The death of a high-profile Egyptian LGBT+ activist, who sought asylum in Canada after being jailed for waving the rainbow flag, was mourned on Monday by followers highlighting the nation’s ongoing discrimination against the gay community.
Sarah Hegazy, 30, was found dead in her apartment in Toronto, where she had been living in exile for about 18 months and struggling with depression, her lawyer Ali el-Halawany confirmed.
Hegazy rose to prominence in October 2017, when she was arrested after raising the LGBT+ rainbow flag at a concert by popular Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou’Leila, whose lead singer, Hamed Sino, is openly gay.
It was a rare public show of support for LGBT+ rights in the conservative Muslim country.
Hegazy was the only woman arrested in a three-week anti-gay crackdown by authorities, and she was charged and detained with “promoting sexual deviancy and debauchery”, a charge she denied.
After she was released on bail in January 2018, she sought asylum in Canada.
“Sarah paid the price for choosing her sexual preferences and defending the rights of the sexually abused,” el-Halawani said in a Facebook post.
He was not available for further comment.
LGBT+ rights activists paid tribute to Hegazy, circulating a handwritten message attributed to her, and written before her death.
Although homosexuality is not a crime in Egypt, discrimination against the LGBT+ community is rife. Gay men are frequently arrested, and typically charged with debauchery, immorality or blasphemy.
“This is heartbreaking and tragic. Rest in power,” tweeted Mona el-Tahawy, an Egyptian-US writer and independent women’s rights advocate.
Mohamed El Baradei, an Egyptian opposition politician, and former interim vice-president, joined the online discussion.
“You may differ with Sarah Hegazy in her thinking and way of life, and this is your right, but is it your right to persecute her and besiege her right to life simply because of your disagreement with her?”, he wrote on Twitter.
-Ban Barkawi – Thomson Reuters Foundation