Mahmoud Hassino

LGBT refugee leader

‘I have been “out” since 2003,’ says Syrian gay rights activist Mahmoud Hassino. ‘I was fortunate to have the support of my mother and close friends. It was always amazing to have that love around me.’ Now, Hassino provides that same love and support in his work for Syrian LGBT refugees. ‘Why do I do this? Because I care.’

Mahmoud Hassino is a Syrian journalist, gay rights activist and the founder of Syria’s first gay rights magazine, Mawaleh. Before the civil war started in his country, he became known as a blogger under the pseudonym ‘Syrian Gay Guy’. He fled Syria in 2011, when he no longer felt safe under the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. ‘But not because of my sexuality,’ he says. ‘It was because of my political involvement.’

High price
Hassino first lived in Turkey, and in 2014 successfully applied for asylum in Germany. In Berlin he found work at a gay rights organization, helping LGBT refugees with their asylum procedures.

Gay Syrian refugees pay a high price both for being born in Syria and for being born gay. Many Syrian refugees now live in Turkey, but according to Hassino, ‘the country is becoming more and more homophobic. And for LGBT refugees, it’s difficult anyway.’ In refugee shelters, LGBT people often have to fear their fellow refugees. Hassino: ‘Most LGBT refugees escaped their countries because of the risks they had to deal with there. They cannot be placed in shelters with the same people they’re running away from.’

Mr Gay Syria
To help Syrian LGBT refugees in Turkey, Hassino came up with a spectacular idea: organizing the Mr Gay Syria competition. This adventure is the subject of the documentary Mr Gay Syria, shown at the Movies that Matter Festival where Mahmoud Hassino is a special guest. The film follows a group of Syrian refugees in Istanbul, all strong, optimistic men, competing to represent their country at the Mr Gay World pageant in Malta.

For Hassino, organizing the competition was much more than just entertainment. He did it ‘to change perceptions’, he says in the film. ‘The only image of gay Syrians is given by ISIS!’ Living in Germany, where his future is safe, Hassino wants to continue helping Syrian LGBT refugees stand up for themselves. ‘Why do I do this? Because I care,’ he says. ‘It is not acceptable that no one accepts our rights.’