Mr Gay Syria


In 2016, for the first time, there was a contest to find Mr Gay Syria, a candidate to represent the country in the annual Mr Gay World contest, which aims to progress LGBT rights globally through a chosen candidate. 


With the Syrian conflict is in it's fifth year (at time of shooting), those forced to flee Syria have long since formed diaspora communities around the Middle East and further afield. Istanbul has become one of the main centres of Syrian culture and life in exile, and is also home to a growing community of LGBTQ Syrians standing up and asserting their identities and their rights. 


Hussein Sabat was the winner of five brave gay Syrian men that competed in the Mr Gay Syria contest, held in Istanbul, Turkey. This story follows Hussein and the four other competitors in the community, from the competition in Istanbul to Malta for Mr Gay World 2016. 


This isn't just the story of the search for Mr Gay Syria, it's the story of a movement of individuals forming a community and empowering themselves and each other in exile. This is a story about resilience in the face of fear, and unity amid increasing polarisation and sectarianism. 


*Images shot between June 2015 to July 2016.

Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Both Syrian opposition (left) and government (right) flags are held together at Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride in 2014. Syrian journalists and human rights advocate Mahmoud Hassino decided to have both flags alongside the LGBT rainbow flag to say that homophobia exists from everyone, promoting the LGBTI community to unite.

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

During a meeting about the Mr Gay Syria contest, Hussein (left) sits with Mr Gay Syria judges Ayman (centre left) and Mahmoud (centre right) and contestant Omar (red T Shirt) and his boyfriend Nader (far right). 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Applicants for Mr Gay Syria are interviewed by judges Mahmoud Hassino and Ayman, late into the night on the coastline of Istanbul, Turkey. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Judges questions for potential contestants in Mr Gay Syria 2016

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein, the winner of Mr Gay Syria 2016 being interviewed prior to the contest, by two judges Mahmoud Hassino (left) and Ayman (right), in central Istanbul, Turkey.

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

The five Syrian contestants during the rehearsals for Mr Gay Syria 2016, in Istanbul, Turkey

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Mahmoud Hassino, organiser of Mr Gay Syria, accompanies Hussein, the contest winner, to a barber shop in Istanbul for an attempted new look. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Four of the five contestants of Mr Gay Syria backstage during the contest in Istanbul, Turkey. Isam (left), Wissam (centre) and Omar (centre right) are all still living in Istanbul. William (far right) smuggled himself to Greece after the contest and is currently stuck in Athens. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Wissam, one of the contestants, during his stage performance for Mr Gay Syria 2016, held in Istanbul, Turkey 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein (centre left) is hugged by friends after being announced as the winner, Mr Gay Syria 2016

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein (centre right) is celebrated as the winner of Mr Gay Syria 2016

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein working at his barber shop near Istanbul's Taksim square, Turkey.

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Mr Gay Syria 2016, Hussein. Istanbul, Turkey

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein Sabat, Mr Gay Syria 2016 on the roof of a building in Istanbul's business district, Levent. In some areas of Syria under ISIS control, he would be thrown to his death like other men accused of being homosexual, from such a building. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Wissam practises his runway walk with fellow contestants William (L) and Hussein (C) watch 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Wissam performs a dance in high heels on the catwalk at the Mr Gay Syria contest. 14th February 2016, Istanbul, Turkey. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein comforts his boyfriend on a balcony after he overdosed on hashish. Istanbul, Turkey

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein (R) receives a final makeover before heading to Malta for the Mr Gay World competition.

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Contestant William during his on stage performance at the Mr Gay Syria contest, in Istanbul, Turkey

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Rehearsing his lines for his video message and campaign for Mr Gay World 2016, Hussein (R)  seeks support from close friend Wissam (L)

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein's birthday celebrated in Taksim, Istanbul. He was refused a Schengen visa on the same day (the day before supposedly departing), and won't be able to attend the Mr Gay World 2016 competition in Malta. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,
Members of the ‘Tea & Talk’ Arabic group holding placards during the banned Istanbul Pride of 2015. Mr Gay Syria 2016 contestant Wissam (blue shirt, left) and winner, Hussein (yellow T-shirt, right) were amongst the group in Taksim square, Istanbul, Turkey. Banners read "I’m Arab and I'm gay" and "We're here, get used to it".
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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Salah (L), and Mr Gay Syria judges Samer (C) and Mahmoud (R) prepare banners for Istanbul Pride 2015, Taksim, Istanbul, Turkey.

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Hussein stands in the doorway of a gay friendly cafe near Mis sokak, as Turkish riot police pass by to prevent the LGBTI Pride march from taking place. Istanbul, Turkey, 26th June 2016.

Hussein Sabat, winner and title holder of Mr Gay Syria 2016, stands in the doorway of a gay friendly cafe in Mis Sokak, near Taksim square, as Turkish riot police pass by to prevent the LGBTI+ Pride march from taking place. The march was banned citing security concerns. Istanbul, Turkey, 26th June 2016

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein, Mr Gay Syria 2016, at home in Istanbul, Turkey

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Nader (Lower L) proposed to Mr Gay Syria contestant Omar (Lower R) during Omar's birthday party in Istanbul, Turkey. Omar accepted and hopes to marry Nader when he is resettled to Norway, where Nader is currently awaiting him.

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein (C) dances with his boyfriend at his birthday party, at a gay friendly cafe in central Istanbul, Turkey. 

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Hussein Sabat, right, and Ayman Menem (a judge of Mr Gay Syria contest), centre, stand cautiously watch the Turkish police surrounding a group of Pride marchers during the banned Pride in Istanbul, Turkey this year.
Hussein Sabat, right, and Ayman Menem (a judge of Mr Gay Syria contest), centre, stand cautiously watch the Turkish police surrounding a group of Pride marchers during the banned Pride in Istanbul, Turkey this year.
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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,
The floor of a gay friendly Syrian run cafe near Istanbul's Taksim square, Turkey, where a young gay Syrian couple got engaged. Being in Istanbul and enjoying relative freedom compared to Syria, there have been several gay engagements over recent months in the city, although faces of those cannot be published at this time.
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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

LGBT Syrians hold placards before the start of Istanbul LGBT Pride 2015, which was banned minutes before it was supposed to begin. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Hussein (C) and Mahmoud (R) during his birthday party in Taksim, Istanbul, Turkey. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Mahmoud Hassino (L) representing Syria at Mr Gay World 2016, with Mr Gay Chile (C) and Mr Gay Germany (R), during a tour of Malta, the host country of the contest. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Before Istanbul's 2016 LGBTI+ Pride Hussein (right) and Ayman wait in a cafe near Mis Sokak, preparing posters, banners and arrange to meet friends. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Mahmoud (far left), representing Hussein, the Mr Gay Syria title holder, in Malta's Mr Gay World 2016. 22 contestants from around the world looked out at Valetta, Malta's capital city during a tour of the nations islands. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Mahmoud Hassino (1 from right) represents Syria at the 2016 Mr Gay World competition, held in Malta. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

During the rehearsal of the contest, Egyptian judge Souma (hand shown) gives advice to contestants Omar (red) and Wissam (R)

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Wissam dances for Hussein (C), Mr Gay Syria 2016, for his birthday in Istanbul, Turkey.

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Mahmoud Hassino (sitting centre) who is representing Mr Gay Syria at the Mr Gay World competition's sports challenge event on a beach in Malta. Mr Gay Syria, Hussein Sabat wasn't given a Schengen visa to participate in the event, so Mahmoud, who has political asylum in Germany, represented both Hussein and Syria instead. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

Mr Gay Syria judges, Ayman (L) and Mahmoud Hassino (R) between interviewing candidates for the contest in Istanbul, Turkey. 

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Mr Gay Syria follows the journey of five Syrian gay contestants to become the national representative for Mr Gay World in Malta 2016. The competition was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Refugee, Syria, Syrian, Istanbul, MrGaySyria,

The sash of Mr Gay Syria in a hotel in Malta. Hussein, the Syrian contestant was refused a Schengen visa to compete at the event, so the organiser, Mahmoud Hassino represented both Hussein and Syria instead. 

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