Interview with Photographer Documenting LGBT Refugees

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

A few weeks ago, on one of our Facebook posts about LGBT people in Iran, one of our followers shared a photo essay that follows the journey of LGBT refugees seeking asylum.

The description on his website reads:

كتمان / Kütmaan means hidden or concealed in Arabic.
This is an ongoing series of portraits, documenting individuals claiming asylum based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in Turkey and Syria. The series also follows LGBT Kurds as they struggle for their rights between the LGBT and Kurdish movements, in southeastern Turkey.

This work is three stories, a continuation from 'Iraq's unwanted people', a reportage on Iraqi men claiming resettlement on grounds of homosexuality with the UNHCR from Damascus, Syria in late 2010, and as part of a long-term documentary on LGBT identity in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

We contacted the photographer, Bradley Secker, whose photos we have used in our report, “When Coming Out is a Death Sentence: Persecution of LGBT Iraqis.

Based in Turkey, he graciously agreed to answer a few questions we had about his project via email.

MJ: What inspired to create this photo essay project?

Bradley: Well, I heard a lot about the situation for LGBT people in different countries. I heard about those that had left and made a new life in another country. ​What I found was ​that ​often, the stories ​of that time in between, leaving their homeland and moving to another country​,​ w​as​ not covered.

I wanted to understand why people were leaving their countries, what they expected from gaining asylum elsewhere, and how they live whilst they are being processed in the system.

​I also wanted to give faces and names (when allowed by those I meet and photograph) to replace the existing numbers. To make the stories more personal, to make the point that everyone has a very personal, very individual story.

MJ: What advice would you give to other photographers and media activists who want to start a project like this one?

Bradley: ​Be open, honest and up front about your project, it's hopes and objectives, and of course, don't force anyone into doing anything. I always had the agreement that if someone decided to pull out, I'd remove their images, or not publish them. There's no need to put people in danger for awareness. In that case you would be feeding the problem. Take your time. People all have their guard up at first, especially regarding photography, so don't expect to do something deep and meaningful in a couple of days or even weeks. 

MJ: Do you have a memorable moment from one of your photo shoots that you can share with us that is not on your website?

Bradley: ​There are many memorable moments. The few months I spent in Damascus, Syria, wandering around with the people I was photographing, mostly at night, remain a special memory. We had some great conversations during that time period, and the energy and atmosphere was very interesting. The hospitality and openness everyone showed towards me, both in Syria and in Turkey, is also always very memorable, I always felt so welcomed.

MJ: Do you think sharing projects like this one or media like our reports and graphic novel on social media are important? Why?

Bradley: ​I think that spreading awareness of any issue or taboo is helpful to hopefully tackle it. Of course there are plenty of people that hate for whatever reason, but it's usually positive feedback that I receive from readers/viewers on this particular project. ​LGBT issues are becoming more commonly talked about these days, and I think that's why things are changing for the better, in general. Of course there are also cases of things going in the opposite direction in countries in Africa, Northern Asia and the Middle East, but as the slogan says, love wins.