Trigger Warning: Suicide, violence.
“To my siblings, I tried to survive but I failed, forgive me. To my friends, the journey was harsh but I’m too weak to resist, forgive me. To the world, you’ve been cruel to a great extent, but I forgive.”
Those are not some words from a movie or a book. Those are the words of a girl who gave up on humanity and gave up on life.
This month, we’re supposed to be celebrating Pride Month. But, Pride is different for the LGBTQ+ community in Egypt this year. In Egypt we’re grieving, we’re grieving the loss of a girl who suffered a great load of injustice in a society that doesn’t only accept difference but also rejects who are different and excludes them.
On June 13 this year, Sarah Hegazi, an Egyptian LGBTQ+ activist died by suicide, in her home in Canada, where she sought asylum in 2018. after being arrested in 2017 for raising a rainbow flag in a Mashrou’ Leila concert.
She was just a girl who wanted to explore herself and the world around her. Sarah was full of enthusiasm. According to one of her friends, Nawara Negm, An Egyptian Journalist and Human Rights Activist, Sarah was just a peaceful girl. She participated in the Egyptian revolution in 2011 then she started reading about different ideologies and exploring her own sexuality.
With every book she read, she initiated a conversation on social media to be faced with comments full of hatred and bullying. Sarah later expressed that those comments hurt her, but people did not stop.
After coming out, she received, even more, hate comments and attacks and, sadly, sexual offers claiming that they could fix her. In August 2017, one month prior to the Rainbow Flag incident, Sarah wrote on her blog saying that suicide is not courage, nor is it cowardice, it is only an unwillingness to continue. A month later, she was, among 56 others, arrested and was accused of ‘debauchery’, ‘inciting sexual deviancy’, and ‘joining an outlawed group’. Yeah, she’s become a criminal just because she wanted to express her enthusiasm and solidarity!
After remaining in prison for 3 months, Sarah described her experience saying:
“I was sitting on a chair, my hands tied, and a piece of cloth in my mouth for reasons I could not understand […] It was electricity. I was tortured with electricity. They threatened to harm my mother if I spoke about it to anyone.
Electrocuting me was not enough. The men of the Sayeda Zeinab police station also incited the women being held there to sexually assault me, physically, and verbally.”
Expressing her struggle after being released she wrote:
“I became afraid of everyone. Even after my release, I was still afraid of everyone, of my family, and of friends, and of the street. Fear took the lead […] Then I had to leave the country for fear of being arrested once again. While in exile, I lost my mother.”
Her last words on social media were, “The sky is better than the earth. I want the sky, not the Earth.”
At a time when her friends and family should be mourning, they were not spared from the attacks of those who claim to be religious. I’d wished to say that after Sarah’s death people started to realize how serious mental illness is, and how extremely dangerous it is to bully someone for any reason whatsoever but sadly, the bullying continued.
For more than two days, social media channels have become a battlefield where the narrow-minded majority started throwing accusations on anyone who prayed for Sarah or tried to talk about her story, claiming that its haram (forbidden) to ask God for mercy to a person with this kind of orientation and that we shouldn’t ask God to forgive her. Shocking isn’t it?!
— Reem Abdellatif (@Reem_Abdellatif) June 14, 2020
While wanting to grieve in peace, her friends had to deal with this wide range of hate speech. Not even considering that a human being is more than just their beliefs and orientation and that no matter how different the person can be it’s doesn’t justify them going through this kind of physical and mental abuse.
Sarah was an advocate of social justice, she was against the death penalty, and she was a women rights activist. But moreover, she was a human being, she had a family, she had friends, and she had her own hopes and dreams and she deserved to have a chance to achieve those dreams and live peacefully without having to fight for her own basic rights as a human being.
According to The Trevor Project, young LGBTQ+ people are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than heterosexual, young people. Comparing the suicide range among heterosexual youth, LGBTQ+ youth are 5 times more to have possibly attempted to die by suicide, and they’re 5 times more likely to need medical treatment. And of course, the family play a great role in the mental wellbeing of their queer children.
According to the project, those who grow in a rejecting family are 8.4 more likely to have attempted suicide than those who come from an accepting family. According to a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported to have tried to die by suicide, 92% of them were younger than 25.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1 person dies by suicide every 40 seconds! This means that this issue is more than crucial! Maintaining good mental health has become a challenge and it’s even more difficult for people within the LGBTQ+ community especially for those who live in societies that reject them for being different.
Artwork by Margherita Caretta, Sophia Andreazza, AriadneTzoun. pic.twitter.com/cgkxPB5BOi
— Mai El-Sadany (@maitelsadany) June 22, 2020
This shouldn’t be another story about a girl who lost her life to depression. This shouldn’t be another story we share on social media for a couple of days, expressing how saddening it is then moving on with our lives. Sarah will always be remembered, but before losing any more souls, this should be our wake-up call!
This Pride Month, we should know that it’s our duty, each one of us, to raise awareness and start conversations about mental illness and show support, especially for our LGBTQ+ friends. People need to know that struggling with mental illness is not a stigma and that it’s not a shame, but in fact, it’s brave to seek help! They need to know that they’re not alone in this.
This is to remember Sarah, and each and everyone who lost their lives defending their own right to be themselves. To those who lost their lives not just battling their inner demons, but battling the demons of a society that inflects hatred on anyone who’s different. May you rest in peace. May you rest in power.