Does ISIS target lesbians?

You’ve heard a lot about ISIS: their destruction and brutality is as evil as it is effective. Enslavement, crucifixion, torture, rape, stoning, and general genocide has enabled ISIS to rapidly gain power—and ground—in the Middle East. Their atrocities have triggered the Syrian refugee crisis, two major terrorist attacks, destabilization of the (never particularly stable) the Middle East, renewed Islamophobia, and a death toll of 8,000 and counting.

On November 23, 2015, a shrouded judge for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) delivered a death sentence. The defendants, accused of homosexuality, were to be flung from the roof of a local hotel.

isis-gay-execution-jan15-1via Bilerico

The Islamic State loathes homosexuals with such ardor that they employ the nastiest punishments in their incredibly nasty arsenal for us. In comparison, the Westboro Baptist Church seems like Glee. ISIS has an obsession with ideological purity, boasting that their strict adherence to Sharia law exalts them above other extremist groups. The Quran states that men who have sex with other men should be punished, but not how. ISIS’s method of murdering gays is inspired by a Hadith (accounts, often contradictory, of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad) in which the Prophet Muhammad says gays “should be thrown from tremendous height then stoned.”


Our main source for information about LGBT life under ISIS is ISIS itself: the fanatical group posts execution pics to social media the way you or I might post a funny meme. While ISIS has posted media of gay men being sent to their death, we haven’t heard a peep about life as a lesbian under ISIS. Why is that? Three reasons: opportunity, visibility, and perception.

Gay men under ISIS are more visible because, as men, they are independent agents, able to move around as they wish. They get to work, drive, travel, and move about unaccompanied. Because ISIS views women as glorified livestock, lesbians have far less opportunity than gay men to seek and spend time with other lesbians.

The second reason we can’t find lesbians living under ISIS is they don’t want to be found. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Iraq during the U.S. occupation, being openly gay in Iraq is deeply unsafe. The majority of Iraqis consider homosexuality unacceptable and honor killings are popular. In Syria, homosexuality is a criminal offense punishable by a lengthy prison sentence. Lesbians in Syria and Iraq have been hiding for centuries. With the rise of ISIS, they’ve simply gone even farther underground. While I really wish we could hear them, see them, know them, I know it’s safer this way. Those gay men ISIS executed were mostly turned in by family and friends.

The third and final reason I couldn’t find any lesbians living under ISIS is perception. ISIS doesn’t release the names of the gay men they execute. They don’t want to shame (or piss off) the victim’s family by outing him as a homo. Since ISIS puts intense emphasis on women being subservient to men, I suspect they’d consider it the man’s job to discipline a woman. Interestingly, the Quran says nothing about lesbians. Like the Bible, the Quran’s attitude towards women is distinctly dated. That’s a nice way of saying: sexist as fuck. I suspect lesbianism was not distinctly called out as a sin because polygamy, harems, and sex slaves were all the rage in the bronze age.

Civilians Flee War As ISIL Frontline Shifts Following Kurdish Sinjar OffensivePhoto by John Moore/Getty Images

There are lesbians living in Iraq and Syria because there are lesbians everywhere. We don’t know if ISIS caught any lesbians, or how ISIS punishes lesbians because our main source on ISIS is ISIS and they would rather talk about killing gay men. Lesbians in Iraq and Syria, like lesbians in so many places, seem invisible. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I’m sad, and frustrated, and tongue-tied in horror and helplessness. I know there are girls like me living under ISIS, but I don’t know what is happening to them. I’m afraid something terrible is happening to them. I’m afraid something terrible will happen to them and we’ll never know. It will be like they never existed.

That thought kept me up all night.