15 Sep REMEMBERING SARA HEGAZY
TW: This article mentions suicide, assault and homophobia.
A year ago, I wrote an article about the Lebanese indie-rock band Mashrou Leila, who had a concert in Egypt that allowed LGBTQ+ people to finally feel visible, appreciated, and safe in the MENA region. That night resulted in seven people arrested, including a woman named Sara Hegazi, who proudly waved the rainbow pride flag during the concert.
Approximately three months ago in June, Hegazy took her own life at the age of 30 in her home in Canada, where she was in exile seeking asylum.
Sara Hegazy’s suicide during pride month shook the MENA region. After her death Hegazy left behind a bittersweet yet devastating suicide note that ended with “but I forgive”. According to her lawyer, Khalid Al-Masry, she was found guilty of “promoting sexual deviancy and debauchery” because there was no law that legitimately deemed her actions as illegal. Her subsequent imprisonment resulted in her assault, beating, and humiliation as an inmate. However, Hegazy’s only crime was expressing her sexuality,and asking to be seen, safe and liberated in her own home. Hegazy was penalized for being herself.
Many of the detainees who were “guilty” of Hegazy’s same allegations were harassed as well, making this an accusation of the Egyptian human rights violation. Hegazy was detained for three months, leaving her with developing PTSD.
Hegazy described herself as an Egyptian feminist, communist, and LGBTQ+ activist. During her time in Canada, she devoted her life advocating for the mental health of LGBTQ+ individuals and promoting dialogue on intersectional feminism. The Middle East tends to silence and ostracize LGBTQ+ communities, preventing them from having a safe space. Yet, creatives such as Mahsoru Leila fight against that through music, regardless of the backlash they continuously receive.
Sara Hegazy was merely one of the countless victims of heteropatriarchal structural violence. The lead singer of Mashrou Leila, Hammed Sino, wrote a response to her death. It projected his hurt and experience of second-hand trauma as a proud gay Arab man. He used the caption on Hijazi’s last Instagram post that clearly signaled her suicidal tendencies in an ever so melancholic tribute, it translates to: “the sky is sweeter than the earth, and I need the sky not the earth”.
Let this be a reminder of the continued injustice and structural inequality LGBTQ+ members have to live through in the MENA region, where the dehumanization of queers is still very much present to this very day. Many Arabs from the LGBTQ+ community find asylum in Western nations. Their safety, comfort, and sexual identity cost them their home, culture, and everything they deem as familiar. This in itself is an additional hardship and oppression. These barriers and hardships are important to be mindful of.
What people tend to forget is that minorities can oppress another marginalized group of people. In this case, we all have a significant role in addressing how the inequity and inequality affect marginalized identities from various gender expressions and sexual orientations.
What made me most angry, frustrated, confused, and heartbroken is that some of the responses to Hegazy’s death were unimaginably cruel and inhumane. They focused on how her suicide is a “sin,” rather than recognizing the immense pain and hopelessness Sara felt that resulted in her death. These perspectives were skewed, and it showed a bitter truth. Furthermore, as much as I hate to admit it, the majority of them were Arabs, like me. The disgrace, shame, and fuming anger I feel for the discriminatory actions committed are beyond expression.
Queer BIPOC individuals are more prone to suicide and assault, causing them to endure an elevating amount of racism, homophobia, and degrading mental health. It is our responsibility, regardless of our race, gender or sexual orientation, to continue to demolish the heteropatriarchal system that continuously cultivates the oppression of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks, as well as singles out marginalized communities. Personally, as an Arab Muslim, I need to know my resources, I need to have tough conversations, I need to stand in utmost solidarity, and I need to carve out a safe space.
The devastating truth is, Sara Hegazyi’s story is not new, not just to the Arab world, but globally. However, it can be prevented.
With it being suicide prevention month, I beg you to not only check up and know your resources to offer at any point. Whether it’s for you, your friends, loved ones, or even strangers, listen actively and compassionately to notice signs and to not be afraid to ask direct questions if necessary.
Remember Sara Hegazy from her revolutionary stance to fight for her existence in an oppressive environment. I’ll remember that as I live, to do better.
For resources on Suicide:
Empower me (1833 628 5589)
Student Wellness Services (+1 613-533-2506)
Peer Support Center – any of the zoom rooms (229 735 43331) or (272 124 0355)
TALK (613 544 1771)
AMHS-KFLA Hotline (613-544-4229) or toll free to (1-866-616-6005)
Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4 pm to 12 am ET)
Resources to Support the Queer Arabs/BIPOCS
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