Photographer documents gay life in the Middle East – Fearing for his safety following escalating violence in Syria, "Bissam" fled to Turkey. In this image, he's sleeping in his room during his first winter there in January 2012.
For Secker, the picture symbolises the very lengthy waiting period associated with the U.N. Refugee Agency's (UNHCR) resettlement program, and the reality of what most of his days were like in winter -- sleeping, using the internet, and sitting in his room.
Becca Heller, Director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) based in New York, says that the psychological trauma of being uprooted from social ties to a life spent in hiding and boredom is "in some ways just as cruel a crime" as the physical abuse many face back in Iraq.
Photographer documents gay life in the Middle East – In this picture, a former high-ranking Iraqi policeman, who Secker calls "Mahmoud," stares out from the rooftop of his house overlooking Damascus. Secker says that as a gay police officer he led a double life. Secker says that Mahmoud told him he released dozens of men imprisoned under Iraq's morality laws -- which Mahmoud described as a front for arresting homosexuals. It is not technically a criminal offense to be gay in Iraq.Heller says that, on the basis of research conducted by IRAP, the Iraqi police force is itself one of the most pervasive threats to LGBT men and women there. "We've had countless reports of gay men being attacked and raped at police checkpoints, often just on the basis of how they dress or carry themselves," she said. According to Secker, Mahmoud felt compelled to flee Iraq after suspicions were raised about where inmates were going -- and because of his fear of being outed.
Photographer documents gay life in the Middle East – This image from late 2010 shows "Abdul," a gay Iraqi then seeking refuge in Damascus' old city. Secker says Abdul has since been trying to flee the war-ravaged country, and recently his case was approved by UNHCR. But he is unable to travel because his flight leaves from Amman, Jordan. He can't get to Jordan because of prohibitive visa regulations for Iraqis in Syria.
Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program for Human Rights Watch, says that currently all Iraqis living in Syria are having trouble leaving because priority is given to visa applications from Syrians.
Photographer documents gay life in the Middle East – Batu and Azat, are two friends in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey. Secker says that they live together and occasionally work together in the sex industry. In this image they are driving around the city looking for a place to have a picnic near the historic city wall.
"I chose it because for me it represents the attitude of these two people -- their spirit and strength," said Secker. Both Azat and Batu are members of a Kurdish LGBT political group called Hebun, which as well as campaigning for legal equality is also trying to gain acceptance within both the Turkish mainstream LGBT movement and Kurdish political parties.