International: Iran, Puerto Rico, Turkey

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A popular Iraqi TikTok personality was shot dead Sept. 25 in Baghdad, an Iraqi security source told CNN.

Known on social media as “Noor BM,” 23-year-old Noor Alsaffar had more than 370,000 followers collectively on Instagram and TikTok. Alsaffar mostly posted short videos showing dresses, hair and makeup styles, often dancing to music. Following news of the shooting, many posted comments lamenting Alsaffar’s death. But others celebrated the killing and applauded the murderer.

According to the anonymous CNN source who was not authorized to speak on the killing, “an investigation has been opened. The deceased has been taken to the forensic department.”

Khaled Almehna, spokesperson for the Iraqi police, described the attack as a “criminal incident” on Sept. 26, adding that he will provide “important updates” at a later time.

CNN reports that Alsaffar, who identified as male and who worked as a model and makeup artist, was subjected to online harassment and abuse. In a 2020 interview on Iraq’s Al Walaa channel, Alsaffar said: “I’m not transgender and I’m not gay. I don’t have other tendencies. I’m only a cross-dresser and a model.”

Alsaffar spoke in videos about facing threats on social media and in a 2021 YouTube interview with Iraqi blogger Samir Jermani, Alsaffar said: “I’m cautious but not afraid” in response to a question about the TikToker’s appearance.

The Iraqi LGBTQ+ rights group, IraQueer, posted about Alsaffar’s death, adding the hashtags #Transphobia and #MurderOfTransPeople on X, formerly known as Twitter.

There has been an uptick in crimes against LGBTQ+ people in Iran in recent months. In August, Iraq’s media regulator banned the term “homosexuality” across all traditional and social media platforms, demanding that the term “sexual deviance” be used instead. 

Human Rights Watch reports that a new law has been proposed in the Iraqi parliament that explicitly criminalizes gay sex, transgender expression and other forms of LGBTQ+ conduct. The law would punish same-sex relations with the death penalty or life in prison, punish “promoting homosexuality” with a minimum sentence of seven years, and criminalize “imitating women” with up to a three-year sentence.

Puerto Rico

On Sept. 25, two men pleaded guilty to assaulting a homeless trans woman, Alexa Negrón Luciano, in Puerto Rico. The hate crime precipitated her killing on Feb. 24, 2020. Jordany Rafael Laboy-Garcia and Christian Yamaurie Rivera-Otero pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico to conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice in connection with the assault, Justice Department officials said.

The men have not been charged with Negrón’s murder, nor has anyone else. According to court documents, on Feb. 24, 2020, at around 12:29 a.m., Laboy-Garcia and Rivera-Otero, along with their former co-defendant Anthony Steven Lobos-Ruiz, were out driving in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, when they saw the victim standing under a tent near the side of the road. The defendants recognized Negrón from social media posts about an incident at a McDonald’s when Negrón had used a stall in the McDonald’s women’s restroom.

Lobos-Ruiz used his iPhone to record a video of himself yelling, “la loca, la loca,” as well as other disparaging and threatening comments to Negrón from inside the car. The defendants then got a paintball gun to shoot Negrón and record another iPhone video. 

Lobos-Ruiz used his iPhone to record Laboy-Garcia shooting at Negrón multiple times with the paintball gun. After the assault ended, Lobos Ruiz shared the iPhone video recordings.

Several hours later, Rivera-Otero and Lobos-Ruiz exchanged text messages about concealing their involvement in the assault and Lobos-Ruiz deleted the videos on his iPhone.

“The defendants are being held accountable for assaulting a transgender woman because of her gender identity and then trying to obstruct an investigation into that assault,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people have no place in our society today. As we mark 25 years since the death of Matthew Shepard, the Justice Department remain steadfast in its commitment to investigate and prosecute those who target LGBTQI+ people with acts of violence.”

U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico said, “To assault an innocent victim who posed no threat to the defendants for no other reason than her gender identity is reprehensible behavior that will not be tolerated.”

Muldrow added, “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity, to be free from hate-fueled violence. Our community must stand together against acts of violence motivated by hate for any group of people — we remain steadfast in our commitment to prosecute civil rights violations and keep our communities safe and free from fear.”

Special Agent in Charge Joseph Gonzalez of the FBI San Juan Field Office said, “What makes our country great is our diversity in all aspects of life. This diversity makes us strong, and criminal acts undermine our society’s foundations. The FBI will not tolerate hateful criminal activity of any kind and will pursue these cases to the full extent of the law.”

As part of the plea agreement, Laboy-Garcia pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit a hate crime and admitted that he shot paintballs at Negrón because she was, and was perceived to be, transgender. Rivera-Otero pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and admitted to directing his co-defendant to delete video recordings of the assault and harassment of Negrón. 

Sentencing hearings for both defendants have been scheduled for Nov. 10. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Lobos-Ruiz previously pleaded guilty to committing a hate crime and was sentenced to 33 months in prison.  

After the paintball gun incident, Negrón was found dead from bullet wounds. No one has been charged in her killing.

Gonzalez said, “We urge anyone who thinks they have been a victim or a witness to a hate crime to call 787-987-6500 or leave a tip by visiting Tips.FBI.Gov. Know that we are here for you.”

In 2020, Negrón was among six transgender or gender nonconforming people who were killed in Puerto Rico — where anti-LGBTQ+ violence is prevalent — according to the Human Rights Campaign. The bodies of two transgender women, Layla Peláez, 21, and Serena Angelique Velázquez, 32, were found in a badly burned car in Puerto Rico in April 2020. Two men, Juan Carlos Pagán Bonilla, 21, and Sean Díaz de León, 19, were charged in that case with a hate crime.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan complained about rainbow-colored decorations at the United Nations General Assembly last week in New York City, saying the “LGBT colors” upset him.

The multi-colored lights were installed to promote the U.N.’s sustainable development goals, which the session highlighted.

Erdogan told Turkish media that he wants to bring up the issue with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, as Reuters reported. The Turkish leader’s islamist government has recently toughened its stance on LGBTQ+ rights.

“One of the issues that bothers me the most … is that when entering the United Nations General Assembly, you see the LGBT colors on steps and other places,” he was quoted as saying by broadcaster Habertürk and others, according to Reuters.

“How many LGBT are there in the world right now? However much right they have on these steps, those against LGBT have as much right as well,” he said.

The UN has made statements supporting the LGBTQ+ community, but there are no displays of Pride flags at the U.N. building in New York.

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