Iraq Has Banned the Word ‘Homosexuality’ From Its Media

The country’s media regulator has also banned the word “gender” as anti-LGBTQ sentiment grows.
Supporters of Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, burn the American, Israeli and the Pride flag in Mosul. PHOTO: Ismael Adnan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The words “homosexuality” and “gender” have been banned in Iraq by its media and communications regulator, highlighting the worsening status of LGBTQ people in the country.

In a written statement released on Tuesday, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) board said that all media outlets and telecommunication providers must now use the phrase "sexual deviancy" instead of “homosexuality.” It did not specify what terms should be used instead of “gender.” The CMC said it would take action against any company that violated the new rule, without specifying the nature of penalties.


The new order comes on top of pre-existing tensions surrounding the LGBTQ community in Iraq, a subject often exploited by religious factions. In recent years, religious leaders have repeatedly called on their followers to “combat” what they perceive to be a Western influence that has infiltrated Iraqi society.

While Iraq doesn’t explicitly ban homosexuality, the reality for the LGBTQ community is grim. LGBTQ Iraqis face regular violence, abductions, torture, and sexual assault by armed groups, and even the police. LGBTQ people have also been killed in the name of “honour killings” by family members. 

The CMC was originally established in 2004 after the US-led invasion as an independent regulatory body meant to be free from government intervention to oversee media operations and regulate licences for telecommunication companies. But throughout the years, the board has become increasingly dominated by people with links to Islamist conservative parties that exert their influence in the decisions taken by the institution that was meant to safeguard freedom of expression and media independence far from government influence. 

The CMC was recently caught up in a scandal after an internal directive intended for two of Iraq’s biggest telecommunications giants, Asia Cell and Zain, was leaked. The order instructed the companies to send out free text messages, inviting people to attend a Shia religious sermon hosted by the al Hikma movement, an Islamist political branch which is influential within the CMC.

Iraq is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The government is controlled by a coalition of populist Islamist and conservative parties that have been marked by endemic levels of corruption and nepotism, and parties with influence inside regulators like CMC, use their influence to push political debates in their favour. 

Anti-LGBTQ sentiment has been on a rise in the country. This has been fuelled by protests against the Quran-burning incidents in Denmark and Sweden, where the supporters of the Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr have also burnt LGBTQ flags at their rallies.