The United States’ commander in Chief tweet on LGBTQ soldiers incited a worldwide coverage of LGBTQ soldiers in the US and beyond. The US armed forces policy towards LGBTQ soldiers was compared to other armies. In a way, how states and armies treat the LGBTQ community corresponds with ideas of humanism and liberalism, marking the spread of those ideas across the globe. One of the interesting stories mentioned, which is still unfolding, is the spread of LGBTQ rights in the most undetectable place: at the threshold of ISIS in Syria. A Newsweek article described the creation of the queer unit that fights ISIS.
Migration regularly bring with it a cultural exchange and the spread of international norm. War migration is no different. The stream of volunteer fighters against ISIS, flocking from all over the world, brought with them not only able bodies and a will to fight but also personal world views. Naturally, those world views receive representation in all-volunteer units. One of those units is the International Freedom Battalion, a volunteer battalion fighting ISIS that stands for some of most radical and revolutionary world views.
Inspired by the International Brigade who fought during the Spanish Civil War, the battalion is the home for various leftist ideologies, among them Marxism–Leninism, Maoism, and anarchism. The battalion includes British, Irish and French brigades named after trade-unionist workers, Turkish and Spanish communist groups, and the United Freedom Force that have international representation of mostly anarchists. The latest addition to the brigade is the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA), which comprises of solely LGBTQ members. Though small, its presence is symbolic. The Islamic State has been extremely hostile towards people who are LGBTQ, with public executions, torture, and worse. In their formal announcement TQILA acknowledged this abuse stating:
“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 images of gay men being thrown off roofs and stoned to death by Daesh was something we could not idly watch.”
According to their Facebook and Twitter accounts the battalion and the unit have been engaged in fighting in Syria. They are part of the forces operating close to Raqqa, ISIS’ capital in Syria.
Will the presence of openly gay fighters against ISIS result in regional cultural shifts? Only time will tell. However, current events are complicated to interpret. Similar to other large-scale conflicts throughout history, the war against ISIS has tore down old conventions and social structures in the region. One of the notable changes is the increasing role of women in the security forces and fighting ranks, both on the Kurdish and the Syrian side. This in a region where women’s rights fare poorly. Perhaps we should be expecting a regional change even more radical than the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army In the future. However, on the other hand, at the moment, it seems that the recent media coverage has actually hurt them and they have been encountering some resistance. The Kurdish forces, to which the unit is affiliated denied any ties with them. Moreover, recently they been kicked out of the front lines by US-backed Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces. However, I would argue that their presence alone in this setting is so radical and subversive that it is a victory by itself. After all, would you have believed an article describing a queer brigade fighting ISIS?