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LGBT unit not officially part of SDF, says Kurdish official

'The most radical act we can do is to announce our existence to people who claim we do not exist,' the new unit has said
Members of The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA) holding a banner reading 'These Faggots Kill Fascists' as well as a rainbow flag. (Screengrab)

Kurdish officials leading the fight against Islamic State in Syria's Raqqa have distanced themselves from a group of foreign fighters who have formed the first ever LGBT unit to fight IS. 

The formation of The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA) was announced on Twitter on Tuesday with an image of armed members of the group holding a banner proclaiming “These faggots kill fascists.”

The unit, a part of the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), a unit of foreign fighters supporting the Kurdish-led SDF forces in Syria, announced in a statement that they had formed to fight back against the persecution of their community by IS.

“The images of gay men being thrown off roofs and stoned to death by Daesh was something we would could not idly watch,” the statement said, using the Arabic name for IS.

Though the group didn’t claim to be part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) whom it fights alongside, the SDF appeared to distances themselves from the group on Wednesday.

In a statement Mustafa Bali, director of the SDF media centre, told the Kurdish news site ARA that the unit was not officially part of its forces.

“Social media sites today reported on the formation of a battalion of homosexuals within the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa,” Bali said in a statement.

“We in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), while emphasising our deep respect for human rights, including the rights of homosexuals, we deny the formation of such a battalion within the framework of our forces and we consider this news to be untrue,” he said.

The SDF have gained international attention for containing an all-female military formation, the YPJ, and for educating their fighters on women’s issues and feminism. However, acceptance of homosexuality is not widespread in the region and the topic remains taboo.

Foreign fighters from the UK, the US, Greece, Spain and Turkey have travelled to Syria to fight with Kurdish forces in northern Syria who aim to create an autonomous Kurdish region.

TQILA, which announced on Twitter its acronym name is pronounced "tequila", is a part of the IRPGF, an anarchist unit and a sub-group of the International Freedom Battalion of foreign fighters formed to assist the SDF.

“We want to emphasize that queerphobia, homophobia and trans*phobia are not inherent to Islam or any religion,” TQILA’s statement read.

The group’s spokesperson, Heval Rojhilat, told ARA News that Kurdish fighters in Syria were excited and happy about the unit's presence.

“We believe as queers in the Middle East that one of the most radical acts we can do is to announce our existence to people and governments who have and continue to claim that we do not exist," he said.

Homosexuality has been declared a capital punishment by IS and the group has carried out chilling public executions of gay men.

The group also claimed responsibility for the Orlando massacre in which a gunman who pledged allegiance to IS killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Florida in June 2016.

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