Dozens gather to remember Egyptian activist for 2SLGBTQ+ rights

Dozens of people gathered in a park in Toronto's Gay Village on Friday evening to remember a prominent Egyptian activist for 2SLGBTQ+ rights who died in Canada four years ago.

The group paid tribute to Sarah Hegazi, who sought asylum in Canada after being arrested and tortured in her native Egypt, in Barbara Hall Park.

Hegazi was 30 when she died of apparent suicide on June 13, 2020. She had said she wanted to help others who were targeted for their sexual orientation and political beliefs.

Ahmed Agha, a friend of Hegazi, said she was inspiring. Originally from Syria, Agha met Hegazi in Egypt, before they both came to Canada seeking aslyum.

"She was so kind. She would talk to me and tell me: 'Ahmed, be patient. Don't give up. One day we'll go to Canada and be safe and you can be yourself and not be ashamed of you who are and of your identity as ... non-binary,'" Agha said.

"To see this community all coming together to celebrate Sarah and still have her fighter soul inside us, it's so meaningful."

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One part of the mural in honour of Sarah Hegazi is pictured here. (Tyler Cheese/CBC)

Hegazi was imprisoned in the fall of 2017 after waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo by the Lebanese band Mashrou'Leila. The waving of the flag associated with 2SLGBTQ+ liberation outraged many in the Egyptian establishment. It ignited a three-week anti-gay crackdown by the authorities, in which Hegazi was the only woman arrested.

She said in later interviews that she was tortured by the Egyptian government for three months before her release on bail. Fearing her eventual prosecution as an openly gay woman, Hegazi fled to Canada shortly after.

In a CBC News interview in 2018, she spoke of the trauma of her imprisonment which she said included torture by electric shock. Though she made a home in Toronto, she desperately missed her family.

"I wouldn't know anyone here. Just alone. Completely alone," she had said.

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The vigil included photos, drawings, flowers and food. (Tyler Cheese/CBC)

The vigil for Hegazi was held near a mural, painted by artist Keitha Keeshig-Tobias, that stands as a memorial to Hegazi along Church Street.

Christin El-Kholy, an organizer of the vigil, said it's important to take the time to remember Hegazi.

"She was incredibly brave. She was soft spoken, but the things that she did write and the things that she did say and the ways she showed up for people are [things] that I will never forget," El-Kholy said.

El-Kholy said it's just as important to her to follow in her footsteps "by going on to continue to do the work that she fought for, fighting for the rights of people like her who are still being persecuted."

A friend captured a photo of Sarah Hegazi hoisting a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo in 2017. She was arrested and tortured by the Egyptian authorities not long after.
A friend captured a photo of Sarah Hegazi hoisting a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo in 2017. She was arrested and tortured by the Egyptian authorities not long after. (Amr Magdi/Twitter)

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