In Iraq, So Many Gays and “Emos” Are Getting Killed, Beaten and Stoned

When I hear the word “Emo” I think of scrawny boys in Jimmy Eat World t-shirts crowdsurfing at the Vans Warped Tour. This is not, apparently, the worldwide consensus.

When Iraqis use the word “emo” they refer to “an in-your-face style of Western dress that favors tight clothes, long hair and the color black” (according to CNN) or “a uniquely Iraqi collage of hipster, punk, emo and goth fashions…an emblem of greater social freedom as society has begun to bloom after years of warfare” (according to The New York Times) or kids with “long or spiky hair, tight jeans, T-shirts, silver chains, and items with skull logos” (according to Radio Free Europe) or, you know, “devil-worshippers” (according to Iraq’s interior ministry).

"a group of gay Iraqis in Baghdad," photo by Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

It’s the latter belief, along with the long-held belief that another group distinctive for its non-traditional take on masculinity — the gays — that has resulted in somewhere between 14 and 58 teenagers (or more) being stoned, beaten to death or shot over the last few weeks by Shiite miltant extremists. Most of the teenagers have been men, all of them have been targeted because they are “emo” or presumed to be gay. Buzzfeed reports that Hana al-Baytay of The Brussels Tribunal has put the death toll at 90-100.

In Sadr City, a conservative Shia neighborhood, leaflets have been distributed which name and identify 33 young people who they think should be killed or punished and listed their home addresses. The brutality is, obviously, brutal. It’s also grotesque, and the images circulating around the internet show Before/After photos of targeted “emos” in graphic detail — “before” photos feature teenagers with carefully styled haircuts and sunglasses and “after” pictures show those same teenagers with their heads bashed in, bloody and dead on the ground.

The current rash of murders — which is not the first to target these groups — is thought to have been triggered by a February 13th statement from the Interior Ministry of Iraq which condemned “the phenomenon of emo” and labeled “rebellious teenage fashions of dark clothes, skull-print T-shirts and nose rings” as ambassadors of the devil under investigation by the “Social Police.” They said Social Police had been given the go-ahead to search Baghdad’s schools for these emos: “They have official approval to eliminate them as soon as possible, because the dimensions of the community began to take another course, and is now threatening danger.”

It’s difficult to obtain precise numbers or detailed information about what specifically happening in Iraq. The interior ministry claims they’ve not recorded any anti-gay or anti-emo killings and rather have said that the murders are probably due to “revenge, or social, criminal, political or cultural reasons.” Some have attributed the deaths in Baghdad to “mysterious suicides.” Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr acknowledged the fact that emo youths are “crazy” and “fools,” but that these “plagues on Muslim society” should be eliminated through “legal means.”

Gay men, as well as transgender women, have been persecuted in Iraq for quite a while now, even though once upon a time it was possible to be “quietly accepted” thereIn 2005, the most powerful religious figure in Iraq at the time, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, posted a fatwa against gays on his website saying homosexuals “should be killed in the worst, most severe way possible.” Some gay men and transgender women literally would hide in dark contained rooms for years to avoid being killed or beaten if they were to show their faces in public. “Underground railroads” existed to get those at risk in Iraq out of their countries. Some human rights groups have called Iraq “perhaps the most dangerous place on the globe” for LGBT people.

According to Radio-Free Europe, the murder of homosexuals has been most rampant “since religious militias claimed control of the streets in the sectarian warfare that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, which toppled Saddam Hussein” and quotes one Iraqi citizen who says that the actions of the last few months are the worst he’s seen.

this teenager was reportedly killed for his hairstyle

Another publicized rash of gay murders happened in 2009 (many of them “honor killings” in which someone is murdered by their own family for being a “disgrace” to the family), inspiring the U.S to finally speak out against violence towards gay people in Iraq:

In general, we absolutely condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals in Iraq because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is an issue that we’ve been following very closely since we have been made aware of these allegations, and we are aware of the allegations. Our training for Iraqi security forces includes instruction on the proper observance of human rights.

Human rights training is also a very important part of our and other international donors’ civilian capacity-building efforts in Iraq. And the US embassy in Baghdad has raised, and will continue to raise, the issue with senior officials from the government of Iraq, and has urged them to respond appropriately to all credible reports of violence against gay and lesbian Iraqis.

In August 2011, Barack Obama issued a proclamation banning people who have participated in war crimes or other serious human rights abuses from entering the country. The Bilerico Project explained that “The proclamation specifically lists sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, meaning that people found to have violated the human rights of LGBT people… could be barred from entering the country.”

2007 photo from The New York Times, captioned: "Gay men and a woman in a Baghdad park. In a city where sexual freedom once flourished, gay men and lesbians face persecution."

Iraq isn’t the first country to target “emos,” either. In Saudi Arabia in May 2010, ten girls were arrested for sporting emo style considered un-Islamic.  In 2008, reports from Mexico indicted a “new wave of violence” over “emos.” Time magazine noted that the emergence of a variety of U.S-inspired subcultures like “punks, goths, rockabillies, rastas, breakdancers, skaters and mellowers” has been met with “begrudging acceptance,” whereas emos had inspired a violent backlash. Frightening videos show emos being beaten and killed by laughing cheering mobs of “anti-emos.”

Time Magazine also pointed out that “most of all… the assailants target the emos for dressing effeminately, still a provocative act for many in a macho Mexico.” They quoted a youth worker who said: “At the core of this is the homophobic issue. The other arguments are just window dressing for that. This is not a battle between music styles at all. It is the conservative side of Mexican society fighting against something different.”

In Iraq the conflation of homosexuality and emos is much more direct, drawing even more attention to the overlap between the groups. In addition to both phenomenons being credited as resulting from American culture, they both challenge traditional ideas about gender and masculinity in particular and the prosecution of both reflects, really, a kind of emotional policing where men are being killed for feeling the wrong feelings. In Mexico, it was noted that the emo kids getting beaten up were usually both “skinny” and teenagers, making them extremely easy targets. Perhaps that’s what’s so striking about these attacks — in an oft-war-torn area, why are we focused on persecuting subjectively labeled “moral threats” with no actual power or agency with so many real, physical threats looming large?

Quotes from Baghdad teenagers in outlets like CNN and The New York Times include a boy who cut his hair to avoid being a target — “I’m not the only one. All my friends in the school decided to change their hair style and change their clothes, too, even though we’re not emo or gay,” and another young man saying “I just don’t understand why they are targeting us. We didn’t hurt anyone … We basically live our life they way we want to be. We simply like the western lifestyle; the dress, music bands, vampires.”

A 19-year-old who works in a shoe store and recently saw two of his emo friends get killed, told Radio Free Europe: “Let them kill me. They killed my close friends. They want to kill me, let them kill me.”

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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2471 articles for us.


  1. and this is how the USA spreads democracy:

    1- occupy countries
    2- kill their civilians, shoot families if you have to, you will turn out to be crazy and everyone else in the army is so very sane.
    3- spread a false sense of hollywoodism masqueraded as freedom
    4- destroy every mean of organization and never allow a government to rise (or else never implement any measures to create a fair one)
    5- retreat after killing own soldiers, the country’s soldiers, the country’s civilians)
    6- do it only before the elections


    Then report consequences of chaos on news site, entertainment site and channel to feed people more prejudice about how f****d up and retarded those people in the ex-occupied country (happens to be all Arabic now, those retarded camel riding sand niggers)are.

    let me break this down to you.

    1- In Saudi Arabia, the official Mufti is calling for destruction of every single Church built in the Gulf area, homophobic Christians or not, everyone should go.
    2- In Syria people are being murdered as we speak.
    3- In Gaza, People are bombed routinely, last bombing ended today, and they are banned from every day work or activity, even fishermen are not allowed to cross 2 miles from the border of their sea, and they are killed and humiliated daily by occupiers.
    4- In Egypt people are still fighting the corruption of the NEW regime.
    5- In Libya, robbery and rape is raising.
    6- In Tunisia, one minister demanded a law ensuring men to have a extra women in addition to their wives whatever the case is.
    7- In Ramallah, two TV channels have been break-entered by the occupation soldiers and shut down and people are arrested daily.
    8- In Jerusalem, Al Aqsa Mosque is being destroyed gradually as we speak.
    9- In Bahrain, people are being killed just for demanding their rights, killed by troops supported by the US.
    10- In Afghanistan, Opium is exported to create 90% of heroin trade of the whole world… and it is managed by the US under the pretext of turning a blind eye.. A Blind Eye! Democracy! Freedom!

    so kindly, stop this relativism of yours and convey the whole image, the one that reveals what your government is doing all around the area for the sake of the Petrodollar. This is pure brainwashing and it is unacceptable for the sake of the Humans you seem to care about.

    This is a war bigger than homophobia or fashion, I really wish you’d understand that, and I speak from a humanitarian and political POV. No H8.

    Wishing peace to ALL people. Salam.

    • yes, all those things are true. i’m not exactly a faithful American patriot who loves her country, we criticize the US government on the daily here… I think I said in the post that this all started when the US occupation began in 2003, didn’t i?

      i think what you’re asking me to do is write a different article and it’s a really long, detailed article that would require weeks of research. i can’t cram an entire worldview into a brief post about one thing that is happening right now in iraq that i’m writing about because we’re a gay site who write about things happening with gay people. because i’m not that confident about my background in this topic, i tried to stay away from doing much more than just telling the story.

      i don’t know what else to say because i don’t feel all the ways that you accuse me of feeling, and the idea that i’m trying to brainwash people into blindly following the US government and believing in its alleged superiority is so fundamentally oppositional to everything i’ve ever believed in my entire life that i don’t really even know where i would begin with that.

      “This is a war bigger than homophobia or fashion, I really wish you’d understand that, and I speak from a humanitarian and political POV.”

      You really think I don’t understand that? Really?

      You’re talking to me like I’m a complete fucking idiot!

      • Riese, you did mention the occupation.

        “i tried to stay away from doing much more than just telling the story”
        But then again, if you report on the story you’ve got to give it more context. You’ve got to understand that at least some of the people who read this here will not go and read more about what is happening in Iraq. This WILL help shape their worldview. You’re telling A story, but that story does not just exist with the broader things happening on the periphery. The broader things have everything to do with the story. That is probably why Eve mentioned that this is bigger than homophobia, and by not writing about that you are slanting the story. Even if you are writing just about gay people, you can’t possibly be saying that their conditions and lives are all the same and that hence you only need the minimum amount of context.

        I know you “don’t feel all the ways that you accuse me of feeling”. But when I read a slanted article (even if it is slanted unintentionally) what else are you saying to me (and to other people)? Sure, many of us know about you as a person but that doesn’t mean we are not going to criticize something you have written. Expecting us to not do that is you calling US complete fucking idiots, and disregarding our life experiences and knowledge of issues.

        • maybe it was a mistake for me to take on this story, i’ve been trying to find someone else to write about it for three days because people keep asking me about it and if we’re gonna cover it. nobody has volunteered and rachel had another thing to write today, so today i gave up and decided to do it myself. the articles i read about it didn’t offer any broader context, i had to go through 25 sources to get all the info i had here, so relative to the articles i read on the topic, mine seemed really thorough but i guess it wasn’t. i’m always scared of writing these stories because i’m not confident enough about my background in the topic to write it without fact-checking myself every ten seconds (i probably fact-check myself 20 times per small post), which would take days. so i just stuck to like a few basic things I was positive actually happened, because every report was different. that’s not an excuse, it’s just the reason. i’m sorry for not doing the story justice.

          • Thank you for apologizing. I love AS and value it very much, and understand that your job is very hard.

            I was simultaneously glad you did the story and was also pissed, you know? If that makes sense. These issues, particularly the ones in Muslim countries, are severely underrepresented and misrepresented at the same time. This is very frustrating.

            Is there any way I can send you my email address? I can try to help you guys with your reporting.

          • I don’t think you need to apologize. It is impossible for every article to give the entire context of an issue. Especially when dealing with the war in Iraq and US foreign policy in general. To give the whole context you would have to write an entire book on the subject, and even then it is likely that something would be missing since all history is somewhat subjective.

            I read Eve and Alsocritical to be asking for a complete breakdown of all of the issues involved in US foreign policy (it also seems like they may only care about the bad shit, not the good) and a broad description of the Iraqi society. Fully discussing all of that would completely change the nature of this blog in a way that is unnecessary. AS, CNN, the NY Times, and Comedy Central (listing only US based news media)all have their role in the public discourse. None of them can reasonably be expected to fill all roles.

            It is reasonable to expect people to have a basic level of knowledge about what is happening in the world around them and that your readers understand that spending a decade bombing a country (really more like 3 decades since we have been bombing more or less continually since the Gulf War) has had a significant impact on a culture and a place.

            Yesterday AS also published an article about how a Boston principal banned a gay themed shirt and an Iowa school had a homophobic band play at an assembly. No one (I’m assuming) reads those stories and assumes that bad shit only happens to gays in the US and Boston. Just like how no one should read this article to say that these killings in Iraq are the only bad thing to happen anywhere.

    • i get where your coming from, eve, but i think that autostraddle, because it is a LGBT website, is obviously going to be primarily focused on LGBT issues, both nationally and internationally, and not necessarily the general international political landscape as it pertains to more broad subjects like the ones you stated. i am not disregarding your points, i am just saying that to expect riese, or anyone on this website, who works their ass off for wayyy too little money as it is, to cover all the things you mentioned above in a way that does them justice and to the standard that autostraddle consistently upholds, and still retain the website’s LGBT core, would be absolutely impossible.

      also, and i promise i am not just saying this to be a total suck-up, i cannot think of a writer or journalist who is more compassionate, nuanced, or universally oriented than riese. she can take almost anything, make it relevant, and clearly illustrate how it is incorporated into a larger context. so, to suggest that she thinks that ‘homophobia and fashion’ are the world’s biggest issues, or to imply that you speak from a ‘humanitarian’ point of view and riese doesn’t (when she clearly does every single day) or, finally, to say that she is in any way misleading the ‘humans she seems to care about’ is absolutely pure insanity.

      • Not to mention, if the article had all of the information a few people are demanding, it would have be loooonnnngg. And I wouldn’t have read it. I don’t have time for that. I get my news in small segments. If I, as a reader, wanted to know more I am more then capable enough to look it up.

        I don’t understand how spring is making everyone so grouchy.

    • Hey, eve, just wanted to let you know your last statistic is very wrong. Afghanistan does not produce 90% of the worlds heroin. says that most of the opiates never leave the continent. Most of it stays either in Central Asia or is exported to Europe.

      Further, the UN report shows a 48% decrease in opium production in 2010.

      This same report also says that Asia accounts for 83% of total of opium consumers.

    • Hey, eve, just wanted to let you know your last statistic is very wrong. says that most of the opiates never leave the continent. Most of it stays either in Central Asia or is exported to Europe.

      Further, the UN report shows a 48% decrease in opium production in 2010. This same report also says that Asia accounts for 83% of total of opium consumers. This same study shows that seizure for opium and all of its biproducts, with the exception of morphine, have increased since 1999. The greatest increase is in the global seizure of Opium. In fact, there has been a 70% increase in seizures of heroin between 2002-2009.

      The US embassy in Kabul put out a FAQ that addresses the American “blind eye” it says

      The U.S., the UK, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and ISAF partners collectively advocate a policy of forced, non-negotiated, targeted poppy eradication in Afghanistan, to be carried out exclusively by force-protected ground teams employing manual eradication methods.

      The US, UK and the republic of Afghanistan have a muliti facted approach to eliminating opium. Here is the link:

    • You know what I think is fucked up? US foreign policy. Look at the Cold War. What is the issue with communism, America? Just as many people have died under democracy as have communism. Just as many people have been murdered in genocide under either system. Democracy does not absolve you of that. Historically every time America intervened it was only to result in chaos and civilian death. Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East. America thinks it can surge into any country like bliztkrieg, muck up its politics and government and leave as fast as it entered? What gave America the authority? Why does it fight dictatorship with an even greater round of dictatorship?
      It is the White Man’s Burden to uplift all of the darker, primitive, and mongoloid races. In that is its inherent elitism and racism. Tell me when any of America’s conquests have ever been to benefit the country it occupied; for altruistic reason? Almost never. (Or never?) They were nothing more than a testosterone fueled show of ego against the East, a power play, a self-serving scuffle to protect its own business interests.
      Afterward, American textbooks celebrate all that America has done for the world. A round of applause for itself, a hearty pat on the back for itself.
      We ought to see past the lies we are fed everyday

  2. الله يرحم

    “in an oft-war-torn area, why are we focused on persecuting subjectively labeled “moral threats” with no actual power or agency with so many real, physical threats looming large?”

    Homosexuality is seen as a western phenomenon… the white man’s disease that threatens Islam/conservatism. You see the war against America (western influence in the middle east) is closely linked with with hate violence.

  3. “In general, we absolutely condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals in Iraq because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

    “In general”? As in, there are exceptions to this?! I hope this is just poor phrasing and “in general” actually means “universally” or something to that effect.

  4. This is disgusting. And for people to try to bring US foreign policy into this is crass, opportunistic and vile.

    Murder is not excused by anything. The idea that these thugs are somehow excused by their culture is idiotic. The right to life is a moral absolute.

    • Who has suggested this behavior is excused by culture? Not Riese so far as I can tell. It was made clear that this is also a pattern that began long before the American occupation, not that this excuses the perpetrators or those of us who don’t take a stronger stand against it.
      A critique of American foreign policy is totally relevant: the alleged concern for human rights in Iraq was one of the main excuses for the invasion. It is arguable that this story illustrates the fact that human rights concerns haven’t been a priority, which by many accounts they haven’t. If the Iraqi government was to fail to follow western-friendly economic policy, shit would hit the fan and there’d be serious consequences. Yet their failure to root out homophobic violence that is clearly becoming a common custom hasn’t resulted in threats of sanctions etc.

  5. I have been deployed twice to Iraq as a medic in 2007- 08 and 2010-11. I will always remember when we were doing a mounted patrol in Sadr City and we saw a man hanging from a street lamp obviously beaten. We found out it because he was a gay man, dishonored the family, and was placed in the street to show that homosexuality is not condoned.

    I asked our interpreter if this was a normal thing, he replied that in Iraq you have three options if you are gay or lesbian: 1. You can move. 2. You are insanely closeted only making yourself known by texting. Or 3. You die; generally by your own family.
    That was it. But not normally that public.

    Then I asked how long has that been the case. And he said since he has been alive (he was in his mid 40s).

    Whether or not the US has hurt Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia in general far more than helped it, I do not know (leaning towards the hurt). I have seen US mistakes and the human cost of those mistakes. But most of the people I have worked with have tried their best to make Iraq a little better than when they left it. I know that is operating under the belief that the American way of thinking is correct, but I do believe that most of the Iraqi people want this internal fighting to end and to return to the Iraq before Saddam and America. I hope it will and believe it can. It just needs a little time.

  6. Women’s rights and gay rights were used as an excuse to go invade Iraq and Afghanistan (just as it’s used to legitimize the occupation and killing civilians in Palestine), now it’s being used as an excuse to stay there. That’s pinkwashing and homonationalism. I feel a bit surprised that the war and US occupation wasn’t written EXTENSIVELY about in this article, because it’s an essential part of why things are so effed up…

    • Seems this is how imperialism’s worked for centuries. The great power swoops in, gets what it wants (regime change, access to markets, whatever) and swoops out. There’s little effort to make things better for the common folk. In India the British would speak of “civilizing” people, but simply banning widow-burning doesn’t end violence against women. Education was only extended to people who would make useful civil servants, as opposed to the masses. And so on.

      Most of the countries targeted by the great powers tend to be shit places for us queers to begin with, but it isn’t like the great powers swoop in for humanitarian purposes. Benevolent imperialism can really only be found in fantasy/scifi. 🙁

  7. Thanks for writing this, Riese. Sometimes it’s difficult to muddle through all of the incredibly biased news articles and rumors out there to get to information that is true and worth reading. Thank you for writing about something that is relevant to my interests (while not mucking it up with other stories that are not necessarily relevant) in the best way that you know how.

  8. This is a great piece, Riese. It is clear that you’re writing about a small part of the conflict, and I like to believe that most readers understand that gay and “emo” problems are NOT the only problem, nor is it the central issue in Irak. Thank you for writing about this!

  9. One of the things I love about Autostraddle (apart from the fact that the articles are almost uniformly well-written) is that the comments are always worth reading. They add further information, context and informed opinion, forming a dialogue with the writer and with other posters.

    It seems unfortunate that the tone of some of the comments on this article and others recently has been so challenging. I feel that it is possible for people add their perspectives and specialist knowledge without being dismissive of the article which has sparked the dialogue that enables them to share their views.

    It’s a matter of regarding one’s comment as an *addition* to an ongoing dialogue, rather than assuming that the writer should have all the information at her fingertips. Let’s face it, AS doesn’t have the resources and staff of the New York Times, and it’s unreasonable to expect it. And yet, how many of us read the NYT as frequently as we read AS? What AS political articles give us is an opening for dialogue. What we bring to it deepens the discussion and adds context. It is *all* valuable input.

    It’s a very different format from a newspaper or magazine, where we are simply consumers of one person’s opinion. This is more of a dynamic, co-operative process, where the more people join in, the more complete a concept we get of the issue.

    I love reading the many, varied points of view on AS. They help me to evolve my own opinions, taking into consideration more points of view than just my own. Long may you all continue to post!

    And, Reise, thank you so much for writing this article. It is much more comprehensive than others I’ve read on the same topic (and I’ve read several) and better written.

  10. Islam is a religion of peace. Under Islamic law (called Sharia) homosexuality is a serious crime which is punished with death. All Islam-dominated countries have the same laws regarding homosexuality. Islam is a religion that started in Arabia and has spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Islam is also spreading in the West – go to and search on My Brother the Islamist. Again, I quote Pres. Clinton, Pres. Bush, PM Tony Blair, and Pres. Obama, “Islam is a religion of peace.” You are not being brainwashed, I repeat, you are not being brainwashed. We did not invade Iraq to impose Western values. Islam is a religion of peace. Islam is a religion of peace. Christianity is an evil stupid violent religion. Islam is a religion of peace. Islam … peace … peace … Islam.

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