On Valentine’s Day 2016, five Syrian men took the stage in a small venue in Istanbul to complete for the crown of Mr Gay Syria.
As reported by photojournalist Bradley Secker, the contestants included Wissam, who took to the stage in heels and a skimpy leather number. His photo later made it into the New York Post under the characteristically subtle headline, ISIS can suck it!
But it wasn’t stripping, dancing or singing that won the day for 24-year-old Hussein Sabat, it was a moving personal monologue.
Sabat told the Daily Mail he played a character speaking to his mother about the difficulties of being gay.
“I just wore trousers and a t-shirt - the only thing that was missing was the hijab,” he said.
From Afrin in northern Aleppo, Sabat has known more hardship than most. His first boyfriend, Zakaria, was beheaded by ISIS he says.
The couple had been together for four years. ISIS is said to have filmed the execution and sent the video to family and friends.
“His mother almost went crazy and I couldn't speak for a month,” he said.
The group, which operates primarily in Syria and Iraq, has released a number of videos showing executions of alleged homosexuals.
In one video, men kneel on their knees in a public square as an executioner readies a scimitar.
In another, an elderly man kneels in front of a fountain at the centre of what appears to be a round-about. A masked militant behind him fires a handgun into his head. The editor cuts to slow motion as the bullet is fired and his body collapses limply.
Other videos show men being thrown of buildings, then stoned by crowds, before being cleaned and prepared for burial.
But Sabat doesn’t want pity, and he doesn’t want to be thought of as a victim.
“We’re not just dead bodies in ISIS videos,” he said.
“ISIS is killing gay Syrians or gay Syrians are poor refugees incapable of doing anything – this is what comes to anybody’s mind when someone mentions gay Syrians,” he said in an online video. “But we are more than that.”
'We have dreams and ideas and we want to live our lives," he told the Daily Mail.
Gay journalist and blogger, Mahmoud Hassino, said he’d been trying to organise Mr Gay Syria for a number of years. The plan was to attend Mr Gay World in Malta, but Sabat’s visa was denied.
“Although we’re refugees, we are capable of doing things,” Sabat said. “I want to be able to speak for all refugees and deliver our message of defiance, hope and the love of life.”