Egyptian LGBTQ+ Activist Dies By Suicide: “I Became Afraid Of Everyone”

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.

Mural of Sarah Hegazi in Amman
Mural of Sarah Hegazi in Amman.

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.

The Struggle

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.

A rainbow flag raised at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo in 2017. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.”

Fighting For Peace Even After Death

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?!

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.

Facts You Need To Know About Suicide Among The LGBTQ+ Community

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.

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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