Summer Lovin’—Arab Gays, Lesbians Coming Out of the Closet...?
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 GayMiddleEast.com, 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
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
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
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 gayarab.org, 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
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
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.