Is the LGBTQ military unit TQILA a good thing?
With the murder of gay men by the extremist group ISIS (or Daesh) in the Middle East, a group of volunteers have formed a LGBT-centric military unit in Northern Syria called the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (or TQILA), to take the fight to them.
But despite the general approval in the West for the unit, not everyone is happy about it with some people saying that it’s not helping the perception of LGBTQ in the region.
The birth of TQILA
The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army, or TQILA, supposedly supports “the broader gender and sexual revolution” in the region, in a series of Twitter messages on the Internet.
TQILA is a part of the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), an anarchist movement composed of foreign fighters that’s helping take on the Islamic State in Rojava.
In an online manifesto, the IRPGF said: “TQILA’s members have watched in horror as fascist and extremist forces around the world have attacked the Queer community and murdered countless of our community members citing that they are ‘ill’, ‘sick’ and ‘unnatural’.”
The IRPGF added that TQILA’s mission is “to smash the gender binary and advance the women’s revolution, as well as the broader gender and sexual revolution.”
“The images of gay men being thrown off roofs and stoned to death by Daesh was not something we could idly watch. It is also not only Daesh whose hatred for Queer, Trans* and other non-binary peoples leads to religiously motivated hatred and attacks,” the group said.
However, aside from those messages and a number of photos, there’s not much known about the group: from how big the unit is to specifically how many LGBTQ members it has.
IRPGF spokesperson Heval Rojhilat told Newsweek that these details are being suppressed for security reasons except that they are training in the city of Rojava.
The status of TQILA
However, not everyone seems to be happy with the formation of the group– including their own allies, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Arab-Kurdish coalition Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
According to media reports, the US-backed Arab-Kurdish SDF had supposedly kicked out TQILA as well as the IRPGF during the Raqq offensive against ISIS’ de facto Syrian capital for an Islamic State.
A tweet from someone from the SDF had claimed: “IRPGF yesterday got kicked out of Raqqa, hopefully soon from Rojava– we need less empty propaganda, more fighting.” This was later deleted.
The SDF has denied these groups are affiliated with them, or that they even exist. Mustafa Bali, the media relations director of the SDF, said that there is no “formation of such a battalion within the framework” of SDF.
The IRPGF later said: “Our unit, as an autonomous organisation and member group of the IFB (International Freedom Battalion) has the right to make subgroups.”
“TQILA is one such subgroup and as such not a battalion or formation apart from our armed struggle collective, the IRPGF. This is where the confusion is coming from,” they added.
The acceptance of TQILA
Some criticism has also risen that this declaration by foreigners might push tensions with more conservative militias fighting the ISIS forces, especially those who rule in Rojava.
For example, a Kurdish gay man who lives outside the region told The Independent said he was dubious of TQILA’s supposed goals and the “militarization of sexual orientation.”
He noted that it was Kurdish attitudes towards the LGBTQ that forced him to flee from the region years ago.
Zoza, a Syrian-Kurdish transgender woman who grew up in Rojava but who has been resettled as refugee in Toronto said, “Rojava never was, and never will be, a welcoming place for queer people.”
“None of these foreign fighters understand that Rojava and the YPG are not who they claim to be. As a Syrian-Kurdish trans woman, why should I be fed this propaganda that it is this place that it is not?” she said.
An American fighting there with a Kurdish nom du guerre Jêhat Birûsk admitted that: “There is a lot of queer invisibility here.”
Pointing out that he isn’t openly gay within his unit because they’re required to take a vow of celibacy, he said he felt his sexuality is more easily accepted because he is a foreigner but it might be different for locals.
He added that he doesn’t feel that setting up an exclusive LGBT unit is the right approach to push for LGBTQ inclusion at this time as this could prove more alienating rather than liberating.