Five Syrian refugees escaped the horrors of life as gay men in Syria only to find that their nightmares never ended. After years of living in hiding, fearing for their lives, and watching fellow LGBTQ+ people being mercilessly executed by ISIS, these men believed they had found freedom and safety in Istanbul. Feeling liberated and grateful for their newfound, yet conditional freedom of authentic self-expression, they decided to hold a Mr. Gay Syria contest and planned for the winner to participate in The Mr. Gay World competition. However, hate and homophobia still remain in Turkey.
This is the premise of the new documentary Mr. Gay Syria, written and directed by Ayşe Toprak, hitting the festival circuit this summer―but also the intro to a Change.org petition seeking to help the Mr. Gay Syria contestants secure asylum. The doc and the petition are part of the nonprofit We Are One+Together’s Mr. Gay Syria campaign, which it launched June 21 with a special screening of the short film War Within, in partnership with Visionaire.
Directed by Palestinian-Lebanese director and musician Zaher Saleh, War Within is the first installment in the We Are One+Together film series. The film tackles a gay Muslim man’s struggle to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, his longing for acceptance from his family, and his journey to love and accept himself.
Zaher Saleh was born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees and raised in Canfield, Ohio where he spent his summers as a teen with relatives, eventually attending high school and college there. “War Within is not only inspired by my own personal journey but I think it is also reflective of many people’s struggles with coming out,” Saleh says, “or for anybody in anyway who is trying to conform to society's standards but aren’t true for them.”
“I hope that this film and my music in some small way helps to change attitudes and perceptions and contributes to making Middle Eastern and Muslim culture a safe and accepting culture to be queer.”
Check out War Within below, and click here to add your name to the Change.org petition.