Last edited: February 14, 2005

Summer Lovin’—Arab Gays, Lesbians Coming Out of the Closet...?

Al Bawaba, August 8, 2003
The Middle East Gateway

At times, due to immense attention focused on political developments taking place in the Middle East, a variety of social and cultural phenomena fail to receive the right amount of attention they deserve. This is not to say they are ignored, but rather, not exposed properly or enough.

Besides the aforesaid factor about not being “political” enough, the issue of homosexuality in the Arab world is extremely controversial, and encompasses a wide range of moral, psychological and religious dilemmas, which constitute yet another factor in the lack of media coverage it receives.

Still, by reviewing what has been published and printed in recent years by numerous media outlets, it is fair to say that slowly, but surely, homosexuals throughout the Arab world are coming out of their closets. Despite obstacles (and there are quite a few), there appears to be an increase in the coverage the issue of homosexuality receives, whether in the form of printed or electronic media. With the growth of the use of the Internet, it seems Arab gays, lesbians as well as bi-sexuals and transgenders have found new places they can call home.

Various websites deal with the explosive topic of homosexuality and it appears a new community of Arab gays has been born. For one, the LEGAL Institute Website is a non-profit private organization set up by the GayLebanon Group and serves the Lebanese Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community. According to the group, its goal is to work for the legal, social and cultural equality of these communities in Lebanon, while providing support, social interaction, objective assessments, news updates and other services related to their cause.

At, for example, one can meet people through the site and also find interesting and helpful country-by-country information with recent gay-related news reports. In one of their feature articles, the site wrote about reports received last summer from Lebanon regarding an anti-gay policy of the management of the local Dunkin Donuts.

According to the site, following a short period of quiet, the reports started coming back to them. The Lebanese Executive Economic magazine reported that Dunkin Donuts had reportedly decided to refuse serving “gay-looking” people. Smith, an American expatriate living in the capital of Beirut, was appalled when her gay friend was turned away from the well-known donut shop and she wrote a letter of complaint to Dunkin Donuts management. Christine Assouad Sfeir, general manager of Dunkin Donuts Lebanon, said that this was not an instance of discrimination against gays.

According to the site, its readers were kept up to date with the anti gay stand of Beirut’s Dunkin Donuts. The response letter from the US’s Dunkin Donuts main office to the Lebanese citizen who complained was also displayed. In the response, they said that those shops in Lebanon were locally owned and operated by the licensee who is a respected Lebanese citizen and businessperson as well as an involved member of the Beirut community.

In the same site, one can also find an article about an Israeli tourist who was arrested in Cairo after chatting with someone by computer and arranging to meet him. When they eventually met, he was told that he is under arrest and was taken away.

The site also published a letter from a Syrian gay who claimed, “I think the gays in the Middle East sure need protection.” In his fascinating letter, the man wrote about gay life in Syria. “These days”, he wrote, “I think that it’s quite open when compared to other Arab or Islamic countries. But, we do not have any rainbow flagged businesses, or special gay bars or restaurants that we can meet other gays to be social, to talk, to make friends”. He explained that it is possible to meet someone “in the street, in a public place, or in a park”, adding “this is only for sex—not for friendship. I really hate that”.

He further explained what happens when Syrian police spot these people. “Meeting people in the street or in the park can be dangerous”, he warned. “Sometimes the police come and if the guys are doing anything “out of the ordinary” like dancing to music, kissing or looking “too gay”—the police take them for a while”.

GLAS, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Arabic Society is a US-based organization which aims “to promote positive images of gays and lesbians in Arab communities worldwide, in addition to combating negative portrayals of Arabs within the gay and lesbian community.” They serve as a networking organization for Gays and Lesbians of Arab descent or those living in Arab countries.

In addition, they provide a support network for their members while fighting for human rights wherever they are oppressed.

The purpose of Ahbab site, which refers to itself as “the online community for Queer Arabs worldwide”, is to help the homosexual community communicate, network and stay in touch within Arab communities all over the world. In the site, one can find a wide-range of news, articles, and other services.

According to the site, on the political level, they continue to witness and protest abuse in various Arab countries, especially in Lebanon and Egypt. It reports how gays in Beirut marched in anti-war demonstrations waving Rainbow flags and days later, a popular Gay nightclub in that city was raided.

In Egypt’s capital of Cairo, the site says, arrests and jailing of gays continues despite an outcry by global activist groups and members of the American congress. Homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited under Egyptian law, but statutes are based on Sharia (Islamic law), which condemn it as an immoral act.

It further reports that in spite of obstacles, there is a renewed feeling of activism in the community, as people are reaching out to each other in an effort to empower one another. The notion that Arab gays and lesbians have been trying to support one another is widely felt throughout all the Arab gay sites.

In Lebanon, the law says that having sexual relations of this sort contradicts the “laws of nature” and the penalty for such behavior can be up to one year in jail. In Qatar, for instance, one can be sent to five years behind bars.

In Saudi Arabia, the penalty for convicted homosexuals is death. Executions, in the form of public beheadings are carried out in the oil-rich kingdom. Iran also applies the death penalty for such cases.

At, one can engage in live chat with other gay Arabs and friends. The owners of the site state that they have served as an inspiration for other channels to serve the homosexual community and claim that as of today, there are several IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels, mail lists and websites which serve the gay Arab community. IRC is one of the most popular and interactive services on the Internet, which allows people from all over the world to participate in real-time conversations.

The Al-Fatiha Foundation, for its part, is dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity and their families and friends.

According to activists of the Foundation, it is a body that “advances the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice,” as it envisions a world free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination. Founded five years ago, Al-Fatiha is a US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization.

With all that’s been said regarding the rising openness throughout the Arab gay community and the increase in media outlets homosexuals can find comfort in, it is essential to remember that gays living in the Middle East still widely suffer from persecution. Gays and lesbians living in the Arab world are fighting against their own governments’ persecution, according to various human rights groups.

According to the Al-Fatiha Foundation, homosexuality is seen as sinful and perverted in most Islamic countries based on Koran verses.

However, although mainstream Islam condemns homosexuality, the Al-Fatiha Foundation claims “there is a growing movement of progressive-minded Muslims who see Islam as an evolving religion that must adapt to modern-day society.”

According to Al-Fatiha, there is a general consensus amongst the scholars of Islam that homosexuality is a deviation of man’s true (heterosexual) nature. Thus, the act of homosexuality is considered sinful and perverted and is viewed with contempt in most Muslim societies and Islamic countries. It states that there are approximately seven verses in the Koran that supposedly refer to homosexuality and same-sex acts and there are at least four hadith in reference to homosexuality, same-sex acts, and even cross-dressing.

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, there was not one single case of a reported punishment or execution for homosexuality or same-sex acts. The first execution to ever have been carried out was in the time of the third Caliph, who ordered a homosexual to be burned while he was alive. Scholars at the time differed in opinion on this sort of punishment, arguing that no human should be burned, thus it was decided that homosexuals should be thrown off the highest building and then stoned to death.

Huriyah (freedom) magazine for homosexual Muslims also reports about gay-related issues. Recently, it reported about an Iraqi-born lesbian’s life in the Arab world. The magazine’s Muslim doctor, for example, dealt with the issue of gays in the military, while another lesbian wrote about homophobia.

Queer Jihad, for one, offers provocative articles by writers worldwide as well as readers’ comments. The site also provides numerous links to gay and Islamic cultural, legal, and political sites.

It seems that the increase in the use of the Internet in the Arab world enhances the ability to draw together members of the Arab homosexual community. However, it is important to remember that even though the World Wide Web plays a significant role in the advancement of the homosexual community’s communication, goals, and interests, many Arabs still perceive members of the gay community as perverts, thus, causing their governments to keep the gays and lesbians closed in their closets.

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