Originally from Atlanta, Gwenn Craig spent time in Chicago before settling in San Francisco in 1975. Although she was drawn to the Bay Area by "the consciousness stuff,” she coincidentally moved into an apartment upstairs from a figure well-known in her new neighborhood: Harvey Milk. Over the coming years, Gwenn was drawn into the heightened political activism of the gay community in the Castro, becoming part of Milk's inner circle during the intense — and ultimately successful — fight against Proposition 6 (the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned open homosexuals from working in California’s public schools) in 1978.
In 1980, Gwenn attended the Democratic National Convention as a member of the historic first Gay & Lesbian Caucus; there are iconic images of Gwenn proudly holding her "Black Lesbian Feminist" sign on the convention floor.
Gwenn has been deeply involved in Bay Area politics for decades, with a particular focus on issues facing the LGBTQ community and communities of color. Among other things, Gwenn twice headed the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, served on the Elections Task Force, and was appointed to a four-year term on San Francisco's Police Commission.
A Syrian gay refugee, Subhi Nahas escaped his homeland after being terrorized for being gay by the country’s military, its insurgent militias, and his own family.
Life was always difficult in Syria for people who were different like Nahas. But when civil war broke out in 2011, the government stepped up its harassment and enforcement of antigay laws. Soldiers systematically targeted LGBT gathering spots at bars, cafes, parks, and other places where the community congregated. They arrested and detained people, harassing them during detention. Some of those arrested were never heard from again.
Nahas was caught up in a routine sweep at a checkpoint while on his way to university, where he was studying for his certificate in English translation in 2012. Soldiers took him along with 11 others to a secluded area where they physically assaulted the detainees. The soldiers recognized that Nahas was different. They hurled antigay slurs and mocked him and his mannerisms while they detained and interrogated him. Nahas feared for his life. He knew the soldiers might rape and kill him. Miraculously, they let him go.
By that time, Jabhat Al Nusra militants had taken over parts of Nahas’s hometown and were announcing at mosques that they would cleanse the town of “people involved in sodomy.” They proceeded to arrest people they accused of committing sodomy, torturing and killing them. Merely looking “gay” was enough to endanger one's life. The early public executions took place before exuberant crowds. Still, the world would have to wait until 2014 for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), better known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to begin publicly posting its executions of gay men.
In Syria, people who were different like Mr. Nahas live in terror and isolation, playing out a conforming life — if they are able to pass under the radar. Persecution and fear run so deep that no one can be trusted. Fear has snuffed out any sense of community.
The terror didn’t stop at Nahas’s front door. It followed him home, where his father ridiculed his mannerisms and watched his every move. One night, Nahas’s father violently attacked him, sending him to the hospital. Nahas bears a scar as a reminder of that terrible night.
Nahas did not wait for militants or his family to attack him again. He escaped to Lebanon, where he spent six months in an LGBT safe house until staying there became too difficult. He then made his way to Turkey, where he waited with other LGBT refugees from the Middle East — 400 from Syria alone.
But Turkey too can be a hostile place for LGBT people and is growing more so by the day. It was also a place where Nahas’s family and Syrian militants could locate him. When they finally did, a former friend, Khalil, who had joined ISIL, threatened to kill Nahas because by this time, he was publicly active and vocal about being gay.
Mr. Nahas began working with the Organization for Refugee, Asylum, and Migration while still in Turkey. Upon his resettlement to the U.S. as a refugee, he accepted a position with ORAM as an activist, system administrator, and designer.
LGBT refugees aren’t safe in Turkey. Nahas receives messages daily from friends there telling him about escalating antigay attacks throughout the country.
Nahas continues to advocate for LGBT refugees and for those who are still in danger. He founded the Spectra Project, which aims to protect LGBT refugees in countries of transit, and offers them access to education, legal counseling, and emergency support. He also works with other nonprofits in the U.S. and elsewhere to facilitate these refugees' access to vital services.