Rahim El Habachi, orginally from Morocco writes about his experiences as someone seeking asylum in the UK, eventually finding community in theatre.
I uprooted my life from Morocco six years ago and found myself in the UK, a place that was never my first choice. But to understand why, let me tell you the story of how I came to reside here.
When I came to terms with my identity as a gay man, I discovered that the LGBTQIA+ community not only faced disapproval within Islam but was also deemed illegal in Morocco. The Penal Code 489 condemned the very essence of the LGBTQIA+ community, subjecting its members to imprisonment ranging from three months to three years. This realization shook me to my core, questioning my existence and shedding light on the absence of visible gay role models or any queer representation in the media or society at large.
Seeking solace, I turned to the internet and chat rooms, hoping to find my community and answers to why I am, who I am, and how I could navigate a world that seemed unwelcoming. Unfortunately, most of the people I encountered online were merely interested in my sexual preferences, reducing my humanity to a mere label.
Then, I encountered someone who would change my life—let's call him 'Hassan.' Hassan, an experienced member of the community, or what we call in the community ‘’lassyana’’, the equivalent of a Mother of a house in the ballroom community, introduced me to the vibrant queer community in my hometown of Agadir.
To meet my gay friends, I had to go to the other side of town, leading a double life. During the weekdays, I was Abderrahim, lost and disconnected. But as the weekend approached, I transformed into Abida, fierce, confident, and unapologetic. The more I embraced my true self, the harder it became to return to Abderrahim. Trouble followed as I became more visible, catching the attention of my parents, who began to tighten their grip, imposing curfews and heightened control.
Eventually, I made a leap and moved to Casablanca, where I discovered an even larger LGBTQIA+ community driven by a collective desire for change and activism. We campaigned tirelessly, demanding our rights, speaking out about our needs and wants. Sadly, our pleas fell on deaf ears. Instead of progress, the situation worsened, with the government intensifying its repression. I experienced police harassment, unjustified searches, and the constant threat to my freedom. Even my place of residence ceased to be a sanctuary as neighbors' discovery of my sexuality, resulting in frequent relocations.
Despite the hardships, I never entertained the thought of leaving Morocco. It was where I envisioned my future, until the day a dear friend of mine was arrested, plunging my optimism about the future into darkness.
I reluctantly booked a flight to the Netherlands, knowing full well that I would never use the return ticket. Joining my two closest friends who had already sought asylum there seemed like the only ray of hope. But upon landing, fate dealt me another cruel blow—under the Dublin Convention, the Netherlands decided to deport me to the UK. Devastated, I realized I was being forced apart from my community, my chosen family. I longed for the freedom to choose where I could live, but my pleas to stay in the Netherlands were in vain. The UK, desperately eager to receive me, became my new destination.
I found myself placed in Cardiff, Wales, and I despised everything about it—the asylum seekers' house, the bleak buildings, and the incessant rain that mirrored the gloom I felt inside. I had hoped for a life-changing transformation and the freedom I yearned for, only to be greeted by yet another curfew. To add to the anguish, my asylum claim was rejected by the Home Office, and the court turned down my appeal. Seeking solace, I sought refuge in a local gay bar, only to be denied entry due to the ID issued by the Home Office. In that moment, I couldn't help but question if this was the reality that lay beyond the rainbow I had chased my entire life. But fear not, for my story takes a turn toward happiness—I’d soon be enveloped in a shimmering embrace of hope.
Once again, I turned to Google in search of solace and discovered 'Glitter Cymru,' an LGBT group that convened monthly. It was through this group that I found strength and purpose—a raison d'être. What began as a social gathering, filled with laughter and conversation, soon transformed into something much greater. Glitter Cymru became a powerful advocate for the rights of the LGBT global majority, particularly asylum seekers and refugees. It became a resounding voice, amplifying our stories and demanding justice, not just for ourselves but for all those who shared similar journeys.
In the embrace of Glitter Cymru, I discovered my true passion for the arts, particularly theatre. I found my voice through playwriting, using the stage as a platform to shed light on the issues faced by the global majority. With every script, every performance, I strive to challenge stereotypes, break down barriers, and provoke meaningful conversations about the struggles and triumphs of our community.
Through theatre, I have found a way to channel my experiences and emotions, to touch the hearts of audiences and inspire change. It’s a tool that allows me to expose the injustices and discrimination we face, to humanize our stories, and to cultivate empathy and understanding.
In this pursuit, I have discovered a vibrant and resilient community, a collective of artists and activists dedicated to creating a more inclusive and equitable world. Together, we stand tall, refusing to compromise our worthiness, and making sure that our stories are heard.
Glitter Cymru has brought me happiness, belonging, and a sense of purpose. It has given me the strength to embrace my identity and the courage to fight for a future where the LGBTQIA+ Global Majority can be who they truly are and accepted and included in mainstream LGBTQIA+ spaces. Through theatre, I continue to shine a spotlight on the issues that matter to me, hoping to ignite change and forging a path towards a more inclusive society.
Through the medium of theatre, I passionately strive to create impactful experiences that resonate with the LGBT Global Majority community. By focusing on the issues that deeply matter to me, I aim to ignite change and contribute to the ongoing journey towards a more inclusive society. In my upcoming play, I am delving into the intricate power dynamics within the LGBT community and exploring the significance of safe spaces, particularly outside of the UK and Europe. By shedding light on the concept of true privilege, I seek to foster a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences faced by the LGBT Global Majority, I am hoping through my show and shows that my colleagues are creating, they will bring more clarity and understanding to our lived experiences and I sure would hope to see you among the audience.
I would like to finish with this quote from Alok Vaid-Menon:
“How are you supposed to be believed about the harm that you experience when people don't even believe that you exist?’’ - From their book Beyond the Gender Binary
Ok if you insist here is another one
“Be yourself until you make them uncomfortable” - Rahim El Habachi
Rahim El Habachi (he/him)
Rahim is a Moroccan gay Refugee living in Wales, who is a playwright, actor, and belly dancer. Upon discovering that he was living with HIV, he became an advocate for eradicating the stigma surrounding HIV. Rahim is passionate about creating safe spaces for the LGBT global majority, as well as for asylum seekers and refugees. You can find more information about Rahim's work here.
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