Syrian homosexuals marched through the center of Istanbul on Thursday, raising both Syrian revolution and regime flags.
The controversial rally, which took place the central Istiklal Street was organized by Mawaleh (salty nuts), Syria's first gay magazine.
In an interview with Zaman al-Wasl, the editor-in-chief, Mahmoud Hassino said the magazine would draw attention to threats against gay people.
"Our magazine will be the voice of gay people," he said.
"[It tries] to bring gay people together and earn their trust, to be able to highlight the increased risks that may confront them, especially in a war environment where there are violations against everyone's rights, not only homosexuals."
The march was held on the occasion of annual Global Gay.
The initiative had revealed the difficulty of the working to reconcile Syrian people in the current circumstances, Hassino said.
Many gay men and women, like Hassino, lead a life on the margins of Syrian society, which generally treats homosexuals as perverts or mentally ill.
They also suffer from discrimination on the part of the state that considers homosexual acts as “moral offences”, punishable by up to three years in prison.
The Syrian penal code prohibits "carnal knowledge against the order of nature", which is mostly used to criminalizes sodomy, hence lesbians are less liable to be persecuted than gay men.
In addition, unlike gay men, lesbians are less likely to go "cruising" in parks and on the street where they could be caught by the police.
While most gay people in Syria prefer to hide their sexual tendencies and submit to social norms or lead a double life, more and more say that they are slowly asserting their rights.
Some say that they are not afraid to display their sexuality in bars and nightclubs, or in the way they dress or behave.
Hassino, who hopes to turn the magazine into a quarterly issue, said: "We must now begin to address the Syrian reality without the exclusion of the political problems and the consequences of war, which requires a greater effort.
For many homosexuals, especially young gay men, the Internet has helped them to regroup, create a network of social support, and meet others in similar situations.
“The Internet brought a real change to my life,” said Nouhad Ibrahim, a 25 year-old gay man from Damascus who is studying economics.
“I discovered gay communities from around the world and that made me feel I was not alone.”
Online, Syrian homosexuals can find several dating and chatting websites where they can exchange photos and telephone numbers and sometimes fix dates to meet.
But for most gay men, the topic of their homosexuality is still a taboo and so they prefer not to divulge their tendencies in a society that values machismo.
Amir, a 28-year-old gay man who works in his father’s clothing shop in Damascus, said that he had to pretend to be very "manly" in the way he talked and walked during the day.
Amir, who refused to give his last name, added that at night among his gay friends he felt more relaxed and able to express his "feminine side".
Before the civil war, Syrian gays used several cafes, bars and nightclubs in Damascus to meet. Sexual partners were also met in public squares or gardens during the night.
Gay prostitution is also evident at these sites but many say the locations are monitored by the morality police.
Individuals who are caught by the police engaging in homosexual acts are often arrested sent to court where they generally receive a sentence of few months’ imprisonment.
Syrian authorities do not recognize gay rights and homosexuality was rejected socially and culturally in Syria.
For gays and lesbians not to be subjected to mistreatment or harassment, they must keep their sexuality concealed.
Dr Jalal Nawfal, a Damascus-based psychiatrist, said that the authorities were only responding to the social and religious realities of Syria, where homosexuality is strongly rejected.
He added, however, that the government needed to raise awareness about homosexuality.
Although homosexuality is no longer regarded as a psychological disorder in the West, many Syrian psychologists still see homosexuals as a psychological disorder.
Some even claim that sexual harassment during childhood plays an important role in determining sexual orientation during adulthood.
Christian and Muslim clerics, who have a strong influence over social attitudes in Syria, also judge homosexuality severely. Some Muslim clerics overtly incite the killing of homosexuals.
Other less extreme opinions favor providing gays with social support to help them “overcome their illness."
The article is copy-edited by The Syrian Observer