Danial, a gay man from Iran, showing the scars on his body from when he sold one of his kidneys in order to pay for the trip to Turkey, where he curently lives as an asylum seeker.

Danial, a gay man from Iran, showing the scars on his body from when he sold one of his kidneys to pay for his passage to Turkey, where he currently lives whilst applying for resettlement to a third country through the UNHCR. Due to complications with the kidney removal, Danial suffers from several medical and psychological conditions, his hair is falling out in clumps and he has tried to commit suicide several times, the latest just a few days before this image was taken in his home.

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‘Bissam’ is a gay Iraqi actor and former US army translator. Here ‘Bissam’ watches a Syrian TV series (much like the Iraqi series he used to act in back in Baghdad) in his cramped rented room in the old city of Damascus. ‘Bissam’ now lives in San Francisco, USA where he was granted asylum after 5 years of waiting in Syria, and a further 2+ years of being secondarily displaced in Turkey.

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كتمان / Kütmaan is the Arabic word for the act of hiding or concealing something


2010 - 2018.

Kütmaan is an ongoing series of portraits and daily-life documentary photographs about individuals displaced and/or claiming asylum, based on their sexuality or gender identity, from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and photographed between Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Germany and elsewhere. 


This work comprises photographs from three bodies of work, a continuation from Iraq's unwanted, a photo reportage about gay Iraqi men claiming asylum and resettlement on grounds of their sexuality in Damascus, Syria in 2010. 


This ongoing series forms part of a long-term documentary on LGBT identity in the Middle East, told by those who became displaced because of who they are and who they love. 

Arkan, 20, from Sanandaj, Iran. Chatting on Skype with his girlfriend from Kayseri, central Turkey, 2012. Identifying as transgender, Arkan says, “life in Iran was impossible for too many reasons.” After extensive waiting in Turkey, Arkan was resettled to Texas, USA, where his Iranian girlfriend also lives. Homosexuality is criminalised in Iran although being transgender is permitted, and the Iranian government provides loans to those undergoing gender corrective surgery. The social stigma of being trans in Iran drives many to flee the country.

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Nader (lower left) proposes to his boyfriend Omar (lower right) on Omar's birthday celebration in Istanbul, Turkey. Both men are from Syria and lived together in Istanbul until Nader was resettled formally to Norway. Omar was resettled 6 months after Nader, and the couple now reside in Bergen, Norway. Their story can be seen in the #LoveWins gallery page.

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Bissam, a gay Iraqi man from Diyala province in Iraq stands on Mt. Qassioun, a popular hilltop lookout over Damascus, Syria’s capital. Bissam spent almost five years in Syria as a refugee before being displaced a second time, to Turkey. He spent a further two years in Turkey waiting for resettlement after having to begin the application process with the UNHCR from scratch. He currently lives in California, USA
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Mahmoud, a former Iraqi police officer in Baghdad, who fled to Damascus, Syria, after being found to have released many gay men arrested under public indecency laws, for being homosexual. Mahmoud photocopies his documents after receiving his refugee certificate from the UNHCR. Living in the heavily Iraqi populated Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab, Mahmoud claims to have seen members of militant groups that he once arrested in Iraq, on the streets in Syria. Since 2013 Mahmoud has returned to Iraq due to conflict in Syria and is keeping a low profile whilst trying to work and survive. Damascus, Syria, 2010

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Ali Reza (L) 28, and Pedram (R) 19, from Tehran and Shiraz, Iran.

Living together in a house well known amongst the Iranian LGBT community, Ali Reza and Pedram place a plastic sheet over their garden, so they can sit in the rain. Both men left Iran, and came to Turkey to claim asylum for reasons connected with their sexuality. Currently, they are both in central Turkey.

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Nasser walks around the 'Saida Zainab' mosque close his house in the predominantly Iraqi suburb of the same name on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. 2010

Nasser, 29, from Baghdad, Iraq.

Walking past the Shia Saida Zainab mosque in the Damascus suburb of the same name, 2010, Syria. Nasser says Shia militiamen caught him during a homophobic attack on him and his boyfriend in Iraq. His legs were broken, throat cut, and his testicles severely injured under their shoes. After seeking asylum from Syria where he arrived in a wheelchair, Nasser said he misses his boyfriend who was killed in the attack when superglue was injected into his anal cavity. Nasser was a photographer working for a Baghdad newspaper before the attack. Due to a robbery in Damascus, and the subsequent violence since 2011, he returned to Iraq where he lives in hiding.

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Wissam Farhat, 26 from Damascus, Syria. Wissam is gay and waiting for resettlement to a third country after he no longer feels safe in Istanbul, Turkey. In the past 12 months there have been several gay men and trans women murdered in the city, some of wh

Wissam Farhat, 26 from Damascus, Syria. Wissam is gay and waiting for resettlement to a third country after he no longer feels safe in Istanbul, Turkey. In the past 12 months there have been several gay men and trans women murdered in the city, some of whom were sex workers. 

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Mojtaba, 27, from Iran.

Cuddling a cushion on his bed, Mojtaba explains that he feels lonely in Turkey where he was claiming asylum in a third country.

Mojtaba identifies himself as a gay man, and says that this is why he can’t live in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal and theoretically carries the death penalty. He travelled to Turkey en route to try and forge a new life in Canada. After nearly two years of waiting in limbo, Mojtaba was finally resettled to Canada where he now lives, studies, and works as an artist.

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LGBT refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East live multifaceted struggles: as refugees in host and transit countries, as LGBTs in the asylum system, and often hiding themselves from the wider refugee diaspora. 


Most simultaneously struggle to fight racism and homo/trans-phobia, putting themselves at heightened risk of mental health issues, related to constantly hiding their identities, battling internalised homophobia, and being hyper vigilant. 

Bissam, from Baghdad, Iraq, sitting in a cafe in Bolu, Turkey. First fleeing to Syria, Bissam is now seeking resettlement through the UNHCR from Turkey.

Bissam in central Bolu, Turkey. A Iraqi who spent 5 years as a refugee in Syria before being displaced once again to Turkey, where he waited a further two years for resettlement.  Bissam currently lives in California, USA after being granted asylum.

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Ahmed, a gay Syrian refugee living in Istanbul holds the flower that his lover gave to him. Ahmed hopes to travel to Europe to be reunited with his lover.

Ahmed, a gay Syrian refugee living in Istanbul holds the flower that his lover gave to him. Ahmed hopes to travel to Europe to be reunited with his lover. Since living in Istanbul, Ahmed has been physically attacked and beaten twice, which he put down to homophobia. Istanbul, Turkey 2016

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A painting on the wall of an old hamam (bath house) depicts two men washing each other. Old city of Damascus, 2010

A painting on the wall of an old hammam (bath house) depicts two men washing each other. Old city of Damascus, 2010 

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Khosrow (L) Arash (Centre) and Navid (R) rest at home in Isparta, Turkey. They are all Iranians claiming asylum on sexuality grounds and hoping to be resettled overseas. Khosrow and Arash are currently in North America after successful cases with the UNHCR. Isparta, Turkey 2013

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Feras, from Damascus, Syria on a rooftop above Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey.

‘F’, a gay man from Damascus, Syria, on a rooftop above Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey. This image is from a series of Syrian and Iraqi gay men on rooftops in Istanbul, as a sign of life and defiance against the brutal imagery by the Islamic State terrorist group, murdering those they accuse of being homosexual by throwing them from rooftops like this one. Istanbul, Turkey 2016

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Danial, left and Parsa, right are a gay couple from Iran currently living in Denizli, Turkey. They are applying for resettlement in a third country through the UNHCR, a process which can take years.

Danial, left and Parsa, right are a gay couple from Iran currently living in Denizli, Turkey. They are applying for resettlement in a third country through the UNHCR, a process which can take years. 

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Abdul waits for Bissam to join him on a nightly walk around Damascus into the early hours of the morning, something that they enjoy because it was not possible under night curfew in Baghdad. Damascus, Syria 2010

Abdul walks in the streets of old Damascus late at night, something he remembers was impossible under curfew in war torn Baghdad. Damascus, Syria, 2010

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The gardens of the Four Seasons hotel as seen from the President's Bridge in central Damascus, Syria. Both the gardens and the bridge were frequented by gay men, but the area was also patrolled by undercover police, who posed as cleaners, food vendors, or gay men cruising the area themselves, resulting in raids and arrests in the area targeting homosexuals. Damascus, Syria 2010

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Hadi, a gay asylum seeker from Iraq standing in Treptower Park, Berlin, Germany. Hadi lived in Istanbul, Turkey for more than a year before deciding to migrate to Germany, where he currently lives at the LGBT refugee shelter in the city. His asylum claim has been refused once, he's waiting for the decision on his appeal. Berlin, Germany 2016

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Arash (left) and Arsham (centre) at home with friends in Kayseri, central Turkey. The men left Iran and claimed asylum in a third country through the UNHCR, from Turkey, on grounds of their homosexuality, illegal in Iran.

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These images portray the reality of the LGBTQ refugee experience, from parties and gay weddings, to the loneliness, fear and uncertainty that haunts the individuals. The narrative and imagery around LGBTQ people in the Middle East went from very minimal, to Daesh’s (Isis) recent propaganda of their brutal murders against supposed members of the LGBTQ community. 


The reality lies somewhere between these two extremes, where regular LGBTQ lives are lived, with their ups and downs, their hopes and their losses.

Shahram (left) and Sina (right) are a gay Iranian couple living in the Turkish city of Denizli. The two men are awaiting news on their resettlement applications to a third country.

Shahram (left) and Sina (right) are a gay Iranian couple living in the Turkish city of Denizli. The two men are awaiting news on their resettlement applications to a third country. 

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A copy of a refugee certificate belonging to Ahmed, a gay Iraqi refugee, issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Damascus, Syria.

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Abdul prepares for a night out in Damascus. Injured in his legs by a car bomb in Baghdad whilst en route to university, he continues to insist on strolling some of the city's known cruising areas as he says he went mad in Baghdad living under night curfew. Damascus, Syria, 2010

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Isparta, Turkey, 2013. A group of Iranian friends who are all claiming asylum in a third country based on their sexuality and/or gender identity in Merjan’s (right) living room in the western Turkish city of Isparta. Merjan died a few months after this photograph was taken, due to complications with her health and HIV status. Local authorities refused to let women or men wash her body prior to burial (as is Islamic custom) due to her physique. Friends were finally called in to prepare her body for burial, and she was laid to rest near to city of Kayseri. Others in this photo have all been resettled to Canada through the UNHCR and IOM
Being transgender isn't illegal in Iran (homosexuality is criminalised and can carry the death penalty), and the Iranian government contributes financial aid and loans to those wishing to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, but many trans people decide to leave Iran nevertheless.

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President's Bridge, Damascus, Syria. Bissam and Abdul walk the streets of Damascus together at night, when the gay community became more visible on the streets. Both Abdul and Bissam are gay Iraqi men who feared for their safety in Syria, with homosexuality being a crime. Bissam has since been relocated to the USA and Abdul to the Netherlands. Damascus, Syria, 2010

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Shahin, from Tehran, Iran. Shahin in the living room of a fellow Iranian refugee in the central Turkish city of Nevsehir. He fled to Turkey from Iran due to Iran's criminalisation of homosexuality, where Shahin could face the death penalty, or imprisonment. After more than two years of waiting in Turkey, he was resettled to the USA, where he currently lives "a quiet, normal life" as he puts it. 

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Mahmoud, 29. Baghdad, Iraq. Watching the birds fly around his rooftop, from his one room apartment in the Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab, Syria, 2010. Mahmoud was a high ranking officer in the Iraqi police, and claims that he is responsible for releasing more than one hundred men arrested for being gay. Since 2013 Mahmoud has returned to Iraq due to conflict in Syria and is keeping a low profile whilst trying to work and survive. Damascus, Syria, 2010

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Damascus, Syria. 2010. A fruit and veg market with the al-Assad dynasty, in the old city of Damascus. Several of the gay Iraqi refugee men I photographed and interviewed lived in this area of the city. 

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Navid (R), 27. Tehran, Iran. Sourena tying his hair in a park in Isparta, central Turkey, 2012. Navid left Iran for Turkey to claim asylum in a third country through the UNHCR. He believes that Iran isn’t ready for homosexuality, and that it would take years for society to accept the issue, even if it was legalised. Navid is still waiting to receive news from the UNHCR regarding his case.
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Nasser, 29, a photographer from Baghdad in Iraq. Scars are visible on his legs and testicles (not pictured) from what Nasser described as being beaten in a homophobic assault, where his testicles were hit with a hammer and wire was wrapped around his throat and metal pushed through his chin. The attack killed his boyfriend and left Nasser near dead in a rubbish dump outside of Baghdad.

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Nasser, 29, a newspaper photographer from Baghdad in Iraq. Scars are visible on his throat and chin from what he claims was a violent attack perpetrated against him and his boyfriend. The attack killed his boyfriend and left Nasser near dead in a rubbish dump outside of Baghdad.

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Abdul stands in his kitchen in the Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab. The area was heavily populated with other Iraqi refugees and Abdul mostly only ventured outside in the evenings and nights, when he said he felt it safer to be gay. Damascus, Syria 2010.

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Paria, an Iranian asylum seeker in Turkey. Paria left Iran with her transgender husband Danial in the hope of being granted asylum and a new life in a third country.

Paria, an Iranian asylum seeker in Turkey. Paria left Iran with her transgender husband Danial (following image) in the hope of being granted asylum and a new life in a third country. 

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Danial, a transgender Iranian man at home in Turkey, from where he is claiming asylum in a third country. Danial lives with his wife Paria in western Turkey.

Danial, a transgender Iranian man at home in Turkey, from where he is claiming asylum in a third country. Danial lives with his wife Paria (previous image) in western Turkey. Being transgender isn't illegal in Iran, and the government contributes financial aid and loans to those wishing to undergo gender correction surgery, but Danial says that life is too difficult in Iran as a trans man. 

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Dani, 23. Tehran, Iran.

Discussing his situation and life in Iran, Dani sits under a poster advertising the Istanbul Pride event. Turkey, 2012. Life for Dani was difficult in the Islamic Republic, although he says the gay community are strong in the capital, Tehran. 

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Bolu, Turkey 2015. Bissam's old documents, and paperwork related to his time as a refugee (5 years in Damascus, Syria, and 2 years in Bolu, Turkey) torn up in a plastic bag. Bissam was leaving later that night for Istanbul airport, where he took his resettlement flight to California, USA, where he was granted asylum and currently lives. 

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Reza (L) 29, and Khosro (R) 47, Tehran, Iran,

Reza and Khosro came to Turkey together nine months ago, once family and friends found out about their relationship. They both say that their families threatened to kill them due to their sexuality. The couple were resettled to Canada, where they now live, work, and study.

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Waleed, (in blue) a gay Iraqi refugee walks through the Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab. He is married with children, and fears those who know him within the Iraqi diaspora in Damascus might 'out' him as a homosexual in Syria.

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Bissam, an Iraqi actor and photographer who spent six years as a refugee in Syria and Turkey due to his sexuality. He now lives in the USA after a lengthy battle for resettlement. Bolu, Turkey 2014

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Ali Reza sits on his bed at home in Kayseri, Turkey. After leaving Iran because he said life was too difficult for a gay man, he waited for resettlement in Turkey. Ali has been resettled in North America. Kayseri, Turkey 2012 

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Kayseri, Turkey, 2012. Farid (left), Arash (centre) and Farid’s boyfriend (right) in a lift in central Kayseri, a city in central Turkey, en route to a meeting about their asylum and resettlement claims in Canada. All three Iranian men fled to Turkey to claim asylum in a third country due to their homosexuality. Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, and can carry the death penalty. 
Arash now lives in Las Vegas, USA, and Farid and his boyfriend have been resettled elsewhere in North America.

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Lipstick kisses and magazine cut outs of female faces stuck on Merjan’s fridge in the western Turkish city of Isparta. Merjan was a transgender woman from northern Iran, who died a few months after this photograph was taken, due to complications with her health and HIV status. Local authorities refused to let women or men wash her body prior to burial (as is Islamic custom) due to her physique. Friends were finally called in to prepare her body for burial, and she was laid to rest near to city of Kayseri.
Being transgender isn't illegal in Iran (homosexuality is criminalised and can carry the death penalty), and the Iranian government contributes financial aid and loans to those wishing to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, but many trans people decide to leave Iran nevertheless.

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Arash from Tehran, Iran outside his home in Kayseri, Turkey. Arash was imprisoned in Iran due to his physical appearance and his LGBT activism. He fled to Turkey where he was accepted as a refugee. He now lives in the USA. 

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The living room wall of the home shared by three gay Iranian refugees (Shahin, Arash and Arsham) in Kayseri, central Turkey. 

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Arash, 30. Tehran, Iran.

Deep breath with sunlight, 2012. Arash has been in Turkey for around a year, leaving Iran due to difficulties living due to his sexuality. Hoping to be resettled overseas by the UN, Arash recently received news that his case wasn’t accepted by the agency. He is trying to work out his next move, and still in central Turkey. 

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Dani and Farhad, a couple from Iran taking photos in the garden of the apartment in Kayseri, Turkey. 2013.

Fleeing to Turkey with his boyfriend, Farhad was worried about violence from his father, other relatives, and others in the city where he lived. He has a joint file at the UNHCR with his boyfriend, although they are no longer living together. He hopes news will come soon. Currently living in central Anatolia, Turkey. 

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Arsham in the foreground and Arash behind him, look into the sky on a rainy day in Kayseri. A conservative business hub, Kayseri is home to many Iranian LGBT asylum seekers, with some complaining of discrimination in the city from the socially conservative local population. Kayseri, Turkey 2013

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Friends enjoy an evening of Iranian pop music together in Isparta, Turkey. Left to right: Arash, Merjan, Khosrow and Reza (in mirror reflection) are all Iranians claiming asylum in Canada due to reasons connected with their sexuality or gender identity. Merjan who was transgender, died in 2014 after her HIV developed into AIDS and she wasn’t provided with the medication she needed in Turkey. In the morgue, male staff refused to wash her body as they said she was female, and female staff said she was male. After several days, Merjan’s friends had to wash her body themselves, and she was later buried in Turkey as her family refused to take her body to the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

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Bissam, a gay Iraqi actor and photographer who spent six years as a refugee in Syrian and Turkey due to his sexuality. He now lives in the USA after a lengthy battle for resettlement. 

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*R is a gay Iranian refugee who was granted asylum in the UK, where his elder sister lives. Here is lays on his bed at home in his apartment in Isparta, Turkey, where he spent more than two years whilst waiting for his asylum request to be granted. 

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