we were different. We dressed different. I think there are lots of gays there but they are just hidden, we were a little bit more open.
“Sometimes people would judge us. Sometimes it was nice that all the people were talking about you, but you knew that they could hurt your brother or sister because you are gay. That’s a big deal. That is the worst point [of being gay]. You just worry about your family. But I’m fine with it. It’s everyone else’s problem, not my problem.
“You can find some people who are nice and friendly, but they won’t accept it if it’s their son or daughter. It’s like shame on the family. If it’s not in their family, they don’t care as much.
“Sometimes people would judge us and say bad words about us. There is another word for gay like the French word, pédé [faggot] which means someone who just wants to fuck anyone. They don’t know that we have feelings, that we love each other. They think that we just want to fuck or be fucked. They don’t accept that there is a person behind that name.
“I’m happy being gay – of course. I’m happy being gay and being in Ireland. Being gay is being free. I just don’t want anybody to judge me. Communicate with me like a human. Forget what I do in bed, or who I love. That is the point. I can be friends with straight people.
“I’m religious, I believe in God, I pray. I’m Christian, Rom Orthodox. I go to church sometimes and I believe that God protects me and helps me. That is my culture. That is what I took from my family. I can’t just leave that. And I can bring the two things together – being gay and loving God. I believe that God sent me like this, that he knew that I was going to be gay”.