11 Harrowing Stories From LGBT People On Surviving Homophobia In Their Countries

These are heartbreaking accounts of what life is like for them.

For more than 2.8 billion people across the world, their right to exist as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex person is considered a crime. The sad truth is that homosexuality is still illegal in many countries, and those who are "caught" are subject to imprisonment, violence, widespread discrimination and sometimes even death by law. 

After encountering homophobic threats made by even educated, devout people, award-winning photographer Robin Hammond embarked on a project documenting the stories of survivors of homophobic violence in countries where homosexuality is illegal. 

"I wanted to give those individuals a chance to say what they wanted to say, and be seen how they wanted to be seen, by collaborating with them in their portrait's creation and allowing them to write their own stories." Hammond wrote about his project, Where Love is Illegal, in the New York Times. "The results were often unexpected, insightful and almost always deeply moving."

Hammond traveled to seven countries where there was widespread persecution of LGBTI people, and captured both their gripping portraits and painful experiences. 

Amanda*, South Africa.

Amanda, a lesbian, has survived three violent homophobic attacks, one of which resulted in a broken leg.

While travelling in 2007, Amanda was raped by a strange man. "He said he is going to show me that I am a girl, he pulled out a gun and told me to strip off my clothes," she recalled.

Milli, Uganda.

In 2010, a man strangled Milli with a piece of wire until she lost consciousness, then raped her for hours — all because she was a lesbian. "You think you are man! I'm going to make you pregnant and I'm going to kill you," he had said to her.

Her attacker was caught only after a strenuous campaign by Free Gender, a black lesbian organization working to end homophobia. The police had not bothered to look for him.

Sally, Syria.

A trans woman from Syria, Sally has tried to commit suicide multiple times. Her partner, the only person with whom she felt safe, was captured by ISIS and tortured. 

"My society is ruled by religions which strongly refuse my sexuality so I lived wearing the mask of a straight man," she said. Sally has since left Syria for Lebanon and she hopes to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Abinaya, Malaysia.

When Abinaya told her mom she never felt like a man her entire life, her family disowned her and made her leave home. Lonely and depressed, Abinaya was left jobless because of the stigma attached to her gender transition and was forced to become a sex worker to survive. 

"I'm lonely, homeless, in fear, why — because I decided to be who I am," she said. "Well who I am? I am Abinaya Jayaraman Transwomen, my gender is my identity and why I'm punished."

D&O, Russia.

In 2014, while returning from a jazz concert by subway, D&O were beaten by a group of men who screamed at them, "No LGBT!"

Now, the couple is in constant fear of being attacked — but they're not going to hide. "After the attack, I felt even more strongly how dear D is to me, and how scary the thought that I could lose her," O said. "The worst thing that I felt was an absolute inability to protect the one I loved, or even myself. ... I realized that there are defective people who can pounce on us just because we are lesbians. But every time, now when I'm in the street, when I take her by the hand, I do it consciously, it is my choice. D, hold my hand, this is my reward for your courage."

Jessie, Lebanon.

Jessie is a trans woman living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. At 11, she was repeatedly raped by her uncle, a devout man. Her brother and father tried to kill her when she was older and she expects that they will not stop trying.

"This is the tradition. I know he will keep trying and if he doesn't do it with his own hand one of the family members will," she said. "He still sends me threatening messages … I'm waiting for my father to come back after me, but it might not be him, I'm afraid of all the people where I live … But I was born this way and I will die this way!"

Buje*, Nigeria.

Buje, a gay man from Northern Nigeria, was arrested, imprisoned for 40 days and sentenced to 15 lashes with a horse whip. After leaving prison, his family reluctantly took him back, but told him, "God should take your life away" because he had shamed them.

"There is no end to this suffering, until God wills it," he said. "But for now I am thinking even if it is house help I can do for work, so I can just get a place to stay, and something to eat. Just until my parents will understand and accept me like before."

Shirine, Syria.

Shirine describes herself as a woman who used to be a man. Because of her sexuality, she has been arrested multiple times and received death threats from her family.

When the Free Syrian Army took over her neighborhood, Aleppo, Shirine escaped in a hijab to Lebanon. "They told me that if I stayed they would not be responsible for my safety," she said. "I knew that meant that if I was to stay they will turn me into a Shawarma — they will rape me and discover who I am, then they will kill me."

Simon, Uganda.

Simon and his boyfriend were arrested one night in 2012 during sex when the neighbors called the police. The cops broke into their room and dragged them out. 

"Immediately the mob started beating us with stones and sticks with nails saying that we were curses and needed to be killed," he said. "Later, alone, police took us away through the whole village naked dragging us in stones which pierced our bodies thus causing severe bleeding."

To this day, Simon still feels pain from his scars. 

Darya, Russia.

In 2011, a mob of men beat Darya unconscious, then stabbed her. They left her to bleed to death, but she managed to survive. 

A year after the attack, Darya, who identifies as bi-gender, lived in fear and paranoia. She was afraid to leave the house and felt like someone was following her. She kept her friends at arms length and spent most days at home.

"Until one day," she said, "I understood that these people had achieved what they wanted — they made me, an LGBT activist, silent. They completely broke me. And then I realized: I wouldn't allow them to succeed."

Boniwe, South Africa.

Boniwe is pictured holding a photograph of her late daughter, Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka, or Ntsikie. 

Ntsikie's decomposed body was discovered in the neighbor's garbage after going missing for a year. She was raped, beaten on the head and strangled to death by the neighbor, who said he did it to change her — Ntsikie was a lesbian.

"It is difficult to move on and continue with life after losing Ntsikie," her mother said, "because she was a child who made me very happy."

*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

Hammond's nonprofit, Witness Change, is accepting donations to help groups provide support to their local LGBTI communities, and to continue telling stories discrimination and injustice.


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