Gone but not forgotten
In the east of Toronto’s downtown, visitors will find a buzzing neighborhood called the Church and Wellesley Village. This area, located on Church Street and Wellesley Street East, is the city’s LGBTQ district.
Just north of the intersection that forms the center of the neighborhood, is the 519 community center. In an alley right next to it there is a mural of a face of Sarah Hegazi, an activist, IT worker and Egyptian lesbian who found home in the Church and Wellesley Village. The village does not want to forget her. Hegazi killed herself in June of 2020. Her struggle with trauma resonated with the local community, many of whom have struggles of their own.
Sarah’s journey as a queer
Much like her LGBTQ compatriots, her trauma stemmed from a denial of her desire to be free, open and most of all, herself. The freedom she sought was fleeting at best. Perhaps she only ever felt true freedom for just a few hours. And it happened at a concert in 2017.
In September of that year, the Lebanese band Mashrou Leila held a concert in Cairo. Their lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay. The band gives voice to the voiceless queers of Middle East. Hegazi attended.
She was photographed in a moment of pure joy. She brandished the Rainbow Pride flag. At that moment, she felt free. Free to be herself and take off the mask she was wearing her entire life. Unfortunately, she got too lost in her glee, making her forget where she was.
LGBTQ+ rights in Egypt
Egypt has only ever known subjugation. From the monarchies that ruled the country before the 1950s, to the dictators Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak, Muhammad Morsi and Abdel Fatah Al Sisi. Sarah and her country have never been given room to breath free. To make matters worse, the country’s extreme Islamic views will not create that room for her and people like her, suffocating Egyptian LGBTQ people.
She, and everyone else who flew the Pride flag, were arrested by the police and charged with various crimes, including debauchery. Hegazi was tortured and after her release, she told stories of her being gagged, beaten, electrocuted and sexually assaulted.
International pressure secured her release three months later. Canada granted her asylum. She spent the rest of her life in Toronto. Yet even here she had no freedom. Demons followed her from Egypt all the way to Canada. The torture and oppression continued. Unlike her dank jail cell, she could not leave the trauma behind. Her wounds eventually became gaping, leading her to the only relief she could think of.
The world was robbed of her radiant smile.
Sarah Hegazi is buried in an undisclosed municipality east of Toronto, in an undisclosed grave. Tributes poured in from around the world, including from Mashrou Leila. In her heartbreaking suicide letter, she apologized to her siblings and condemned the world.
“I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me. To my friends – the experience [journey] was harsh and I am too weak to resist it, forgive me. To the world – you were cruel to a great extent, but I forgive.”
The world did this to her. Had it been a kinder place that lets everyone freely be who they are, Sarah would still be here. Wish you were here, Sarah Hegazi. We need to be better.