New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
See books reviews: Gay City News and Philadelphia Gay News
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at: www.al-fatiha.org
Other articles of interest can be found at: groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news
Queer Muslim magazines: Huriyah, Barra
Gay Islam discussion groups:
LGBT Organizations in the Middle East & Western Asia & Diaspora:
Ahbab (Online Community for Queer Arabs Worldwide)
Al-Bab (An Open Door to the Arab World)
Bint el Nas – Cultural E-Zine for LGBT Arab Women
Lazeeza (Arab Lesbians Online)
Gay Middle East – Website for Gays in the Middle East
Gay and Lesbian Arab Society
Aswat (Palestinian Arab Gay Women, Transexuals, Bisexuals, Queer, Intersexual group)
Helem (LGBT group in Lebanon)
Jerusalem Open House (LGBTQ Community Center based in Jerusalem)
Al-Qaws – Palestinian LGBT Project at Jerusalem Open House
Algerigay – LGBT Algerians
Kelma – LGBT North Africans in France
Gay and Lesbian Morocco
Kaos GL (LGBT Community Center & Organization based in Turkey)
Lambda Istanbul (First and Oldest Turkish LGBT group)
Syrian Same-Sex Society Network
0 Power and Sexuality in the Middle East 1998
1 Government disorientation–Widespread Middle Eastern repression of gays 4/03
2 Summer lovin’ – Arab Gays, Lesbians coming out of the closet…? 8/03
2a Speech by Brigitte Gabriel, at the Duke University 10/04
3 Restoring Virginity Becomes Risky Business 5/05
4 Helem publishes region’s first magazine for gay Arabs 10/05
5 GLBT Resources in the Middle East (Date?)
6 New book: ‘Unspeakable Love–Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East 4/06
7 Coming out in Arabic–Aswat Lesbian Organization 10/06
7a Middle East dispatch Coming out in Arabic 10/06
8 Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East (Book Review) 1/07
9 Failure ‘to provide sex education for youngsters leads to social problems’. 01/07
10 LGBT community is in the world- United, fighting for our rights 7/07
11 Website for Arab and Asian gays launched 7/07
12 Changing Hearts and Reading Minds 7/07
13 Mithly.com is a website dedicated to the LGBT of the Arab world 7/07
14 Marketing Middle East to Gay Tourists 9/07
15 Eastern promises: Gay Israeli travelers frequent Jordan, Egypt,… 11/07
16 Gay Africans and Arabs come out online 2/08
17 Gay Arabs Party Here, Risk Death Back Home 6/08
18 Comment: False hope – LGBT rights in the Middle East 3/09
19 LGBT Rights Movement: Progress and Visibility Breed Backlash 6/09
20 ORAM|Advocacy for immigrants fleeing sexual & gender based violence 6/09
21 What About My.Kali?…What About You & Kali? 8/09
22 Women, bloggers & gays lead change in the Arab World 10/09
1998 – Middle East Report
Power and Sexuality in the Middle East
by Bruce Dunne
Sexual relations in Middle Eastern societies have historically articulated social hierarchies, that is, dominant and subordinate social positions: adult men on top; women, boys and slaves below. The distinction made by modern Western "sexuality" between sexual and gender identity, that is, between kinds of sexual predilections [and] degrees of masculinity and femininity, has, until recently, had little resonance in the Middle East. Both dominant/subordinate and heterosexual/homosexual categorizations are structures of power. They position social actors as powerful or powerless, "normal" or "deviant." The contemporary concept of "queerness" resists all such categorizing in favor of recognizing more complex realities of multiple and shifting positions of sexuality, identity and power…
Read complete article at: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer206/bruce.htm
April 29, 2003 – The Guardian, London, England
Government disorientation–Widespread Middle Eastern repression of homosexuals stems from outdated ideas about the role of the state
by Brian Whitaker (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is probably the most important document ever issued by the United Nations. It spells out in clear and uncompromising language "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family". The word "universal" in the title is not to be taken lightly. It means exactly what it says: human rights should apply equally to everyone, everywhere, at all times.
One of the difficulties of attempting to police human rights through the UN, of course, is that its members are among the offenders and there are always governments seeking to make exceptions to the principle of universality. That the declaration exists at all is mainly due to the fact that it was approved by the UN General Assembly in 1948 – during a brief period of idealism immediately after the second world war (when the horrors of Nazi Germany were still fresh in the memory) and before the start of the cold war with the Soviet Union.
It is very doubtful that UN members would be able to agree on such a document today. Even in 1948, various governments were unhappy with the declaration. The Soviet Union said it over-emphasised "18th century rights" at the expense of economic rights. South Africa, which was just embarking on its racist apartheid system, saw nothing wrong in discriminating on the grounds of skin colour. And Saudi Arabia was unhappy with the idea of religious freedom (even though the Koran specifically states that there is no compulsion in religion).
Last week, there were more objections. At the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission, Muslim countries blocked a resolution expressing "deep concern at the occurrence of violations of human rights in the world against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation". The resolution was proposed by Brazil and backed by European countries but five Muslim countries – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya and Malaysia – staged a filibuster that resulted in the debate being postponed for a year. It was the first time that the UN had addressed the delicate issue of homosexual rights by name, and it proved too much for Shaukat Umer, the Pakistani ambassador. Muslim nations could not accept the proposal and in any case, he suggested, the correct term was not "sexual orientation" but "sexual disorientation".
"This is a question that concerns the fundamental values of our society," he said. "It’s an attempt to impose one set of values on to people who have another. "We say: we respect your value systems, but please handle those within your own countries." To human rights organisations, these are all familiar arguments. "In many parts of the world," Amnesty International says, "being gay or lesbian is not seen as a right, but as a wrong. Homosexuality is considered a sin, or an illness, an ideological deviation or a betrayal of one’s culture. "The repression that gay and lesbian people face is often passionately defended by governments or individuals in the name of religion, culture, morality or public health … Same-sex relations are dubbed ‘un-Christian’, ‘un-African’, ‘un-Islamic’, or a ‘bourgeois decadence’."
The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, takes a more original line: lesbians and gay men are "less than human", therefore they are not entitled to human rights. Whatever anyone thinks of Mr Mugabe’s view, it does have a certain logic. There is no point in fudging the issue with arguments about cultural traditions or religion. Either all human beings have the same "equal and inalienable rights" (as the UN declaration puts it) or they do not. Those who say their religion does not permit them to treat everyone with equal dignity and respect should stop complaining about "western values" and ask themselves what they think their religion is for, and whether they have interpreted the scriptures correctly. Much as some would like to portray the sexual orientation battle as another aspect of the supposed "crusade" against Islam, there is no reason why it should be. Britain and many other countries went through similar traumas in the last century; they not only survived but, on the whole, are better places because of it.
Throughout Europe, following a ruling by the Court of Human Rights, laws that criminalise private consensual sex between adult men are now invalid. There is also a worldwide trend towards granting legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. South Africa was the first to do this, in 1996, and it has been followed by others such as Canada, France, Ireland, Israel, Slovenia and Spain. The Arab and Islamic countries are a notable exception to this trend. In almost all of them, sexual relations between men are illegal, with penalties ranging from imprisonment to death. (The position regarding relations between women is less clear and the issue is almost never mentioned.)
By no means all of them enforce these laws stringently. In Oman, for instance, it’s said that cases only get to court if "public scandal" is involved. Egypt, on the other hand, has been going out of its way during the last couple of years to track down people and prosecute them – often by using dubious entrapment methods and intimate "medical examinations" of suspects that have little or no scientific value. The most highly publicised case was the arrest of 52 men following a raid on the Queen Boat floating disco in Cairo two years ago.
More than 20 of the suspects were jailed. At a "retrial" where no evidence was heard, their sentences were increased and the case is now going to appeal. Despite the international protests caused by this, the persecution has continued and, according to activists in Egypt, may even have been stepped up. More recent prosecutions involve smaller numbers of people and attract less attention, but there are many of them. Technically, homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, so prosecutions are usually based on the charge of "habitual debauchery" (which is legally defined as having sex with more than one person over a period of three years).
One of the favoured entrapment methods is for undercover police to make contact with their victim through a gay website or chatroom and arrange a meeting. When the victim turns up in his best clothes for the date, he gets arrested. In these cases the suspects can also be charged with immoral "advertising" on the internet. Another common practice is to arrest people at private parties. In one such case the police appear to have been tipped off by the man who was hosting the party. In justification of this policy, the Egyptian government’s chief spokesman, Nabil Osman, offers the usual excuses about social norms and family values. "It’s very disgusting," he told an American newspaper. "Homosexuals may be accepted in western societies, but they’re not accepted in our society.
Neither are they permitted by religion, be it Islam, Christianity, or Judaism." One possible explanation is that the Egyptian government, facing challenges from the Islamists, is trying to out-do them on the public morality front. Others suggest it’s merely to divert attention from the country’s real problems. The morality argument might look more convincing if the government put similar effort into other issues – such as stamping out the rampant corruption. Ultimately, though, it has very little to do with morals or even sex.
It is one symptom of a far greater problem that besets the Middle East: outdated ideas about the purpose of government. Egypt has hundreds of laws governing personal behaviour. Apparently it’s even illegal to smoke while driving a vehicle (though anyone who has visited Cairo will probably have got the impression that smoking at the wheel is compulsory). There are so many of these laws that the average police officer is no more aware of them than the average citizen, but it does mean that if the authorities wish to arrest someone they can always find a reason for doing so. At the same time, newspapers continue to be censored (in the fond pretence that nobody would dream of looking elsewhere for information), and non-governmental organisations which have a genuine and positive role to play in the country’s development get closed down or taken over by the government. This control-freakery may help to keep up appearances and maintain the status quo, but in the long run it is doomed.
Meanwhile, the government seems incapable of applying its regulatory powers to things that would actually benefit the public – such as controlling the terrible pollution in Cairo, sorting out the buildings that regularly fall down on top of people, or making the railways safer. In terms of death and injury over the last few years, Egypt’s state-owned railways are a greater menace than al-Qaida. Following one disastrous train fire in which hundreds died, the government’s reaction was to increase fares in order to provide life insurance for passengers.
Relatives of anyone fortunate enough to die on a train, rather than under a collapsed building, will now receive several hundred dollars in compensation. All these issues reflect an attitude to power – its use and misuse, its abuse and non-use – that is shared to a large extent by most leaders in the Middle East. But in the modern world it cannot last, even if it shelters for a time under the umbrella of religion or cultural norms. "Sexual disorientation" is not the problem here. Government disorientation is.
8 August 2003 – Al Bawaba, The Middle East Gateway
Summer lovin’ – Arab Gays, Lesbians coming out of the closet…?
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 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 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 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.
15 October 2004 – From: Fourth annual Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) conference
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Speech by Brigitte Gabriel, delivered at the Duke University Counter Terrorism Speak-Out–on the origins and nature of the conflict between Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians
I’m proud and honoured to stand here today, as a Lebanese speaking for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. As someone who was raised in an Arabic country, I want to give you a glimpse into the heart of the Arabic world. I was raised in Lebanon, where I was taught that the Jews were evil, Israel was the devil, and the only time we will have peace in the Middle East is when we kill all the Jews and drive them into the sea.
When the Moslems and Palestinians declared Jihad on the Christians in 1975, they started massacring the Christians, city after city. I ended up living in a bomb shelter underground from age 10 to 17, without electricity, eating grass to live, and crawling under sniper bullets to a spring to get water. It was Israel who came to help the Christians in Lebanon. My mother was wounded by a Moslem’s shell, and was taken into an Israeli hospital for treatment. When we entered the emergency room, I was shocked at what I saw. There were hundreds of people wounded, Moslems, Palestinians, Christians, Lebanese, and Israeli soldiers lying on the floor.
The doctors treated everyone according to their injury. They treated my mother before they treated the Israeli soldier lying next to her. They didn’t see religion, they didn’t see political affiliation, they saw people in need and they helped. For the first time in my life I experienced a human quality that I know my culture would not have shown to their enemy. I experienced the values of the Israelis, who were able to love their enemy in their most trying moments. I spent 22 days at that hospital. Those days changed my life and the way I believe information, the way I listen to the radio or to television.
I realized I was sold a fabricated lie by my government, about the Jews and Israel, that was so far from reality. I knew for fact that, if I was a Jew standing in an Arab hospital, I would be lynched and thrown over to the grounds, as shouts of joy of Allah Akbar, God is great, would echo through the hospital and the surrounding streets. I became friends with the families of the Israeli wounded soldiers: one in particular Rina, her only child was wounded in his eyes. One day I was visiting with her, and the Israeli army band came to play national songs to lift the spirits of the wounded soldiers. As they surrounded his bed playing a song about Jerusalem, Rina and I started crying. I felt out of place and started walking out of the room, and this mother holds my hand and pulls me back in without even looking at me. She holds me crying and says: "It is not your fault." We just stood there crying, holding each other’s hands.
What a contrast between her, a mother looking at her deformed 19 year old only child, and still able to love me, the enemy, and between a Moslem mother who sends her son to blow himself up to smithereens just to kill a few Jews or Christians. The difference between the Arabic world and Israel is a difference in values and character. It’s barbarism versus civilization. It’s democracy versus dictatorship. It’s goodness versus evil.
Once upon a time, there was a special place in the lowest depths of hell for anyone who would intentionally murder a child. Now, the intentional murder of Israeli children is legitimized as Palestinian "armed struggle." However, once such behaviour is legitimized against Israel, it is legitimized everywhere in the world, constrained by nothing more than the subjective belief of people who would wrap themselves in dynamite and nails for the purpose of killing children in the name of God. Because the Palestinians have been encouraged to believe that murdering innocent Israeli civilians is a legitimate tactic for advancing their cause, the whole world now suffers from a plague of terrorism, from Nairobi to New York, from Moscow to Madrid, from Bali to Beslan.
They blame suicide bombing on "desperation of occupation." Let me tell you the truth. The first major terror bombing committed by Arabs against the Jewish state occurred ten weeks before Israel even became independent. On Sunday morning, February 22, 1948, in anticipation of Israel’s independence, a triple truck bomb was detonated by Arab terrorists on Ben Yehuda Street, in what was then the Jewish section of Jerusalem. Fifty-four people were killed, and hundreds were wounded. Thus, it is obvious that Arab terrorism is caused not by the "desperation" of "occupation" but by the VERY THOUGHT of a Jewish state.
So many times in history in the last 100 years, citizens have stood by and done nothing, allowing evil to prevail. As America stood up against and defeated communism, now it is time to stand up against the terror of religious bigotry and intolerance. It’s time to all stand up and support and defend the state of Israel, which is the front line of the war against terrorism.
On 15 October 2004, the fourth annual Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) conference, sponsored by the student group Hiwar, was slated to begin at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. In what the television industry might call an example of "counterprogramming," Duke’s largest Jewish organization scheduled a "Students Against Terror Concert and Rally" to be held on 14 October 2004, the eve of the PSM conference. The latter rally included speakers such as an Ohio student whose father was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a survivor of a suicide bombing in Israel, the founder of a Sudanese exile group, U.S. Representative David Price, and Durham Mayor Bill Bell, the last of whom proclaimed the day "Students Against Terror Day" in Durham.
Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian who fled Lebanon for Israel during the Lebanese civil war and who now heads the American Congress for Truth (ACT), a Virginia-based organization the Durham Herald-Sun described as a "aimed at exposing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism." Ms. Gabriel delivered the speech reproduced above, about her life in Lebanon and her observations on the origins and nature of the conflict between Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians in that part of the world.
22 May 2005 – WomensENews
Restoring Virginity Becomes Risky Business for Muslim Women and American Doctors–Many women who seek hymen-repair surgery do so under threat of death if family members in religious fundamentalist households find out they are not virgins. Now, the U.S. doctors who help them are also being intimidated.
by Sandy Kobrin, WeNews correspondent
Los Angeles – Some doctors perform these specialized surgeries on women late at night when there’s no one else in the waiting room.
The patients are most often women of Middle Eastern descent, some with origins from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. They frequently give false names and pay in cash. They arrive alone, faces hidden, under elaborate hats, wigs, scarves and sunglasses and, afraid, say doctors.
They are there for hymenoplasties, or the repair of hymens, which, when intact, are widely recognized as evidence of virginity. The surgeries could save their lives, noted the physicians who perform them, because, according to some interpretations of Islamic law, if a male relative suspects them of having premarital sex, the woman is a criminal. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, the penalty could be death.
Although for the most part, many of the women who seek these surgeries live in the U.S. with family members or to attend school, many return to their home countries when its time to look for a husband. Doctors say that while there are no official statistics, they have seen an increase in requests for more hymen repair surgeries in recent years. In addition, more doctors are receiving threats. " While we have no concrete numbers, doctors have reported growth in the number of hymenoplasties," Dr. V. Leroy Young, chair of the emerging trends task force of the Arlington Heights, Ill., American Society of Plastic Surgeons, told Women’s eNews. " Yes, there has been a degree of danger to doctors from fundamentalist groups who believe you are violating a law or culture. You can get in bit of trouble."
Young also said that it’s not just women with Middle Eastern backgrounds seeking the surgeries. There has also been an increase in the number of women requesting hymen repair from both the Orthodox Jewish and Christian fundamentalist communities, as well as from women of all nationalities who want the surgery as a sexual enhancement. " Within the fundamentalist Christian population as well there has been an apparent recent movement towards ‘traditional family values’ and there is pressure put on women to be virgins," Young said.
The hymen is the thin, fleshy membrane found at the opening to the vagina, long treated as a sign of virginity because it is usually torn by the first experience of sexual intercourse. Hymens can also be torn by athletic activities.
Typical hymen repair surgery involves stitching the remnants of a torn hymen together and inserting a gelatin capsule that contains a blood-mimicking substance. After the hymen has been surgically repaired, a woman will bleed the fake blood the next time she has sexual intercourse. The surgery, which costs from $2,500 to $4,500, is performed on an outpatient basis. Healing can take from a few days to a few weeks.
Doctors Get Death Threats
The women who undergo the procedures are not the only ones who fear for their lives or well-being. A number of U.S. physicians who perform these surgeries have received death threats by some who identify themselves as Muslims.
Young said that some doctors have received e-mails and phone calls threatening them or their staff with physical harm.
The threats to the doctors shadow the greater danger faced by women who undergo the surgery. Many live in fear of violence or honor killing, a practice in which a woman is murdered by her family members for supposedly shaming or tarnishing the family name with "unchaste" behavior. The practice occurs in traditional communities around the world, including the United States and Europe.
A report on honor killings by the Los Angeles-based Muslim Women’s League says that while sexual relationships outside of marriage are prohibited, honor killings are not a part of Islam. " The problem of ‘honor killings’ is not a problem of morality or of ensuring that women maintain their own personal virtue; rather, it is a problem of domination, power and hatred of women who, in these instances, are viewed as nothing more than servants to the family, both physically and symbolically," the report said. The Islamic law of chastity before marriage does not distinguish between men and women. But women are often uniformly singled out for punishment of sexual crimes.
Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, communications director for the Muslim Women’s League and a gynecologist, says that women seek hymen-repair surgeries to cope with cultural pressures and not to comply with Islamic law, which does not stipulate a need to check a woman’s virginity. " While Islam requires that both men and women be chaste before marriage; it doesn’t require men to prove it," she said. "The need for surgery is because of the culture in some countries. Those same cultures do not require a man to prove his chasteness. It is sad that doctors are being threatened because proving chastity is not part of Islam," she added.
Fear of Reprisal
Many doctors interviewed who have heard about the threats or have been threatened themselves would only talk off the record to Women’s eNews for fear of reprisal. They did not want to advertise the fact that they perform the surgeries and said they like to keep a low profile on their work with hymen repair.
Dr. David Matlock, a Beverly Hills gynecologist, was an exception. Matlock, who pioneered laser vaginal rejuvenation, said he has been performing hymenoplasties on hundreds of women for over 21 years. Most, he said, were of Middle Eastern descent. He said he recently received death threats in the mail and his office has received numerous calls from men, identifying themselves as Muslims, who threatened to kill him and his office workers if he did not stop performing hymen repair.
" They called my office numerous times and sent letters to my office with pictures of dead and bloodied people," he said. "It was unnerving to say the least. I can now better understand when these women come in and say to me: ‘I must do this. I’m going back to Iran and I could be killed.’"
Southern California is home to a large number of people who have emigrated from Iran. Matlock noted that, while many of patients have lived in the U.S. for much of their lives, they still need to adhere to traditional practices and often undergo the surgery before looking for a husband. Matlock said last year he contacted the FBI, who told him to keep a low profile and to stop advertising the procedure in local papers such as the L.A. Weekly. He said he was told by the FBI that the notes were real and the people who sent them knew what they were doing.
The local Los Angeles FBI office declined to say whether it had received calls from surgeons reporting death threats for similar reasons. Dr. John Miklos has been performing hymenoplasties in Atlanta for the past five years on women ranging in age from 19 to 30. "I have had many Middle Eastern women beg me to come in at night and then ask me to destroy the records. They say they could fall into the hands of family members and both of our lives could be in danger."
More Cautious Now
Miklos says colleagues have told him about receiving threats and he has been warned by the women coming in for the procedure. In recent months, he says, he has become more cautious himself. He no longer advertises the procedure in local newspapers and he said most of his business comes from personal referral. " These kind of threats are no different than doctors getting death threats from performing abortions," said Miklos. "It’s insane that the women are so scared but it is shocking and a shame that doctors too have to be nervous."
Dr. Bruce Allen, a prominent Toronto gynecologist, advertises hymen repair prominently on his Web site. When contacted by Women’s eNews, however, Allen said he does not do the procedure and refused to discuss his advertising and Web site. Dr. Ronald Blatt of the Manhattan Center for Vaginal Surgery began doing hymen repair about two years ago and reports a slight increase in the number of hymenoplasties. In the first year, the center performed two of the surgeries. Blatt could not be specific about which countries the women were from, but emphasized that the center works to be discreet about the procedure. " We’ve only had about six and they were women who were born somewhere in the Middle East, but we try to keep a low profile. We only do it when asked."
Sandy Kobrin is a writer based in Los Angeles who frequently writes about the plastic surgery industry.
October 10, 2005 – The Daily Star, Beruit
Helem publishes region’s first magazine for gay Arabs
Barra provides open forum to address issues faced by homosexuals in middle east
by Jessy Chahine, Daily Star staff
Not only has Lebanon managed to establish Helem, the first Arab non-governmental organization openly fighting for the rights of homosexuals, but it is also now publishing Barra (Arabic for Out), the region’s first magazine for gay Arabs. Published quarterly by Helem, Barra, according to one of its writers, is "a free space for all gays and lesbians in the region to express their feelings of social oppression and stigma."
Currently releasing its second issue, Barra incorporates several features and news articles written by Helem activists or independent homosexual writers from all over the region. Helem’s coordinator Georges Azzi said his group tries to raise awareness by speaking at colleges.
" There are increasingly more gay-friendly bars, also, for instance the International Day Against Homophobia (last May) was observed for the first time in Lebanon," Azzi said, "with Helem marking the occasion with a gathering of about 200 people, straight and gay, at a seaside hotel in Beirut. " It also organized a screening of ‘I exist,’ a documentary on homosexuals of Middle Eastern decent living in the United States, and distributed buttons and pamphlets with the slogan, ‘You drink coffee, I prefer tea. Does that mean one of us is abnormal?’" Dalal al-Bizri, a Cairo-based Lebanese sociologist, says homosexuals in the region are more reviled than drug addicts "because homosexuality is seen as being exported to the region by a country whose armies and fleets have attacked Arabs: the United States, so homosexuality is widely seen as a disease spread by the United States and Israel to corrupt Arabs and undermine their religious faith."
She said that more Arabs were coming out as gays, or "at least coming to terms with their sexuality, even though in some countries they face laws that can land them in jail, and extremists who beat them up because of Islam’s condemnation of homosexuality." According to Azzi, Lebanon is the only Arab country where gays can find refuge and Helem is the "first Arab non-governmental organization openly fighting for their rights."
Helem was set up last year despite a vaguely worded law punishing "unnatural sexual intercourse" with up to one year in jail. " Lebanon, with its mixed population of Muslims and Christians, has a history of religious pluralism and exposure to the West. But elsewhere, homosexuals are on their own," Azzi said. Lebanon even has male belly dancers. One such dancer is a slim, 23-year-old bisexual who identifies himself with the stage name "Teddy." Teddy says his insistence on leading a "normal life" has come at a price: "People look at me as if I have descended from Mars." With elegant black pony tail, mascara coated eye lashes, plump lips and manicured nails, he stood out as the only man in makeup at a trendy Beirut coffee house.
He said demand for his dancing is strong, though "Sometimes, at nightclubs, people spit at me or throw drinking glasses. " I don’t respond because I don’t want to make an issue out of it," he explains. Oddly enough, he says life in some ways is harder for gays in Lebanon than other parts of the region because here boys and girls mix freely, so parents are more likely to notice those who don’t. " It’s easier in Saudi Arabia, where the sexes are segregated," said Teddy. " As long as boys and girls are separate, parents feel their children are safe."
Asked where he would like to be 10 years from now, Teddy said: " I’d like to become the head of a union for the protection of gays in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world, and a very famous lawyer in the sphere of human rights. Once I have achieved that," he added, "I’d like to marry a woman and have 14 children," he said.
Date ? – Indiana University
GLBT Resources in the Middle East
Middle East – General
Below are a few books and websites which provide some general resources to students on life for GLBT people in the Middle East. While there are not always information provided for college-aged students, I have tried to include what is easily accessible. Should you find any mistakes or additional resources, I encourage you to contact me at the information listed below.
Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature. Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (Editors). New York University Press, 1997.
Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. Jan Goodwin. Penguin USA, 1995.
Sex Longing & Not Belonging: A Gay Muslim’s Quest for Love & Meaning. Bedruddin Khan. Floating Lotus USA, 1997.
Sexuality and Eroticism among Males in Muslim Society. Schmitt, Arno and Sofer, Jehoeda, eds. NY: Haworth Press, 1992. ISBN#1560240474.
Sexuality in Islam. Abdulwahab Bouhdigba, Alan Sheridan (Translator). 1998
Al-Fatiha Foundation is dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, and their allies, families and friends. Al-Fatiha promotes the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice. We envision a world that is free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination, where all people are fully embraced and accepted into their faith, their families and their communities.
The Gay Lesbian Arabic Society
Established in 1988, this site “serves as a networking organization for Gays and Lesbians of Arab descent or those living in Arab countries. They aim 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 also provide a support network for our members while fighting for our human rights wherever they are oppressed. They are part of the global Gay and Lesbian movement seeking an end to injustice and discrimination based on sexual orientation.” http://www.glas.org/
The International Lesbian and Gay Association
This website has the most comprehensive data on laws effecting lesbian and gays around the world. See their link off the main page for the ILGA World Legal Survey.
There has been a lot of press about arrests of gay men and imprisonment of Egyptian gays.
Below are a sampling of articles and websites on the latest information.
Buried Alive in Egypt: Egyptian gay men are still being entrapped and jailed by the hundreds. This article tells the story of one imprisoned man and his American partner. The Advocate, May 13, 2003, page 26-28. http://www.advocate.com
Gay Egypt in the Dock: The Big Crackdown Might Reflect Cairo’s Own Insecurities, by Joshua Hammer. This article appeared in Newsweek International and can be found at: http://www.sodomylaws.org/world/egypt/egnews80.htm
Leading site on Egyptian gay issues, based in London. This site is no longer being maintained, but has valuable information on the state of GLBT issues in Egypt as well as other links. http://gayegypt.com
Global Gayz…Gay Egypt
This site has links to several countries in the Middle East.
The site on Egypt includes several articles and links to other sites.
Homan is a group established in 1991 in Stockholm to defend the rights of Iranian Gays and Lesbians. As a human rights group in exile, Homan strives to constitute an international advocacy, in order to protest against Gay and Lesbian human rights violations in Iran. Homan’s most essential role is to educate communities about the natural phenomenon of homosexuality. (There are some excellent links to gay and lesbian websites in the Middle East at this site.)
Israel probably has the most progressive stance on GLBT issues in the Middle East, even allowing gays to openly serve in the military. The laws on sodomy where repealed in 1988 and there is a current member of the K… who is openly gay. Below are some books and websites of the various organizations which exist in the various cities around the country. There are also GLBT student groups at most of the major universities accepting international students.
Between Sodom and Eden: A Gay Journey Through Today’s Changing Israel. Walzer, Lee, NY: Columbia University Press, 2000. ISBN: 0231113951 (paperback).
Independence Park: The Lives of Gay Men in Israel. Fink, Amir Sumakai and Jacob Press. Stanford University Press, 1999.
Lesbiot: Israeli Lesbians Talk about Sexuality, Feminism, Judaism and Their Lives. Moore, Tracy, ed. NY: Cassell, 1995. ISBN#0304331589.
Information on Haifa’s GLBT community can be found at:
The Jerusalem LGB Open House (JOH) has a good website, though it has not been updated since the summer of 2002. Many links to other organizations around Israel, including student groups at the Hebrew University, can be found at this site.
The Other 10% – GLBT student group at Hebrew University
“ The Agudah”: the association of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender in Israel. http://www.aguda-ta.org.il/content/english.asp
Claf: Community of Feminist Lesbians
Sodomy Laws: Israel
This website has a section of news from Israel with many interesting articles which talk about the evolution of GLBT issues since the country’s founding in 1948. There is also an article on Gay Palestinians. http://www.sodomylaws.org/world/israel/israel.htm
In speaking with those familiar with the American University of Beirut it was learned that the university has a “fire wall” on websites with “sensitive” topics and the server thus won’t allow students to view either of the sites listed below. Students must thus go to internet cafes in the city to access the limited information listed below.
LEGAL – Lebanese Equality for Gays and Lesbians Institute
A bit outdated (last updated in August 2002), this website offers good links to Arab and Lebanese gay sites. http://www.legal.20m.com. The aim of LEGAL is to work for the legal, social, and cultural equality of the Lebanese GLBT community while providing support and social interaction to the groups members.
This commercial site offers some information on gay life in Lebanon, but the information is written by those outside of the country and is a bit outdated.
From Kathy Sullivan and Sulaf Al-Zu’bi, CIEE Jordan
Resources for gay and lesbian students in Jordan
No resources that we know of but there may be websites/others of which we are unaware. There used to be a coffee shop hangout with an international/local crowd but it has changed management and no longer serves this secondary function. There used to be some gay travel websites that reported on things like that but I don’t know where to access them.
It is safer (physically, socially, etc.) for gay/lesbian students not to share their orientation with others in Jordan, especially other men. All students applying for residency in Jordan (that would be those staying for the two semesters only) have to take an AIDS test for that. Otherwise, for reasons in the next point below, students should know that AIDS awareness and "safe sex" practices are likely less high than in the West or in more affected areas like Africa. Therefore, they may be at higher risk of all kinds of STDs here.
Conflicts with local laws, culture, religion where gay/lesbian issues are concerned
Practicing homosexuality is forbidden by Islam. Legally, it can also be grounds for jail. The culture remains strongly patriarchal with all of that that implies–the importance of keeping male and female roles different/separate, the dominant male ideal, etc. Despite the anecdotal stories re: more experimentation with sex between young Arab men in some countries because women are off limits before marriage, homosexuality is rarely openly admitted or discussed within families or among friends; same for lesbians. This is true even when it may be "obvious" or even known that a person has this orientation, it isn’t something addressed openly with non-gay circles.
There are no known websites or printed publications that we found in English. Resident directors who we contacted did not know of any available online resources. Students are encouraged to speak with their programs should they have questions about sexual orientation in this Muslim country.
LEGATO, named after the Turkish acronym for Lezbiyen Gay Toplulu_u, is a Lesbian and Gay Association that aims to connect and bring together homosexual Turkish college students.
KAOS GL is a group founded in September 1994 with the purpose of bringing Turkey’s homosexuals together to struggle against discrimination. The group’s underlying philosophy is that liberation of homosexuals will also free heterosexuals. KAOS GL has been publishing the journal KAOS GL (now a quarterly) since it was founded. In 2001, a monthly newspaper PARMAK (Finger) is also published. But it lasted only for 3 issues. The group owns the KAOS CULTURAL CENTER in which many cultural activities, meetings and film shows are held. Also, the first LGBT library is built in this center. http://www.kaosgl.com
April 07, 2006 – The Daily Star
Brian Whitaker‘s book gives voice to gay Arabs: ‘Unspeakable Love–Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East
by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie Daily Star staff
Beirut: When Salim, a 20-year-old Egyptian, told his family that he was gay, they packed him off for six months of psychiatric treatment. When Ali, a teenager from Lebanon, was discovered to be gay, his father broke a chair over his head and his brother threatened to kill him for tarnishing the family honor. Ali left home and no longer has any contact with his relatives.
When the family of another young Egyptian man found out their son was gay, they beat him and then sent him to a therapist. He convinced a young woman to pose as his girlfriend for a while, but once that ruse was up, his family beat him again, this time so harshly that he fled Egypt for the United States, where he applied for political asylum.
These are just a few among the many anecdotes that Brian Whitaker, the Middle East editor for The Guardian newspaper in London, relates in his new, groundbreaking book, "Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East."
Launched in Beirut on Wednesday night with a book signing at Zico House and a party at Walima, "Unspeakable Love" explores the experiences of young gay men and women in several countries throughout the region, including Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Whitaker filters their stories through the multiple lenses of social norms, cultural expressions, the media, politics and religion. To his credit, Whitaker does not shy away from but rather dives into the murky questions surrounding homosexuality in the Middle East.
Is homosexuality a Western import and a sign of modernity’s moral decay? How does that square with the Orientalist fantasy of the Middle East as a lush gay paradise? How do young people today distinguish between homosexuality as a practice and homosexuality as a self-proclaimed identity? What are the various laws prohibiting homosexual behavior and how are they implemented in various parts of the region? What are the religious texts dealing with homosexuality, how have they been interpreted and – perhaps most crucially – why have they been interpreted as such?
And what, more basically, is the precise terminology at stake here in Arabic, with such expressions as shaadh (pervert or deviant), al-mithliyya al-jinsiyaa (sexual sameness) and the latter’s shorthand, mithli and mithliyya, all in circulation at once?
Whitaker, 58, was motivated to write "Unspeakable Love" by the Queen Boat incident in Egypt in 2001, when police raided a Nile River boat that functioned as a floating nightclub and attracted a mainly male clientele. Not only were numerous men arrested and jailed, but the event was also one of the very few to bring issues of gay identity and practice into the mainstream Arab media.
Three things become palpably clear from reading the book.
The first is that social attitudes are the single-most mind-crushing factor for young men and women in Arab world who are trying to deal with the fact that they are attracted to members of the same sex. More so than legal statutes or religious edicts, the pressure to marry is what pushes many of these young men and women to the breaking point.
The second is that because not only homosexuality in particular but sexuality in general remain so stubbornly taboo in the Middle East, there is a dangerous dearth of reliable information, education and counseling available for gay men, lesbian women and their respective families.
Because sexuality is not discussed in the public domain, young people lack even the actual vocabulary – the words, the terms, the turns of phrase – to describe themselves and their actions in simultaneously civic and sexual terms.
A city like Beirut may have a thriving gay subculture, and it may even have a strong, impressive and unprecedented gay rights organization in Helem. But homophobia remains rampant – even among those who should know better – and homosexuality has yet to light the imagination of any prominent politician. Imagine what it would take to get gay marriage on the agenda of a Cabinet meeting or the current national dialogue in Lebanon. Lots of red flags waving and exclamation points popping there.
The third is that the push for gay rights in the region is very much tied to wider issues of social and political reform.
" It’s not just about gay rights," says Whitaker. "It’s about the whole issue of reform, and reform is not just about elections."
True reform will have to take a full range of factors into consideration, and "sexuality," he adds, "has to be a part of it."
Whitaker has three ideal readers in mind – Westerners interested in reform who need to look beyond voting structures, Arabs interested in reform who need to get over outmoded leftist strategies and young Arabs who are gay, ostracized and alone. For them, the book is perhaps most important because even if the names have been changed and the details have been deleted, it gives them a voice.
" I was basically trying to do a job of reporting, asking people about their lives," Whitaker explains. "There’s no book that deals with the contemporary situation quite like this one." He lays a hand on the cover and pats it once. "There are literary histories and anthropological studies. But there are not books that talk to people about their daily lives."
Whitaker admits that he could spend the rest of his career researching the subject, but he says he would risk ending up being just "that guy writing those books." In fact, he hopes he doesn’t ever have to write another book like "Unspeakable Love." In effect, he hopes that by its publication, the book will break the taboo.
While it is entirely conceivable that "Unspeakable Love" could have attracted the attention of a major publishing house in Europe or the U.S., Whitaker chose to go with Saqi Books because of its foothold in the region. "This is where the issue matters," he explains.
It was also important for him to launch the book in Beirut before anywhere else. "I have been apprehensive about it being seen as another Western attack." He says he recently turned down an interview with CNN because he wanted to see how the local press would cover it first.
All of which begs the question: Will "Unspeakable Love" be translated to Arabic anytime soon? Speaking on the day before the launch, Whitaker sounded hypothetically optimistic.
" Obviously, yes," he laughed. "It would be a major development, a breakthrough, if it were to be translated to Arabic. I think the situation with books is similar to the situation with the press. People writing in the English language have a bit more freedom. I hope people will read it in English and tell their friends about it in Arabic. It’s a pity it’s not in Arabic, but it’s a start."
By the time the launch rolled around on Wednesday, Whitaker’s publishers were adamant. "Yes," they said. "An Arabic translation is in the works. It will be out by the end of the year." How’s that for progress?
Brian Whitaker’s "Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East" is out now from Saqi Books. For more information, please see www.saqibooks.com
October 2, 2006 – Guardian Unlimited
Coming out in Arabic–Aswat Lesbian Organization
Brian Whitaker reports on a lesbian group’s struggle for acceptance in the Middle East.
When Rauda Morcos heard there was an emailing list for lesbian Palestinians, she couldn’t believe it at first. " I thought it was a joke," she said. "Until then, I thought I was the only lesbian who speaks Arabic." The list was certainly not a joke but, in a society where same-sex relations are still taboo, its members guarded their privacy. The only way a newcomer could join was by personal recommendation. " Eventually I got in," Ms Morcos recalled, "and I found a lot of other [lesbian] women who couldn’t be out." After corresponding by email for a few months, she thought it would be good to talk with some of the invisible women face to face, so, in January 2003, Ms Morcos and her flatmate called a meeting.
" We had no expectations," she said, "but eight women turned up. The meeting lasted eight hours and I don’t think anybody wanted to go home." That, it later turned out, marked the birth of Aswat ("Voices") – the first openly-functioning organisation for Arab lesbians in the Middle East. " We realised we had a great responsibility towards other women in our community," Ms Morcos continued. "We tried to contact many organisations and sent out letters but the only reply came from Kayan ["Being"], a group of feminists in Haifa … Many NGOs don’t count it as a human rights issue or want to be associated."
Three years on, though, Aswat is firmly established with more than 70 members spread across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel (where the organisation is based). Only about 20 attend its meetings; the need to keep their sexuality secret, plus Israeli restrictions on movement, prevent others from attending but they keep in touch through email and an online discussion forum. Beyond the group itself, there are also signs of acceptance in a few places. "We do a lot of work within the community, for example with youth groups, counsellors, and so on," Ms Morcos said. "That proves to me at least that the gay/lesbian movement has started for us as Palestinians."
One of Aswat’s main goals is to provide information about sexuality that is widely available elsewhere but has never been published in Arabic. This is not simply a matter of translation; it’s also about developing "a ‘mother tongue’ with positive, un-derogatory and affirmative expressions of women and lesbian sexuality and gender … We are creating a language that no one spoke before". If women are to find their voice, the language needs to be re-appropriated, Ms Morcos explains in an article on Aswat’s website. "I have forgotten my language. I don’t know how to say ‘to make love’ in Arabic without it sounding chauvinistic, aggressive and alien to the experience."
Recognition for Aswat’s work came earlier this year when Ms Morcos won the 2006 Felipa de Souza award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The citation described her as "a true example of courageous and effective human rights leadership", but Ms Morcos is quick to point out that other women are also doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Speaking to a standing-room-only meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign during a visit to London last week, she explained that necessity has made her the public face of Aswat. Many of the women involved do not want to be identified – often with good reason. "But if we don’t want to come out as persons, let’s at least come out as a movement," she said.
Ms Morcos’s own coming-out was not entirely voluntary and proved particularly unpleasant. In 2003 she gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot about the poetry she writes. In passing, she mentioned her sexuality – only to find that the L-word turned up in the newspaper’s headline. An article on Aswat’s website describes what happened next: " All of a sudden, the Arab population of her home town [in northern Israel], which she generally assumed to have no interest in the literary supplements of Hebrew newspapers, seemed to have read the article and had something to say about her. Local corner shop owners made photocopies and distributed it, because, after all, everyone knew it was about the daughter of so-and-so from their own town.
" The consequences of that article were far more serious than Ms Morcos had imagined: her car windows were smashed and tyres were punctured several times, she received innumerable threatening letters and phone calls, and, to top it all, ‘coincidentally’ lost her job as a school teacher, since parents of pupils complained that they did not want her as a teacher."
Arab society today is riddled with the kind of anti-gay prejudices that were found in Britain half a century ago, and persecution is common. Muslim clerics condemn homosexuality in no uncertain terms, though similar statements can be heard from Arab Christian leaders too, such as the Coptic Pope in Egypt who once declared that "so-called human rights" for gay people were "unthinkable". With a few exceptions here and there, this is the prevailing attitude in all the Arab countries, but in Palestinian society the issue of gay rights is further complicated – and made much more political – by the conflict with Israel.
Israel legalised same-sex relations between men in 1988. Four years later, it went a step further and became the only country in the Middle East that outlaws discrimination based on sexuality. A series of court cases then put the theory into practice – for example, when El Al was forced to provide a free ticket for the partner of a gay flight attendant, as the airline already did for the partners of its straight employees.
These are undisputed achievements but they have also become a propaganda tool, reinforcing Israel’s claim to be the only liberal, democratic society in the Middle East. At the same time, highlighting Israel’s association with gay rights has made life more difficult for gay Arabs, adding grist to the popular notion that homosexuality is a "disease" spread by foreigners.
Linking the twin enemies of Israel and homosexuality provides a double whammy for Arab propagandists, as can be seen from sections of the Egyptian press. In an article to mark the 30th anniversary of the October war, a headline in the Egyptian paper Sabah al-Kheir announced: "Golda Meir was a lesbian." In 2001, following the mass arrest of more than 50 allegedly gay men, al-Musawwar magazine published a doctored photograph of the supposed ringleader, showing him in an Israeli army helmet and sitting at a desk with an Israeli flag.
Israel, however, is not quite the gay paradise that many imagine. There is still hostility from conservative Jews, and some of their blood-curdling statements are not very different from the more widely publicised remarks of Muslim clerics. In Jerusalem last year, the ultra-Orthodox mayor banned a pride march, though an Israeli court promptly overturned his decision. As the parade took place, a Jewish religious fanatic attacked three marchers with a knife and reportedly told the police he had come "to kill in the name of God". The gay rights movement in Israel also has a questionable history. Lee Walzer, author of Between Sodom and Eden, explains in an article that the first Israeli activists pursued "a very mainstream strategy" that "reinforced the perception that gay rights was a non-partisan issue, unconnected to the major fissure in Israeli politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict and how to resolve it".
" Embracing gay rights," he continues, "enabled Israelis to pat themselves on the back for being open-minded, even as Israeli society wrestled less successfully with other social inequalities."
As part of their strategy, activists sought "to convince the wider public that gay Israelis were good patriotic citizens who just happened to be attracted to the same sex". As a general principle this may be valid, but in the context of war and occupation it leads into murky territory. Should it really be a matter of pride that openly gay members of the Israeli armed forces are just as capable of wreaking havoc on neighbouring Lebanon as the next person?
The question here is whether gay rights – in Israel or elsewhere – can really be divorced from politics or treated in isolation from other human rights. Helem, the Lebanese gay and lesbian organisation, thinks not, arguing that gay rights are an inseparable part of human rights – as does Ms Morcos.
For Ms Morcos, there’s a connection between nationality, gender and sexuality. She has a triple identity, as a lesbian, a woman and a Palestinian (despite having an Israeli passport) – "a minority within a minority within a minority", as she puts it. Her first concern, though, is to end the Israeli occupation, and she sees no prospect of achieving gay rights for Palestinians while it continues.
Nowadays, the more radical Israeli activists also acknowledge a linkage. In 2001, Walzer recalls, "Tel Aviv’s pride parade, typically a celebratory, hedonistic affair, got a dose of politics when a contingent called ‘Gays in Black’ marched with a banner proclaiming, ‘There’s No Pride In Occupation’." Later, a group called Kvisa Sh’chora ("Dirty Laundry") sprang up and began drawing parallels between the oppression of sexual minorities and Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
The issue was further highlighted in 2002 when Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to formally meet a gay delegation. Activist Hagai El-Ad asked: "Is this an achievement for our community, or an example of a lack of feeling, callousness and loss of direction?" He continued: "It would be unbearable to simply sit with the prime minister and, on behalf of our minority, ignore the human rights of others, including what’s been happening here in relation to Palestine for the past year: roadblocks, prevention of access to medical care, assassinations, and implementation of an apartheid policy in the territories and in Israel.
" The struggle for our rights is worthless if it’s indifferent to what’s happening to people a kilometre from here. " All we get by holding the meeting with the prime minister," he concluded, "is symbolic legitimacy for the community. What he gets for sitting down with us is the mantle of enlightenment and pluralism."
This mantle of enlightenment and pluralism does not, however, extend to Israel’s treatment of gay Palestinians. For those who face persecution in the West Bank and Gaza, the most obvious escape route is to Israel, but this often leaves them trapped in an administrative no-man’s-land with little hope of getting a proper job in Israel and constantly at risk of arrest and deportation.
Meanwhile, as far as the average Palestinian is concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal of the cause, and gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under suspicion – not always without good reason. There have been various reports of gay Palestinians being targeted or pressurised by Israeli intelligence to act as informers. Whether or not they actually succumb to the pressure, all inevitably come under suspicion. " Gays in Palestine are seen as collaborators immediately," said Ms Morcos.
Aswat MIddle East Lesbian website:
October 2 2006 – Guardian.co.uk
Middle East dispatch Coming out in Arabic
Brian Whitaker reports on a lesbian group’s struggle for acceptance in the Middle East
(Article historyAbout this articleClose This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Monday October 02 2006. It was last updated at 13:46 on October 02 2006.When Rauda Morcos heard there was an emailing list for lesbian Palestinians, she couldn’t believe it at first. "I thought it was a joke," she said. "Until then, I thought I was the only lesbian who speaks Arabic.")
The list was certainly not a joke but, in a society where same-sex relations are still taboo, its members guarded their privacy. The only way a newcomer could join was by personal recommendation. "Eventually I got in," Ms Morcos recalled, "and I found a lot of other [lesbian] women who couldn’t be out." After corresponding by email for a few months, she thought it would be good to talk with some of the invisible women face to face, so, in January 2003, Ms Morcos and her flatmate called a meeting. "We had no expectations," she said, "but eight women turned up. The meeting lasted eight hours and I don’t think anybody wanted to go home."
That, it later turned out, marked the birth of Aswat ("Voices") – the first openly-functioning organisation for Arab lesbians in the Middle East. "We realised we had a great responsibility towards other women in our community," Ms Morcos continued. "We tried to contact many organisations and sent out letters but the only reply came from Kayan ["Being"], a group of feminists in Haifa … Many NGOs don’t count it as a human rights issue or want to be associated."
Three years on, though, Aswat is firmly established with more than 70 members spread across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel (where the organisation is based). Only about 20 attend its meetings; the need to keep their sexuality secret, plus Israeli restrictions on movement, prevent others from attending but they keep in touch through email and an online discussion forum. Beyond the group itself, there are also signs of acceptance in a few places. "We do a lot of work within the community, for example with youth groups, counsellors, and so on," Ms Morcos said. "That proves to me at least that the gay/lesbian movement has started for us as Palestinians."
One of Aswat’s main goals is to provide information about sexuality that is widely available elsewhere but has never been published in Arabic. This is not simply a matter of translation; it’s also about developing "a ‘mother tongue’ with positive, un-derogatory and affirmative expressions of women and lesbian sexuality and gender … We are creating a language that no one spoke before". If women are to find their voice, the language needs to be re-appropriated, Ms Morcos explains in an article on Aswat’s website. "I have forgotten my language. I don’t know how to say ‘to make love’ in Arabic without it sounding chauvinistic, aggressive and alien to the experience." Recognition for Aswat’s work came earlier this year when Ms Morcos won the 2006 Felipa de Souza award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The citation described her as "a true example of courageous and effective human rights leadership", but Ms Morcos is quick to point out that other women are also doing a lot of work behind the scenes.
Speaking to a standing-room-only meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign during a visit to London last week, she explained that necessity has made her the public face of Aswat. Many of the women involved do not want to be identified – often with good reason. "But if we don’t want to come out as persons, let’s at least come out as a movement," she said. Ms Morcos’s own coming-out was not entirely voluntary and proved particularly unpleasant. In 2003 she gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot about the poetry she writes. In passing, she mentioned her sexuality – only to find that the L-word turned up in the newspaper’s headline. An article on Aswat’s website describes what happened next:
"All of a sudden, the Arab population of her home town [in northern Israel], which she generally assumed to have no interest in the literary supplements of Hebrew newspapers, seemed to have read the article and had something to say about her. Local corner shop owners made photocopies and distributed it, because, after all, everyone knew it was about the daughter of so-and-so from their own town. The consequences of that article were far more serious than Ms Morcos had imagined: her car windows were smashed and tyres were punctured several times, she received innumerable threatening letters and phone calls, and, to top it all, ‘coincidentally’ lost her job as a school teacher, since parents of pupils complained that they did not want her as a teacher."
Arab society today is riddled with the kind of anti-gay prejudices that were found in Britain half a century ago, and persecution is common. Muslim clerics condemn homosexuality in no uncertain terms, though similar statements can be heard from Arab Christian leaders too, such as the Coptic Pope in Egypt who once declared that "so-called human rights" for gay people were "unthinkable". With a few exceptions here and there, this is the prevailing attitude in all the Arab countries, but in Palestinian society the issue of gay rights is further complicated – and made much more political – by the conflict with Israel. Israel legalised same-sex relations between men in 1988. Four years later, it went a step further and became the only country in the Middle East that outlaws discrimination based on sexuality. A series of court cases then put the theory into practice – for example, when El Al was forced to provide a free ticket for the partner of a gay flight attendant, as the airline already did for the partners of its straight employees.
These are undisputed achievements but they have also become a propaganda tool, reinforcing Israel’s claim to be the only liberal, democratic society in the Middle East. At the same time, highlighting Israel’s association with gay rights has made life more difficult for gay Arabs, adding grist to the popular notion that homosexuality is a "disease" spread by foreigners. Linking the twin enemies of Israel and homosexuality provides a double whammy for Arab propagandists, as can be seen from sections of the Egyptian press. In an article to mark the 30th anniversary of the October war, a headline in the Egyptian paper Sabah al-Kheir announced: "Golda Meir was a lesbian." In 2001, following the mass arrest of more than 50 allegedly gay men, al-Musawwar magazine published a doctored photograph of the supposed ringleader, showing him in an Israeli army helmet and sitting at a desk with an Israeli flag.
Israel, however, is not quite the gay paradise that many imagine. There is still hostility from conservative Jews, and some of their blood-curdling statements are not very different from the more widely publicised remarks of Muslim clerics. In Jerusalem last year, the ultra-Orthodox mayor banned a pride march, though an Israeli court promptly overturned his decision. As the parade took place, a Jewish religious fanatic attacked three marchers with a knife and reportedly told the police he had come "to kill in the name of God". The gay rights movement in Israel also has a questionable history. Lee Walzer, author of Between Sodom and Eden, explains in an article that the first Israeli activists pursued "a very mainstream strategy" that "reinforced the perception that gay rights was a non-partisan issue, unconnected to the major fissure in Israeli politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict and how to resolve it. Embracing gay rights," he continues, "enabled Israelis to pat themselves on the back for being open-minded, even as Israeli society wrestled less successfully with other social inequalities."
As part of their strategy, activists sought "to convince the wider public that gay Israelis were good patriotic citizens who just happened to be attracted to the same sex". As a general principle this may be valid, but in the context of war and occupation it leads into murky territory. Should it really be a matter of pride that openly gay members of the Israeli armed forces are just as capable of wreaking havoc on neighbouring Lebanon as the next person? The question here is whether gay rights – in Israel or elsewhere – can really be divorced from politics or treated in isolation from other human rights. Helem, the Lebanese gay and lesbian organisation, thinks not, arguing that gay rights are an inseparable part of human rights – as does Ms Morcos.
For Ms Morcos, there’s a connection between nationality, gender and sexuality. She has a triple identity, as a lesbian, a woman and a Palestinian (despite having an Israeli passport) – "a minority within a minority within a minority", as she puts it. Her first concern, though, is to end the Israeli occupation, and she sees no prospect of achieving gay rights for Palestinians while it continues. Nowadays, the more radical Israeli activists also acknowledge a linkage. In 2001, Walzer recalls, "Tel Aviv’s pride parade, typically a celebratory, hedonistic affair, got a dose of politics when a contingent called ‘Gays in Black’ marched with a banner proclaiming, ‘There’s No Pride In Occupation’." Later, a group called Kvisa Sh’chora ("Dirty Laundry") sprang up and began drawing parallels between the oppression of sexual minorities and Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. The issue was further highlighted in 2002 when Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to formally meet a gay delegation. Activist Hagai El-Ad asked: "Is this an achievement for our community, or an example of a lack of feeling, callousness and loss of direction?"
He continued: "It would be unbearable to simply sit with the prime minister and, on behalf of our minority, ignore the human rights of others, including what’s been happening here in relation to Palestine for the past year: roadblocks, prevention of access to medical care, assassinations, and implementation of an apartheid policy in the territories and in Israel. The struggle for our rights is worthless if it’s indifferent to what’s happening to people a kilometre from here. All we get by holding the meeting with the prime minister," he concluded, "is symbolic legitimacy for the community. What he gets for sitting down with us is the mantle of enlightenment and pluralism."
This mantle of enlightenment and pluralism does not, however, extend to Israel’s treatment of gay Palestinians. For those who face persecution in the West Bank and Gaza, the most obvious escape route is to Israel, but this often leaves them trapped in an administrative no-man’s-land with little hope of getting a proper job in Israel and constantly at risk of arrest and deportation. Meanwhile, as far as the average Palestinian is concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal of the cause, and gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under suspicion – not always without good reason. There have been various reports of gay Palestinians being targeted or pressurised by Israeli intelligence to act as informers. Whether or not they actually succumb to the pressure, all inevitably come under suspicion.
"Gays in Palestine are seen as collaborators immediately," said Ms Morcos.
UNSPEAKABLE LOVE: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East (Book Review)
by Doug Ireland, New York
I wrote the following book review for Gay City News — New York’s largest gay and lesbin weekly — which publishes it tomorrow:
UNSPEAKABLE LOVE: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, by Brian Whittaker; 264 pp.; University of California Press
When Tayseer, a Palestinian from Gaza, was 18, he was found in bed with a boyfriend by an older brother — and as a result, he was severely beaten by his family and threatened with strangulation by his father if he ever had gay sex again.
A few months later, Tayseer was invited into an orange grove for sex by an undercover police agent of the Palestinian Authority, and subsequently arrested. Police told Tayseer that the only way for him to avoid prison was to himself become a Judas goat, to lure other gay men into sex so that they, too, could be arrested.
When he refused to be police bait in this entrapment scheme, Tayseer was hung by his arms from the ceiling. “A high-ranking officer he didn’t know arranged for his release–and then demanded sex as payback.”
When Tayseer fled Gaza for Tulkarem, he was eventually re-arrested, and forced to stand in neck-high sewage water with his head covered by a feces-filled sack. During one police interrogation, Tayseer was stripped and forced to sit on a Coke bottle.
Tayseer’s story is just one of the accounts by Arab lesbians and gay men in Brian Whittaker’s new book, UNSPEAKABLE LOVE: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, just published simultaneously here and in the U.K. Whittaker (left), the Middle East Bureau Chief for the British daily The Guardian, writes that he was inspired to do this book when covering the infamous Queen Boat case in Egypt, in which 52 men were arrested in 2001 at a gay party on a disco boat, and subjected to a highly-sensationalized trial — in a state security court normally reserved for terrorists — for using “perverted sexual acts” as part of “satanic rituals” (one Cairo newspaper headline blared, “Perverts Declare War on Egypt.”) Thirty-five of the men received prison terms and 200 lashes each — and 70 more men who had initially been arrested, then released, were also later sentenced to prison.
Whitaker writes that “the dearth of coverage about Arab homosexuality encourages the idea that it is almost entirely a foreign phenomenon.” It is the great merit of this book that it helps to give a fuller picture of both the wide-spread existence of same-sex love in the Arab world and of the increasing number of Arabs who are choosing to define themselves through a gay identity.
In dissecting the wide gap between portrayals of homosexuality in Arab media and official discourse, and the lived reality of Arab same-sexers, Whitaker writes that “Arab portrayals of homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon can be [plausibly] attributed to a reversal of old-fashioned Western orientalism. Western orientalism, as analyzed by Edward Said (right) in his influential book, highlights the ‘otherness’ of oriental culture in order (Said argued) to control it more effectively. Reverse orientalism — a comparatively new development in the Arab world — taps into the same themes but also highlights the ‘otherness’ of the West in order to resist modernization and reform. Homosexuality is one aspect of Western ‘otherness’ that can be readily exploited to whip up popular sentiment…Where symbolism of this kind applies, the sexual act must necessarily be described in terms that maximize the reader’s disgust: there is no scope for portrayals of homosexuality that are anything but negative.”
In this context, and given prevailing cultural and official attitudes toward homosexuality, the near-impossibility of being openly gay, and the absence of public spaces where same-sexers can lawfully gather and meet, it is hardly surprising that, as Whitaker writes, “a point made repeatedly by interviewees…was that to be gay and Arab is often extremely lonely.”
So great is ignorance about the real nature of the same-sex impulse in the Arab world that the semi-official Egyptian daily al-Ahram al-Arabi could run a lengthy 2001 interview with “a professor of surgical medicine” on the “most successful method” of “curing sexual perversion”: to wit, “cauterizing the anus, which, by narrowing the anus, makes it more painful for the passive homosexual to be penetrated, which makes the active homosexual unable to penetrate, and causes the sexual encounter to fail.”
Whitaker quotes the late Zaki Badawi (right), head of the Muslim College in London, as saying that, “Homosexuality has always existed and continues to exist in all Islamic countries. Many high-ranking leaders in the Islamic world are gay.” Unfortunately, Whitaker doesn’t name any of those leaders, except for the Sultan of Oman. He might well have mentioned King Mohammed VI (left) of Morocco (also the country’s chief spiritual leader as Commander of the Faithful) who was outed on his ascension to the throne in 1999 by the leading Belgian daily, Le Soir, which revealed that as a university undergraduate in Brussels, the king-to-be had spent all his free time in gay bars. Then there’s Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (right), knowledge of whose homosexuality is widespread in his country, where he is frequently referred to as "ateka," a word-play nick-name meant to portray him as a “queen” (it can mean "old maid," and it’s been chanted at him by entire football-stadiums!)
Whitaker devotes a chapter to the rare images of homosexuality in Arab cinema — briefly touching on the work of the likes of Egyptian directors Youssef Chahine, Salah Abu Saif, and Yousri Nasrallah, and the Tunisian Nouri Bouzid — and the relatively few portrayals of it in modern Arab fiction. Novels like the Lebanese Hoda Barakat’s 1990 “The Stone of Laughter,” Egyptian Alaa al-Aswani’s huge best-seller “The Yacoubian Building” (2002), and Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt’s 1947 “Midaq Alley” are discussed. But the burgeoning lesbian and gay literature written in French by Mediterranean Arab writers from former French colonies — who cannot publish in their own countries in Arabic — gets only a sentence: the talented Moroccan Rachid O (right), whose novels have won critical acclaim, is mentioned but not discussed; and not even mentioned at all are such interesting writers on gay themes as the Algerian Aniss A., the Egyptian Sonallah Ibrahim, the Moroccans Kasim Nasseri and Bahaa Trebelsi, or the Tunisian Eyet-Chékib Djaziri.
It’s unfortunate that, as Whittaker notes, most of his face-to-face interviews with gays and lesbians were limited to Egypt and Lebanon, and to the cosmopolitan centers of Cairo and Beirut –although there are 22 countries in the Arab League. Thus, the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia — with a combined population of over 80 million — are hardly mentioned.
The particularly virulent menace to homosexuals posed by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism gets no systematic examination, although fundamentalism is evoked briefly and in passing in several different sections of the book. Whitaker does, however, dissect the anti-gay arguments of several English-language Islamist websites and the pronunciamentos of Yusuf al-Qaradawi (above left), an influential religious figure in the Arab world popularized by his regular appearances on Al-Jazeera TV.
But the book is also marred by several errors.
For example, Whitaker writes that the Lebanese gay group Helem “is the only specifically gay and lesbian organization functioning openly in an Arab country” — thus overlooking ASWAT, the self-described “organization of Palestinian gay women,” which received an award for its work inside the Palestinian Authority from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in March 2006.
Whittaker characterizes the Iranian theocracy’s attitude toward the transgendered as “comparatively liberal” — but he makes no mention of how an Iranian seeking sexual reassignment surgery must have an official document declaring themselves “mentally ill” before being allowed to have such an operation. Nor does he mention how Iran’s mullah-controlled psychologists routinely pressure homosexuals into sex-change operations — to which some same-sexers reluctantly agree in order to avoid prosecution for homosexuality, a capital crime in Iran. The French public television network France 2 last year gave a detailed account of this phenomenon in a documentary with the telling title, “Changer de Sexe ou Mourir” (translation: “Change Sex or Die.”) And in August 2006, I interviewed for The Advocate a 24-year-old Iranian lesbian refugee named Maryam, now seeking asylum in France as a sexual refugee — she told me that when, after her lesbian affair was revealed, she was forced to undergo six months of treatment from two women psychologists at the University of Shahid Beheshti, “they ordered me to have it [sex-change surgery]. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m Maryam, a girl, and I do not want to be a man!’ The female doctor told me, ‘If you don’t change your sexuality and you continue unlawful acts, your future will be a death sentence.’”
Still, despite these caveats, UNSPEAKABLE LOVE is a valuable introduction to the difficulties of being homosexual in the Arab world, and one of the few recent books in English to discuss contemporary Arab same-sex relations from a sympathetic point of view.
One of the most useful chapters in the book is Whitaker’s dissection and refutation of the arguments of Joseph Massad (left), a controversial Columbia University professor and author of a widely-circulated essay ( "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World," Public Culture, Spring, 2002) complaining that gay rights in Arab and Muslim countries is an imperialist ‘missionary’ project orchestrated by what he calls the “Gay International.”
In concluding his dissection of Massad, Whitaker writes that Massad and his acolytes present the debate “as a choice between cultural authenticity on the one hand and the adoption of all things Western on the other. In fact, neither is a realistic proposition. Exposure to foreign ideas and influences cannot be prevented, but nor are Arabs incapable of making critical judgments about them. Equally, Arab culture cannot be treated as a fossil; it is a culture in which real people lead real lives and it must be allowed to evolve to meet their needs. The issue, then, is not whether concepts such as ‘gay’ and ‘sexual orientation’ are foreign imports, but whether they serve a useful purpose. For Arabs who grow up disturbed by an inexplicable attraction towards members of their own sex, they can provide a framework for understanding. For families — puzzled, troubled, and uninformed by their own society — they offer a sensible alternative to regarding sons and daughters as sinful or mad.”
To which one can only say, Amen
NPR Interviews Author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East
Noa Sattar from Jerusalem Open House
Fresh Air from WHYY,
December 6, 2006 ·
Brian Whitaker is the Middle East editor for the British newspaper The Guardian, and his new book is Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East. Whitaker also runs the al-Bab Web site, which aims to provide Arab cultural and political information to non-Arabs.
Link to listen to interview at http://www.npr. org/templates/ story/story. php?storyId= 6586537
January 20, 2007 – Gulf News
Failure ‘to provide sex education for youngsters leads to social problems’. Tackling a taboo subject
By Siham Al Najami, Staff Reporter
Dubai: It has opened a heated debate given that the subject is controversial. But despite the fact that almost everyone is influenced by the topic of sex, it remains for most parents and educators in the Arab world a delicate or taboo topic to discuss with the youth.
Psychologists and social counsellors in the UAE say sex education must be part of the educational system as it would prevent many "inappropriate practices," and would serve the right of the youth to understand the topic in a scientific and unbiased manner, within the context of religion and culture.
LGBT community is in the world- United, fighting for our rights
Are you aware of how bad the situation of the L.G.B.T.I.Q community is in the world?
From the Iranian executions to the atrocity behave in the Gulf countries…Surely not to forget what is happening in Russia, Turkey, and all the other countries against gay activists ….LET’S GET UNITED, FIGHTING FOR OUR RIGHTS….asking for our legitimate equal rights with other members of the social community, beside the many rights that come along…Sign the petition, make a change, & let’s move forward for better days….The petition will be given to the United Nations by a delay of 2 months from the starting day of the petition.
Homophobia & discrimination, can hit you anywhere around the world ACT NOW!
20th July 2007 – PinkNews
Website for Arab and Asian gays launched
by Tony Grew
A new online meeting place for the Asian and Arab LGBT people and their friends has opened for business. MySalaam.com features content for both men and women including features, articles, blogs, message boards, community news and listings.
"I chose the name salaam because it is a word of greetings, peace and love that is shared by many peoples of Middle Eastern and Asian heritage," says Simran, MySalaam.com’s founder and coordinator. "I wanted to bring together these different, inter-connected communities. MySalaam.com is the first fully interactive, non-religious based UK website for Asian and Arab LGBTs. We needed a space that isn’t just about dating and sex. I wanted to create an environment where we could share experiences and unite against the Islamophobia and racism that creeps its way into the LGBT community," said Simran.
MySalaam.com aims to fill the current void in the online experience of people from the Asian and Arab LGBT communities. It provides an up-to-date, safe environment for users to interact, and get information. The site wants to be a place to visit for Arab and Asian people seeking support and advice around their sexuality, health and social issues. To visit the site click here.
July 31, 2007 – New York Sun
Changing Hearts and Reading Minds
by Brendan Bernhard
In a departure from the usual Middle Eastern diet of tabbouleh, rampaging mobs, and suicide bombs, tonight PBS presents "Dishing Democracy," a one-hour edition of the globetrotting documentary series "Wide Angle." The program’s subject is "Kalam Nawaem" (Sweet Talk), an Arabic talk show modeled on ABC’s "The View," only with prettier hosts and more stylish sets. The show is carried on the privately owned Arab satellite channel MBC, whose motto is charmingly upbeat, "We See Hope Everywhere." If our own media had to serve up a motto in reply, I think it would be, "Really? We See Only Despair." But then, the last few years have been hard on American morale. It was once believed that the presence of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers might transform the Arab world, but PBS’s press release hints that they arrived too late, and with the wrong mission. "While the United States has been striving to promote democracy in the Arab world, a homegrown revolution is already taking place. Every Sunday night in living rooms throughout the Middle East, tens of millions of viewers are tuning in to a fearless all-female talk show whose four hosts discuss controversial subjects, shatter stereotypes, and provoke debate."
The four hosts of "Kalam Nawaem" are certainly willing to tackle subjects head-on. "The subject of this show is masturbation," announces Fawzia Salama, introducing a particularly controversial edition of the program. A woman calling in anonymously admits that she began masturbating when she was 15. "Nobody taught me how to do it, my body asked for it," she says with a touch of lyricism. "When we talked about, excuse me, the female masturbation," says the show’s male producer, "Oh, my God! We made a big, big split in the media. But at the end, simply it was a success. When you make a controversy, this is the true success. And life is a controversy, it is a duality." The presenters of "Kalam Nawaem" are united by their willingness to discuss hot-button topics (sexual equality, homosexuality — "a super-taboo" — wife-beating, sexual abuse, infidelity, and child sex education, to name a few). They also share a certain rootlessness. The striking Palestinian actress Farah Bseiso was born in the Gaza Strip but grew up in Syria and Kuwait. Ms. Salama, the oldest of the bunch (she looks about 60), is an Egyptian journalist based in London. Rania Barghout is a Lebanese who once lived in London, now lives in Beirut, and is considering a return to London. Lastly there’s Muna AbuSulayman, a divorced Saudi from a prominent religious family. Ms. AbuSulayman is the only host to wear the hijab, and the only one who could be called a conservative.
"Dishing Democracy" shows the women’s lives off-air as well as on, but the background is often more revealing than the foreground. When Ms. AbuSulayman visits a Saudi shopping mall, you don’t learn much about her, but you do get a pretty good sense of the eeriness of Saudi shopping malls: The men in white gowns with red-and-white headdresses, the women like floating black pillars. Only their heavily made-up eyes are visible, and they’re the busiest, most flirtatious eyes you’ll ever see. My favorite moment in "Dishing Democracy" comes when the Dutch director, Bregtje van der Haak, cuts away from the television studio to gauge the reaction in a Cairo cafe, where an unshaven, unemployed, all-male ensemble is sitting around sucking on water pipes and occasionally glancing at the TV. An episode of "Kalam Nawaem" is on, and it’s about sex education. "We’re uptight because we try to hide from children what’s natural," says Ms. Salama, who probably imported the idea from London. The men in the cafÃ© are unimpressed by the sex talk: "That’s not okay, we’re Muslims," says one, a T-shirt-worthy line in the tradition of "No Sex Please, We’re British."
Another man in the cafe — mustachioed, quite young, looking distinctly peeved — isn’t taking the bait either. "They want to tell us what to think," he says indignantly, referring to the women on the show, "and now they’re getting satellite TV to tell us about it.
You know what? Next, they’ll teach it in primary schools." My dear sir, I’m afraid you’re right. These media boors, with their grotesque salaries and inflatable smiles, have ideas, opinions, theories about how you should live, and they broadcast them all day long! It’s just the way it is. As for sex education in primary schools, you don’t know the half of it: Try kindergarten. "Dishing Democracy" provokes mixed feelings. Of course you side with the four women encouraging greater openness in the Arab world. On the other hand, you also pray they don’t end up replicating every dumb bit of therapy-speak we’ve ever come up with.
Additional URLs for the show:
July 2007 – Mithly.com
Mithly.com is a website dedicated to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities of the Arab world.
We believe that a record of the experiences acquired through the daily challenges, joys, and fears of individuals belonging to these communities is invaluable to understanding how we identify with each other as individuals as well as what we aim for as a pressure group living in the most socially and politically turbulent area on the globe. We find true value in self-actualization and self-expression, whatever the form, and we hope Mithly.com will be both a guide and a listener to all those who visit. With our articles being circulated in several languages, we wish to leave no one out of this evolution.
Fear is often derived from a lack of knowledge. Homophobia then stems from a fear of a certain unknown. Along with providing an online home for the LGBT community we feel that it is also our duty that our pages provide a glimpse, however brief, into the lives and thoughts of our community. If we are understood, if our expressions are honest and uninhibited, then we may be recognized, accepted, included for who we truly are.
Together, the dream may one day become reality.
Marketing Middle East to Gay Tourists: Creativity, Discretion are Keys to Promotions by Lebanese Advertiser
by Farnaz Fassihi
Beirut, Lebanon – How do you market a conservative Middle Eastern country as a gay-friendly tourist destination? "It can be done," says Bertho Makso, a 26-year-old Lebanese archaeology student and perhaps the Arab world’s best-known gay travel-services advertiser. "You just have to be creative, and sometimes discreet." Homosexuality is against the law in every Muslim country in the Middle East. In countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, gays and lesbians are often persecuted, imprisoned or deported. So Mr. Makso stands out. The U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association named him their sole representative in the Arab Middle East. (Israel has a robust gay community.) "Bertho is very daring to have an openly gay business in the Arab world," says Carlos Kytka, the association’s marketing manager for Europe and the Middle East. "The Middle East is not a big market for us at the moment, but we have to start somewhere, and he is taking those first steps."
Marketing to gay consumers is on the rise elsewhere.
During 2006, ad spending targeting gay consumers in the U.S. hit $223.3 million, a record, according to a survey from advertising agency Prime Access Inc. and gay-media specialist Rivendell Media. Ad spending in the U.S. gay-and-lesbian press has grown at almost three times the rate of spending in consumer magazines as a whole over the past 10 years, the report says. Among gay consumers, travel is at the top of the list for expenditures, says Ian Johnson, chief executive of Out Now Consulting, an Amsterdam-based gay-marketing firm with offices world-wide. But in the Middle East, gay advertising is uncharted territory, and so far, Mr. Makso appears to be the only one doing any of it. The gay-tourism market in the Middle East is limited and likely to remain so for a long time. Because homosexuality is still considered taboo, the biggest challenge for gay business owners such as Mr. Makso is that there is always a risk of discrimination or of being shunned.
Still, Out Now’s Mr. Johnson says recent focus groups have shown a rising interest among gay travelers in the Mideast, particularly Lebanon. It helps that Lebanon is the most tolerant Arab and Muslim country in the region. An article in Lebanese law calls for punishment of "abnormal" sexual behavior, but it generally isn’t enforced. It doesn’t specifically single out gays, and a gay-rights group here called Helem pushes the envelope, publicly lobbying to modify the law. A popular nightclub called Acid caters to gay clients, and there are scores of gay-friendly cafés and bars. Mr. Makso says the travel industry is beginning to recognize the potential value of the market. Last month, officials for Beirut’s annual Arab Tourism and Transportation Fair invited him to set up a stall.
"The market [for gay tourism] is there….We won’t promote it in a shocking, provocative way, but it doesn’t make financial sense to simply ignore or neglect it either," says Maya Shehayeb, project manager for the fair. They realize that the gay travel sector is very lucrative, and why shouldn’t we tap into it and bring money to our country?" says Mr. Makso, sipping fresh orange juice at Columbus Cafe, one of the many gay-friendly businesses he recommends to clients. Much of Mr. Makso’s advertising pitch is aimed at the online community, with ads posted on international gay sites and local travel-industry Web pages. His services include adventure hiking, tours of historical sites and organizing parties. Mr. Makso, who started business in 2003, says overseas clients always ask questions about whether they will be welcomed and about sensitive social norms. He hands out a printed list to clients advising them against public shows of affection like holding hands or kissing.
He also targets the Middle East’s regional and mostly underground gay scene — for instance, he organizes a Monday night gathering at a local Turkish bathhouse in Beirut with music and dancing. He advertises these events by sending instant messages and emails to about 10,000 people in his database, and he posts fliers in gay-friendly bars and restaurants. Mr. Makso, who is fluent in English, French, Arabic and Italian, started off as a tour guide for foreign visitors. A German tourist encouraged him to set up a travel service for gays interested in the region. Mr. Makso started a Web site and began populating other online gay and tourist sites with ad banners linking to his homepage. He places openly gay ads on international gay-dating sites, chat rooms and online magazines. He tones them down for mainstream tourism sites in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East.
His ads never use the word gay. But across the bottom of all his ads is a strip of rainbow colors, a symbol for the gay community.
Write to Farnaz Fassihi at email@example.com
November 30, 2007 – Haaretz News, Israel
Eastern promises: Gay Israeli travelers frequent Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Dubai
by Yotam Feldman, Amman, Jordan
At twilight, the labyrinthine paths of the ancient Roman theater in Amman begin to fill up. Men who have come alone stand in waiting postures, impatient, casting glances this way and that. Others congregate by the wall or on benches, not letting the patrolling police bother them. Occasionally a couple disappears into a clump of bushes or into one of the niches. Many tourists might be confused by the scene, but a gay tourist will get it immediately. Most of the men who approach the tourists are selling sex for money, sometimes mediated by a pimp lurking in another corner of the theater. Relations with those who are not engaged in prostitution also sometimes have a character that makes it impossible to be oblivious to economic power relations. The tourist will invite them for drinks or dinner, for example, or will pay for the hotel room to which they will go, perhaps, at the end of the evening.
There are other places, too, for those seeking cross-border relations: Thakafa Street (thakafa means "culture" in Arabic) in the Shmeisani quarter is a cruising site for a higher-level crowd. Strolling on the well-lit street, amid the ubiquitous campaign posters for the parliamentary elections, are families with children, groups of students and also gay men (mostly young) who are trying to spot a new face in the city’s small, stifling community. The searchers can be identified by their long pauses every few steps or by their many sidelong glances. Iman, a young literature student of Palestinian origin, whose family comes from Hebron, is here with friends to cruise Thakafa Street – "Not necessarily to look for anything, but if the opportunity arises, why not?" He is not ashamed to say that he’s looking mainly for foreigners. "In a small place like Amman, people we don’t know, with whom we haven’t yet slept, are a refreshing innovation. You can find tourists here from different countries – Americans and Europeans – and also many from Arab states, and occasionally also Israelis." Just that morning, Iman relates, he met, via the Internet, a Saudi student who was in the city for a short visit. "It’s been a long time since I met someone so uptight," he says. "He didn’t stop shaking until we entered the hotel room. Anyway, I won’t see him again."
In the evening, Iman and his friends hang out at Books@Cafe, a coffee shop that is considered "gay-friendly" and whose owner acts as an adviser and mentor to his clients. He tells of efforts by the young people to create a sense of community. Two of them, he says, tried recently to put out a magazine for gays, but quickly found themselves in trouble with the authorities, who threatened them with legal proceedings. They shelved the idea. We meet one of them later in the evening, together with a group of his friends, in the gay bar RGB, a relatively new establishment. It’s not very big – five wooden tables around which two groups of young men are milling. Sitting at one of the tables are two women, a couple, who have come from the lesbian bar that opened recently not far from RGB.
Marwan, a successful young Palestinian entrepreneur, originally from Jerusalem, who is at RGB almost every evening, says he is not concerned by the implications of the ties between Jordanians and tourists. "The westernization and Jordan’s economic dependence on the West are facts of life. The tourists, on the other hand, also alleviate our distress." At the same time, he regrets the fact that forging genuine relations is impossible under these conditions. "The end is more or less inevitable – the tourist will leave and we will probably never talk again. It is also unfortunate that it is impossible to find a place for meaningful encounters – all my recent encounters were in hotel rooms or in my car. Sometimes I feel a little like a prostitute."
The anti-erotic element
"They were an instance of the eastern boy and boy affection which the segregation of women made inevitable. Such friendships often led to manly loves of a depth and force beyond our flesh-steeped conceit. When innocent they were hot and unashamed." – T.E. Lawrence, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"
Gay Israeli travelers frequent Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Dubai. Holders of two passports also visit Beirut, which they say can compete with Tel Aviv as the gay capital of the Middle East, and Damascus, where the gay scene is more secretive. This is not sex tourism, all the travelers who were interviewed for this article emphasized, certainly not in the narrow sense of obtaining sex in return for money. The fear of being exposed as an Israeli heightens the thrill, some of the visitors say. "It’s a state of consciousness, which allows you to overcome the usual inhibitions. The erotic yearning mobilizes additional forces," says Arnon, 35, who works for a human rights organization and makes frequent visits to Arab countries.
The fantasy that lured Western travelers to the Arab world is not new. In the 19th century, writers and other creative artists, Europeans in general and Frenchmen in particular, were drawn to the Levant under the auspices of colonialism. On their return they described places where men slept with other men without being categorized as homosexuals, as in the West.
"What connected me to the East was French literature of the 19th and 20th centuries," Arnon says. "Roland Barthes connected me to Morocco, and Flaubert to Tunisia. My image was of a place where almost every man could find himself in a sexual situation with another man, because you don’t have the Catholic prohibition on sexual contact between males. That is further intensified for a Western man, for whom all the barriers are lifted, in part by material incentives. It is not confined to a bar or a park. The horizon of possibilities is far more dynamic, and it is not just about those who declare themselves gay. It can also be a married man – anyone, really."
And were your expectations fulfilled?
"Very quickly. There are always these types who approach you. For example, in Tunis – you are sitting in a cafe and someone makes eyes at you, comes over and asks, ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘Where are you from? Are you married?’ ‘Would you like to go someplace?’ You don’t necessarily go straight to the hotel. Usually they want to go out, want you to take them drinking, to a discotheque."
And it’s at this stage that the economic dependence is created?
"In the background, there is always the question of what they will get out of it in material terms. It’s not that you are going to send them a hundred dollars a month for the rest of their lives, but relations of dependence form. Some of them told me that their dream is to leave Tunis and live in the West. They asked if I could write a letter to my consul general that will make it possible for them to get a visa. They asked that after 25 minutes of conversation."
What was your reply?
"I think I left it open. I said it’s an interesting idea, maybe I will try."
Does this put a damper on the experience?
"It is the anti-erotic element that bothers me. In Tunisia, for example, someone I met invited me to his cousin’s home. I went with him, even though I did not necessarily want sexual contact. I understood that the sexual thing was the payment I would make in order to see his house. We got a cab and drove out to a kind of suburb. It was a large house, what’s known in Israel as an Arab villa, made of concrete, on which construction was completed but hadn’t yet been quite whitewashed or furnished, or maybe would never be whitewashed because the money has run out. The uncle was sitting in the courtyard, holding prayer beads and smoking. We said hello, and the man introduced me in Arabic and spoke with him."
Was the uncle surprised to see a Western tourist in his courtyard?
"Not in the least. Maybe he was thinking that this was exactly what he did with the French who were there 50 years ago. He was completely at ease. Inside we met the cousin – ‘ahalan wasahalan’ – and then okay, let’s go to my room. We entered a room, which may or may not have been his, where there were two wooden beds and a poster of a Hollywood star on the wall. The small talk continued, the same conversation that is repeated on every trip. At a certain point he decides to turn off the light and starts to lean over me. After our pants are lowered the cousin opens the door and turns on the light. I thought there was going to be trouble, maybe he would be appalled, or maybe he would want to join, I don’t know, but he only asked him something, took a pack of cigarettes from him, and left."
Does the political dimension make such encounters highly charged?
"From my point of view, that dimension is critical, because if you leave only the sexual core, nothing would exist. It all comes from anthropological curiosity, political power relations, attraction to him as the representation of something, through my Israeliness and Jewishness. It is absolutely a type of conquest or operation in enemy territory and a speedy withdrawal. I came, I experienced a few things, I pulled out. The moment I have collected intelligence, withdrawal back to the hotel as quickly as possible."
Every trip is political
"The association between the Orient and sex is remarkably persistent. The Middle East is resistant, as any virgin would be, but the male scholar wins the prize by bursting open, penetrating the Gordian knot … ‘Harmony’ is the result of the conquest of maidenly coyness." – Edward Said, "Orientalism"
Lior Kay, 32, one of the founders of the gay forum called Red-Pink in the Hadash Arab-Jewish party, has paid many visits to Arab states, including Iraq. He finds a direct link between his experiences as a gay man in Tel Aviv and his adventures abroad. "There is something very international about being gay," he says. "Gays have a tool that allows them to enter deep into communities that are rooted in the local culture. When you come to someone for a one-night stand, you learn about all kinds of things. You can see the house, meet the friends, have breakfast with them. There is this very deep desire to get to know, even if it is only for one night – things that don’t necessarily happen to tourists.
"I, for example, like parks more than pubs, because there is an experience of disclosure there. You meet people who are outside the mainstream. In parks there are people who have no vested interests. We forget that there are people who do not have vested interests. That’s what I do in Jordan, for example, just talk with people who are wandering around the amphitheater." Kay entered Iraq in February 2004 on a U.S. passport, eight months after the start of the occupation. "On Friday I took a bus from Tel Aviv to Beit She’an. I hitchhiked to the border and then took a taxi to Amman, where I got a taxi to Baghdad. It was a 12-hour trip. We made a night stop in the desert and waited for the dawn, because it was dangerous to enter the Sunni triangle in the dark." There were hardly any tourists in Iraq at the time, he says. He walked around the city and talked to people, but was afraid to look for men.
Are these visits also related to your political attitudes?
"For me, all the trips are political and also social, in the sense that I see up close how people live. In many places I saw the anger at the West’s pillage of resources, and of course at the Israeli occupation. The trips lent color to my political approach. You have to read books and studies and quotes by Brecht, but you also need color and aroma and soul to determine your political identity."
What is the negative side of being political in this context?
"There is a feeling of a stereotype that is at work on both sides. The fantasy of the West that likes what’s available and hot, and the people who live there, who hope to latch on to the tourists to get out of the disgusting cycle of poverty. Sex in these countries has a very clear economic element: a relationship of exploiter and exploited. Sometimes there is a feeling that you can go with almost anyone you meet, that they want you not because of your personality but because of these relations."
Where is that reflected?
"Everywhere, and first of all in bed. Even the active and passive thing – very often they will not agree to be passive with a Jew. There is definitely a matter of honor."
Do experiences in these countries challenge some of the images of homosexuality?
"Yes. We know the Western definition of the gay person – someone like Oscar Wilde – but in the Arab countries it is formulated in different codes of their culture. There is also liberation from the usual image of the body – less of the Western worship of youth. Many of the normative rules of the West do not apply there. Here we have the gyms, the hair removal; there it is a little less orderly, there are more possibilities."
Legislation is now being formulated that will strip Israelis of their citizenship if they visit Arab countries with which Israel does not have an agreement. Is it possible that you will no longer be able to travel there?
From Egyptian writer Constantin Cafavy "In the Tavernas": "I am a law-abiding citizen, but I don’t know how far my instinct for adventure will be repressed by that. Especially when it’s a flagrantly undemocratic law which is aimed, I think, less at people like me than at Knesset members whose activity might create a chance for peace." Assad watches the men: "I wallow in the tavernas and brothels of Beirut. I live a vile life, devoted to cheap debauchery. The one thing that saves me, like durable beauty, like perfume that goes on clinging to my flesh, is this: Tamides, most exquisite of young men, was mine for two years, and mine not for a house or a villa on the Nile." (translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)
Russell, an American who immigrated to Israel in 1982, first visited Syria in 1993, entering the country on an American passport. His first encounter with the gay community of Damascus was a chance one. "I went into a pizzeria in Damascus. There was only one empty seat. The young Syrian who was sitting next to me asked where I was from, and we got into a conversation. It turned out that he was in charge of renovating the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Damascus.
"Even though the norms are very different in Syria – for example, it is routine for men to walk hand in hand in the street, and usually it doesn’t mean a thing – he somehow tuned me in and quickly started to pour out his heart. I asked him what was happening and where it was happening. He said it was done with a very low profile, a very traditional approach. The fear is less of the authorities, who monitor everything that goes on in the country, including gays, than of family and friends. He told me that people got together in homes, that there was a kind of group of gays who met every so often, and that there was sometimes sex with married men, too, but that there was no true gay life."
And besides the homes, are there other meeting places?
"In contrast to other Arab states, nothing happens in the hamams [public baths], but there are parks." Russell’s host took him to a park. "He told me it was the cruising park of Damascus and that everyone went there, of all ages, for money and not for money. In the middle of the park there is a huge statue of Assad, who seems to be watching all the men. We walked around a little, said hello to a few people, and left."
What was the atmosphere like?
"Dark and not very pleasant, not friendly. I didn’t feel that I could have hooked up with someone if I had found anyone. I also drew a lot of attention – suddenly there was this new face, white with blue eyes. A tourist in Independence Park [in Jerusalem] might be an attraction, but not a big deal."
Did you get an unpleasant economic feeling from your encounters with men in Arab countries?
"Not necessarily. I’ve been to Jordan 200 times. If you go to Book@Cafe and want to meet someone, you can put out feelers immediately. If it is someone who speaks English and is well dressed, you know he is not after your money. People who are after money will go to the theater area, where the refugees hang out and where there are more needy people. Of course, it differs from one country to another – Dubai is one big brothel, filled with foreign workers, most of the population is not Arabic, and you don’t walk three meters without someone stopping you, whether it’s in a mall or in Starbucks, it makes no difference."
No consideration for Edward Said
From: Gustave Flaubert, "Flaubert in Egypt": "Here it’s quite well accepted. One admits one’s sodomy and talks about it at the dinner table. Sometimes one denies it a bit, then everyone yells at you and it ends up getting admitted. Traveling for our learning experience and charged with a mission by the government, we see it as our duty to give in to this mode of ejaculation." (translated by Francis
Yair Kedar, who was the editor of the travel magazine Masa Aher from 2003 to 2005, first visited Egypt in 1991, when he was 22. "I went with a gay French friend and an Italian-speaking Korean clergyman who joined us through a travel agency," he says. Kedar started to look for the gay scene where he had been told it was happening: hotel lobbies.
"You are in a very large hotel lobby, in the Hilton, say, and you sit down on a sofa and scan the place. Someone sits down next to you and you start to talk about the weather – ‘It’s really hot today.’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Have you been to the pyramids?’ And then he asks you if you would like to have a cup of coffee, and adds, ‘Just the two of us.’ And from there things develop.
"There is also the boardwalk along the Nile, which is a good catching place, these liminal places along the water, where culture ends. You wander around in the evening, there are groups of two-three guys and they start to talk to you, and suggest that they go with you and visit the room."
Do you feel guilty because gay tourism is also sex tourism, in the negative sense?
"That is a moral dilemma, because the visits also derive from good reasons. Is there a conflict between what they are selling and the regimes in these countries, and the economic dimension that permeates the sexual relations? There is a big contradiction.
But I see these contradictions in other places, too. There were travelers whom I spoke to as editor of Masa Aher, and at first they would tell me, ‘I was at the volcano, I was on a trek, I was here and there,’ and then, when things warmed up, they would tell me what they did at night: 12-year-old girls in Colombia and Thailand."
Is there something distinctive about the gay experience in places like this?
"There is a similarity between gay cruising and tourism: you are sold something that looks terrific from the outside by hiding the moral problem it entails – in that something is promised that cannot be fulfilled. In both cases there is a large dimension of guilt. On the other hand, I always thought that homosexuality is a great treasure that enables you to meet people and embark on new voyages with them. It’s intriguing, and you acquire experiences, until at a certain age you discover that you are becoming less patient and less inquisitive."
Benny Ziffer, the editor of the weekly Culture and Literature supplement of Haaretz (Hebrew edition), has written a great deal, in books and articles, about his erotic experiences in Arab countries. He says he chooses to ignore the feeling of guilt that accrues to the economic relations.
"You walk in Alexandria and people offer themselves to you in return for shawarma. If I were political and Marxist, I would not do anything. If someone offers you something like that, you have to cry out to the high heavens. I am doing something bad: I am fulfilling a desire at the expense of these unfortunates. These relations of power are ancient, you know, it was the pattern in the colonial period. People who were nothing in France became great lords in these countries, because they could control the people."
How do you justify it to yourself?
"Maybe in my writing I purify myself, maybe by saying it now. I always travel in order to write, and I have always written; I can’t bring myself to travel just like that – and I am not original in this, I did not invent it. I go to Egypt with the official goal of writing about bookstores, but the real inner goal is for something to happen from the erotic point of view, otherwise I will be very disappointed."
Don’t political relations interfere, in a period when there is critical talk about the East that was created by the writers you read?
"I immerse myself in the erotic and literary East alike, without taking account of orientalism and without taking account of Edward Said. I have my life and my experiences and my things.
February 18, 2008 – Reuters
Gay Africans and Arabs come out online
by Andrew Heavens
Khartoum (Reuters) – When Ali started blogging that he was Sudanese and gay, he did not realize he was joining a band of African and Middle Eastern gays and lesbians who, in the face of hostility and repression, have come out online. But within days the messages started coming in to black-gay-arab.blogspot.com. "Keep up the good work," wrote Dubai-based Weblogger ‘Gay by nature’. "Be proud and blog the way you like," wrote Kuwait’s gayboyweekly. Close behind came comments, posts and links purporting to be from almost half the countries in the Arab League, including Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco.
Ali, who lists his home town as Khartoum but lives in Qatar, had plugged into a small, self-supporting network of people who have launched Web sites about their sexuality, while keeping their full identity secret. Caution is crucial – homosexual acts are illegal in most countries in Africa and the Middle East, with penalties ranging from long-term imprisonment to execution. "The whole idea started as a diary. I wanted to write what’s on my mind and mainly about homosexuality," he told Reuters in an e-mail. "To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect this much response."
In the current climate, bloggers say they are achieving a lot just by stating their nationality and sexual orientation. "If you haven’t heard or seen any gays in Sudan then allow me to tell you ‘You Don’t live In The Real World then,’" Ali wrote in a message to other Sudanese bloggers. "I’m Sudanese and Proud Gay Also." His feelings were echoed in a mini-manifesto at the start of the blog "Rants and raves of a Kenyan gay man" that stated: "The Kenyan gay man is a myth and you may never meet one in your lifetime. However, I and many others like me do exist; just not openly. This blog was created to allow access to the psyche of me, who represents the thousands of us who are unrepresented."
News and Abuse
That limited form of coming out has earned the bloggers abuse or criticism via their blogs’ comment pages or e-mails. "Faggot queen," wrote a commentator called ‘blake’ on Kenya’s ‘Rants and raves’. "I will put my loathing for you faggots aside momentarily, due to the suffering caused by the political situation," referring to the country’s post-election violence. Some are more measured: "The fact that you are a gay Sudanese and proudly posting about it in itself is just not natural," a reader called ‘sudani’ posted on Ali’s blog. Some of the bloggers use the diary-style format to share the ups and downs of gay life — the dilemma of whether to come out to friends and relatives, the risks of meeting in known gay bars, or, according to blogger "…and then God created Men!" the joys of the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh.
Others have turned their blogs into news outlets, focusing on reports of persecution in their region and beyond. The blog GayUganda reported on the arrests of gay men in Senegal in February. A month earlier, Blackgayarab posted video footage of alleged police harassment in Iraq. Kenya’s "Rants and Raves" reported that gay people were targets in the country’s election violence, while blogger Gukira focused on claims that boys had been raped during riots. Afriboy organized an auction of his erotic art to raise funds "to help my community in Kenya". There was also widespread debate on the comments made by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last September about homosexuals in his country.
The total number of gay bloggers in the region is still relatively small, say the few Web sites that monitor the scene. "It is the rare soul who is willing to go up against such blind and violent ignorance and advocate for gay rights and respect," said Richard Ammon of GlobalGayz.com which tracks gay news and Web sites throughout the world.
"There are a number of people from the community who are blogging both from Africa and the diaspora but it is still quite sporadic," said Nigerian blogger Sokari Ekine who keeps a directory of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender blogs on her own Web site Black Looks.
Ways to Meet
The overall coverage may be erratic, but pockets of gay blogging activity are starting to emerge. There are blogs bridging the Arabic-speaking world from Morocco in the west to the United Arab Emirates in the east. There is a self-sustaining circle of gay bloggers in Kenya and Uganda together with a handful of sites put up by gay Nigerians. And then there is South Africa, where the constitutional recognition of gay rights has encouraged many bloggers to come wholly into the open. "I don’t preserve my anonymity at all. I am embracing our constitution which gives us the right to freedom of speech … There is nothing wrong that I am doing," said Matuba Mahlatjie of the blog My Haven.
Beyond the blogging scene, the Internet’s chat rooms and community sites have also become one of the safest ways for gay Africans and Arabs to meet, away from the gaze of a hostile society. "That is what I did at first, I mean, I looked around for others until I found others," said Gug, the writer behind the blog GayUganda. "Oh yes, I do love the Internet, and I guess it is a tool that has made us gay Ugandans and Africans get out of our villages and realize that the parish priest’s homophobia is not universal opinion. Surprise, surprise!"
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie and Sara Ledwith)
June 17th, 2008 – villagevoice.com
Gay Arabs Party Here, Risk Death Back Home
by Trenton Straube
It’s Saturday night, and Sami is feeling the Middle Eastern dance tracks of DJ I.Z.’s set at Habibi. Upstairs at the Stonewall Inn for the monthly roaming party, he pushes through a thicket of men and hits the makeshift dance floor, where he and an Egyptian friend break into freestyle belly dancing. A gay Muslim Moroccan, Sami loves Arabic pop music but rarely gets to dance to it. But Sami (like most of the people in this article, he requested that his real name be withheld) does go dancing often. Sure, he frequents Splash, Therapy, and other homo hot spots, where the Habibi devotees blend into the city’s multicultural stew pot. Yes, they arrive from diverse—and sometimes harrowing—backgrounds. And yes, they’ve experienced various degrees of anti-Arab fallout from September 11—but most remain closeted to some degree, and once in a while, they just want to hang with their homies. Finding other gay Arabs wasn’t always so easy. In the early ’90s, Jennifer Camper, a first-generation Lebanese-American, sought out other lesbian Arabs. The first she met ominously whispered: "I have a list of seven names." At that time, few Arab immigrants self-identified as gay; finding them in the pre-Internet age posed a challenge, since there was no official lesbian social group, like Assal for women, or places like Habibi.
What did exist was a local branch of the national Gay & Lesbian Arab Society (GLAS). The group met twice monthly at the LGBT Community Center. Immigrants were terrified to attend their first GLAS meetings, lest someone see them and tell their family. Even today, Arab families—the primary, all-important social unit—place immense pressure on their children to marry. It’s still common for gay Arabs to do so, then take an out-of-town job while sending money back home. Those who are able to attend college abroad enjoy a reprieve—but once back home, they face an arranged marriage. Politics and religion exert more pressure to stay in the closet. In most Arab countries, homosexuality is not only illegal, but the penalties for it are also harsh—including torture and death. The infamous "Cairo 52" were arrested by police who broke up a boat party on the Nile River in 2001; the men were beaten, exposed, publicly humiliated, and imprisoned for up to five years. In Islamic-fundamentalist nations like Iran, gay men are allegedly hanged. Although Islam remains the dominant religion in the Middle East, it accounts for only half of our Arab immigrants. Most others are Christian, with a smattering of Jews. "A lot of people not from the Arab community don’t understand the large role religion and ethnicity play in the typical Middle Easterner," says current GLAS president Nadeem, himself an Iraqi immigrant. That’s why the group employs a rule: No religious or political discussions. For GLAS members struggling to reconcile their religion and sexuality and requiring additional guidance from their peers, the organization directs them to specialized support networks like the gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha and the gay Catholic group Dignity.
Even within those very strict boundaries, the meetings could become unexpectedly emotional and therapeutic. Nadeem recounts leading a gay discussion group a few years back. Thinking it’d be a neat icebreaker, he asked the guys to describe—without going into graphic detail—their first same-sex encounter and what made it special. "About 10 people were in the discussion," he recalls, "and for three of them, their first experience was being raped. I was like: ‘Whoa, OK—I guess we’ll have to talk about this.’ " In 2005, GLAS discontinued its meetings. By then, the women had splintered into Assal, and most men socialized at Habibi. But another demographic was making itself known in the gay Arab-American world: "hummus queens"— gay men attracted to Arabs. Not that all hummus queens were on the make: One attended to seek advice on how to help his closeted Arab partners come out. The real death knell for GLAS meetings was the Internet, which offered anonymity, safety, and thousands of friends. A local LGBT Arab online forum thrives on Yahoo (subscribers can join at glas.org); discussions range from the struggles of coming out and the newbies in town to relevant entertainment—such as the first gay Arab film, Toul Omri (All My Life).
Even in the Internet age, a savvier new breed of immigrants must deal with violence from the old country and family pressures.
Kamar, a Lebanese immigrant from a liberal family, effortlessly assimilated into American culture. When he settled in New York, he didn’t care to cultivate friendships with other Arabs—yet he recalls being afraid to come out to his parents because of a childhood incident in his native Beirut. He, a brother, and his mom were walking outside when gunfire erupted: "She threw us into a corner and shielded us with her body, so if a bullet came it would hit her instead of us," he recalls. "I can remember every detail of that day—her dress, everything. My mom was willing to die for me. I couldn’t come out to her. I didn’t want to upset her. How could I?"
Happy ending: Kamar has come out to his family, and after the usual disappointments and drama, they’ve drawn much closer.
Post-9/11, the U.S. government mandated that all immigrants must be registered—and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security was especially on the lookout for Arabs. Many people required legal counsel and turned to Assal and GLAS, which had always helped their members on matters involving immigration, health care, housing, and HIV. The FBI even questioned GLAS founder Ramzi Zakharia, allegedly for dubious online postings, but the inquiry ended when agents learned that he was openly gay. Others weren’t so lucky. Blue-collar workers and devoutly religious Arabs—men who wore beards and women who covered themselves—found themselves laid off and the victims of random violence. They turned to GLAS and Assal for help. Within months after September 11, queer Arabs knew they had to show the world that they remained a proud part of New York City. In June 2002, GLAS joined the Pride March down Fifth Avenue for the first time. Viewed by hundreds of thousands and broadcast internationally, the event was a double coming-out— as Arab gays and as Arab-Americans. GLAS invited gay non-Arab Middle Easterners—Iranians, Turks, and Armenians—to join its members as they blasted Arab pop from boom boxes, waved banners, threw candy, and, yes, belly-danced.
They couldn’t have been more visible— which is why many others opted to stay home. Ironically, openly participating in the Pride March was one way that asylum seekers could prove they were gay: The U.S. grants asylum based on the sexuality, but many immigrants missed the window (up to one year after first arriving) to apply. Group meetings became safe havens from an America that equated Islam— and, by default, all Arabs—with terrorism. For Camper, being around other Arab lesbians meant "your shoulders come down, you relax, and you don’t have to explain yourself." They could talk about an unaccepting family without having the comments taken as proof that all Arabs are rabidly homophobic.
Habibi and Assal—which translate to "Dear one" and "Honey"—still serve that function. Assal is especially important, because social and religious activities in Arab culture are often segregated by gender; women foster strong and intimate bonds away from men. At a recent Assal dinner, excitement swirled around a member’s pregnancy and the discussion topic: "How to tell your Arabic parents you’re having a baby—with your female roommate!" Like their American counterparts, many queer Arab immigrants simply don’t want to join gay social networks or activist groups; they’re too busy working, playing, and just living day-to-day lives. For instance, Zakharia—a Palestinian- American who’s been in the U.S. since 1982—works at an advertising agency, has been out to his family, and lives with a longtime partner. For immigrants like him, "being here makes it much easier," as Sami puts it. "There are so many things around you that make you feel welcome. You can do whatever you want—have a life, a job, whatever—and be gay." You can even dance to Arabic pop music in the arms of another gay man.
March 30, 2009 – PinkNews
Comment: False hope – LGBT rights in the Middle East
by Omar Hassan
Execution, public humiliation and imprisonment have long plagued the lives of the LGBT community in the Middle Eastern world. It is a well-known fact that “LGBT individuals are at a constant struggle,” notes the Imaan secretariat (an organisation dedicated to the wellbeing of gay Muslims, based in Britain). “[They] must [fight] for the right to be LGBT…[and] for the freedom to love somebody of the same sex,” he argues further.
Brian Whitaker, of the Guardian, who authored the book ‘Unspeakable Love’, notes that the subject of homosexuality is as unmentionable in the Middle East as it was in the UK 60 years ago. This tension can be attributed largely to Islamic conservatism. In 2006, it was reported that radical Islamic militias were attacking homosexuals in Iraq; and it was only a year later that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that there were “no homosexuals in Iran”.
“Ironically, Ahmadinedjad’s remarks and the laughter from his audience probably did a lot to bring [the issue] out in the open’, Whitaker told us. Indeed, soon after, filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian released a documentary entitled ‘Be Like Others’. The film revealed that the government had been paying for homosexual men to have sex-change operations. Arguably, this was the Iranian administration’s humane ultimatum to the death sentence, which is bestowed on any two men who wish to engage in a homosexual relationship.
At the time of the film’s release, the filmmaker stated that it was easy to find her subjects, noting that gender reassignment surgery is a “public phenomenon [even] encouraged by the Islamic clerics”. These instances do not begin to explain the extent of the pressures that one faces for being gay in this part of the world. Even at a basic level, one can argue that Arabic language in itself does not accommodate a neutral definition of the term ‘homosexual’. The most inoffensive branding for an LGBT man for instance is ‘Luti’ or ‘Shaz’, which roughly translate to mean ‘pervert’ or ‘deviant’. How then, is anyone who identifies as part of this minority group going to be able to stand up to such political, social and linguistic barriers?
Human rights activists the world over had hoped that a UN joint statement released last December would help alleviate the situation. Signed by over 60 countries, the assertion called for the decriminalization of homosexuality and the protection of various other LGBT human rights, including the protection against discrimination. However, according to human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, it is important to note that this is not a resolution.
“It has no force on international law. [Still], it is an important symbolic benchmark, being the first time that the UN General Assembly has ever heard such a statement,” he said. As expected, the statement was opposed by Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. “They will ignore it…[and it will] have little moderating effect on their abuse of LGBT citizens”, argues Tatchell. Undeniably, Middle Eastern politicians and religious figures are prone to use arguments relating to cultural rights and relativism, claiming that the West (and its allies) have no authority to infringe on any nation’s legal system, regardless of whether the matter concerns the seemingly universal human rights to life, freedom and personal liberty.
Indeed, one can make an example out of the public reaction to the Queen Boat raid, which took place in Cairo nearly eight years ago. At the time, the relatively liberal Egyptian government enforced a crackdown on an unofficial floating gay nightclub, which was moored on the Nile. The raids subsequently lead to 52 arrests, with many of the victims claiming to be arbitrarily detained whilst simply passing by the docks. The men involved were publicly humiliated (whilst in court, they were placed in cages) with their faces splashed across the covers of newspapers. Although there is no law in Egypt that explicitly bans homosexual practice, the accused men were charged on the grounds of ‘debauchery’. In the end, over twenty of those arrested faced sentences which ranged between three to five years in prison. Many of those who were released returned home to find that they had lost their jobs and were rejected by their families.
Hossam Bahgat, an Egyptian human rights activist and journalist who was working at the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) at the time, protested against these injustices. He argued that the administration was using the raid as a means to sidetrack public focus from the impending recession, its Western alliances (which are unpopular with the public) and to quell the tensions growing in the Islamic Brotherhood (who are of increasing importance in the Egyptian political arena). Soon after speaking out, Bahgat was removed from his position at the EOHR. The EOHR’s secretary-general, Hafez Abu Saada told the press at the time: “Personally, I don’t like the subject of homosexuality, and I don’t want to defend them.” He also went on to explain that sexual preference was not a human right.
At the same time, the Egyptian government went so far as to arrest individuals who used online chat rooms and social networking websites as a means for sourcing homosexual relationships.Futhermore, reports were circulating that government officials were masquerading as potential suitors in order to set gay men up for arrest. Scott Long of Human Rights Watch has spoken previously about this matter, asserting that when governments crack down on homosexual gathering places, whether real or online, they do it for political rather than purely moral reasons. “They are saying to their people that they are defending what is authentic, what is Islamic,” he said.
In turn, the politicians, journalists and even the human rights activists of the Middle Eastern world are arguing back at egalitarian impositions that beg for the equal rights of the LGBT community. Considering the sensitivity of the issue and the rise of anti-Islamic attitude in the West, it is very easy for Islamic states to claim that announcements (such as the UN statement) are imperial infringements by the secular West on the Islamic world. Accordingly, it is evident that the UN’s efforts will reap only meagre benefits for the distressed LGBT community in the Middle East. How then do we begin to envisage change in the region for this vulnerable community? On an individual basis, many Middle Easterners seeking an escape believe that Western states should implement more liberal asylum policies towards LGBT groups.
However, if we are going to be realistic about safeguarding the rights of these communities than we need a new strategy. The West must use political leverage to bring LGBT rights up on the international agenda as, undeniably, many of the biggest gay rights’ abuses committed in the Middle East are by Western allies. Undoubtedly, this will require significant effort, especially considering that many of the Arabs and Muslims who live in the diaspora also occupy negative attitudes towards homosexuals. Still, the beliefs of an increasingly blindsided religious majority should not take precedence over anyone’s basic humanity. According to Tatchell, what is most likely to change is the self-organisation of LGBT people in Muslim states, as has happened in Lebanon, through the work of the LGBT group, Helem.
“Some…changes might also come through HIV prevention work, where governments will have to reluctantly recognise the LGBT communities in order to combat the HIV pandemic,” he added. Whitaker argues further that “it is becoming more difficult to keep a lid on discussion of homosexuality in the Middle East". “Western debates about gay priests, films like Brokeback Mountain, and even George Michael’s arrest [coupled with the use of the internet] are all heightening gay awareness” in the region, he says.
However until these governments recognise that gay rights are of importance, it should be the obligation of the international community to take a holistic approach to ensuring the protection of this vulnerable LGBT population. Only then, will the new UN statement be able to ensure that our universal human rights are protected.
Omar is a writer and freelance journalist. He has also been involved with a range of TV production companies and currently has a film project in development. Born in Cairo, Egypt, he has lived in the U.S.A and Saudi Arabia and currently resides in the United Kingdom.
June 11, 2009 – Human Rights Watch
LGBT Rights Movement: Progress and Visibility Breed Backlash
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Rights Defenders Need Resources, Broader Support
(New York) – Activists working for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in many countries are still under-resourced, unnecessarily isolated, and vulnerable to violent backlash even after four decades of struggle, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 44-page report, "Together, Apart: Organizing around Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Worldwide," demonstrates that many groups defending LGBT rights – especially throughout the global South – still have limited access to funding, and courageously face sometimes-murderous attacks without adequate support from a broader human rights community.
"Dozens of countries have repealed sodomy laws or enshrined equality measures, and that’s the good news as activists celebrate their successes during Gay Pride month," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch and the principal author of the report. "But visibility breeds violence, and there is a pressing need for new support and protection."
The report is based on written surveys and in-depth interviews with more than 100 activists working for LGBT rights in five regions: sub-Saharan Africa; the Middle East and North Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; the Asia and Pacific region; and Latin America and the Caribbean. In each region, the report outlines prevailing patterns of abuse and rights violations; the political and social challenges, and opportunities that activists see ahead; and key strategies these movements are using to achieve social change.
The report shows widely disparate rights situations in different regions. In Latin America, for instance, decades of coalition work between LGBT activists and other social movements – including women’s and mainstream human rights groups – have led to sweeping legal changes, with most sodomy laws in the region repealed and new anti-discrimination protections being debated. Yet repressive laws and pervasive violence based on gender identity and expression often remain unremedied. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, the report found, waves of backlash regularly greet the efforts of LGBT activists to make their voices heard, often silencing them with brutal violence. Extremist religious groups – some with support from kindred denominations in North America – actively promote prejudice and hatred.
Key findings of the report include:
* Organizations working on sexual orientation and gender identity still lack resources, as well as adequate support from other human rights movements. Increasing funding for these rights defenders, and building their political alliances, is crucial.
* Defenders of LGBT people’s rights, and of sexual rights in general, routinely face extraordinary levels of violence. In Jamaica, an angry crowd surrounded a church where a gay man’s funeral was being held and beat the mourners. In Kenya, one group told Human Rights Watch matter-of-factly that its members were "attacked by an angry mob who wanted to lynch them and they had to be evacuated under tight security."
* Sexuality has become a dangerous cultural and religious battleground. Increasingly, both politicians and conservative religious leaders manipulate issues of gender and sexuality to win influence or preserve power. They characterize LGBT people as alien to their communities, outsiders whose rights and lives do not matter.
* The need to change laws is still a central issue – but in many different contexts. More than 80 countries still have "sodomy laws" that criminalize consensual, adult same-sex sexual relations. Yet even in countries that have scrapped these provisions, laws on "public scandals," "indecency," "wearing the clothing of the opposite sex," and sex work are still in place, allowing widespread police harassment of transgender people and others. Enshrining equality for lesbian and gay people in South Africa’s constitution produced an example of global importance, for instance. Yet South Africa’s government is still not fully committed to equality at all levels, or capable of curtailing sexual violence.
The report also details creative strategies that activists have used to combat prejudice and promote equality. In India, activists have combined a legal challenge to the sodomy law with a wide-ranging public campaign to change public attitudes. In Brazil, transgender groups have fostered visibility and countered discrimination through simple monthly excursions to public spaces such as shopping malls or beaches. Activists told Human Rights Watch this helps trans people "feel strong in a group and face those spaces they believe are ‘off limits’ for them. And it is also meant to educate the public to see transgender people as citizens …with whom they can share a movie or a game and the beach."
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, the historic and galvanizing clashes between LGBT people and the police that many see as marking the beginning of the modern US gay rights movement. Yet the US still has fewer protections for LGBT people’s equality than countries such as Brazil or South Africa.
"As the United States prepares to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its own gay rights movement, this report points to lessons of struggles and successes in other countries that everyone can learn from," said Long. The research and publication of "Together, Apart" were supported by the generosity of the Arcus Foundation, a US-based philanthropic foundation whose mission embraces achieving social justice that is inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity, and race.
June 23, 2009 – The Examiner
ORAM | Advocacy for immigrants fleeing sexual & gender based violence
by Leslie Davis – Atlanta Lesbian Relationship Examiner
I have written several articles regarding violence towards homosexuals in other countries, especially the Middle East. It is an important issue that is overlooked in mainstream media. I received an email announcing an advocacy group for asylum seekers fleeing sexual and gender based violence. The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) was launched last week. Scott Piro, communications director for ORAM, sent me a press release:
Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration Launches Programs for Middle Eastern
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
Refugees and Migrants
San Francisco, CA (June 18, 2009) – ORAM, a groundbreaking international refugee advocacy organization, announced its launch today. The Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration is the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to focus exclusively on refugees and asylum seekers fleeing sexual and gender based violence. ORAM provides free legal counsel for LGBT refugees in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), who have escaped violence, executions and “honor killings” in their home countries. Additionally, ORAM conducts wide-ranging international advocacy to advance the protection of all LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
LGBTs often become “stuck” in their countries of first asylum, typically neighboring the places they have escaped harassment, violence, torture or death threats. With hostility toward LGBTs rampant in many areas, they are uniquely at risk, both in the countries they’ve escaped and in their “transit” countries. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton highlighted these facts in her statement earlier this month that “gays and lesbians in many parts of the world live under constant threat of arrest, violence, even torture.” According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), homosexuality remains illegal in eighty-five countries and carries the death penalty in seven. Often lacking formal refugee protection, LGBT refugees are particularly at risk.
“LGBT refugees often ‘fall through the cracks’ of the international refugee regime,” according to Neil Grungras, executive director of ORAM. “They have escaped systematic hatred and violence at home, and their LGBT identity brings serious new threats to their safety and protection in countries of first asylum. Many live in a toxic mix of destitution and desperation.” Grungras has more than twenty years experience working on behalf of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers. He founded ORAM in January 2009 after serving as director for Europe & the Middle East at HIAS, a leading refugee and migration organization. Among his postings, he directed the U.S. Department of State Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) for Iranian refugees in Vienna, Austria.
Alongside its work helping individuals, ORAM also passionately advocates and educates on behalf of LGBT refugees as a group. Raising consciousness about their plight to governments, refugee organizations, communities and the media is critical in bringing desperately needed basic protection to this at-risk population. The NGO hopes its community-based “Adopt a Refugee” program will create a grassroots network of inspired advocates for susceptible LGBT refugees. Supporting institutions can follow migrants and refugees through their trek to freedom, receiving case updates. Adopted refugees are invited to communicate with their sponsors, forming unique bonds of additional support.
ORAM has already assisted dozens of LGBTs who’ve escaped persecution and honor killings in the MENA region. Using communications technology to assist refugees in places where help was previously unavailable, the organization has been able to work with many LGBT refugees who have sought its help in existing project areas. “The recent surge in homophobic violence in Iraq has shone a spotlight on the painful truths we’re dealing with first-hand in the Middle East,” said Grungras. “LGBTs are the most persecuted people in many regions of the world today. For every reported execution, there are likely tens of judicially or family sanctioned murders, often in the name of honor.”
ORAM will co-publish its first report later this month on LGBT asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey. For more information, visit www.oraminternational.org.
August 2009 – My.Kali online magazine for LGBTs in Middle East
What About My.Kali?…What About You & Kali?
My.Kali.magazine is an LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and transgender) concerned magazine. It concerns gay people from all around the world and it’s dedicated for people who live in the Middle East, for foreigners who live in closed minded environments, and for those new-gay-to-be. And it’s their for those who’re interested in entering the world of My.Kali. What My.Kali.mag is all about is really being a good role model for gay people, raising awareness on many issues we stand up for. We speak up for all those who’re quiet; we give you the voice of your silence. We’re the magazine your mom can’t find under your bed, we’re the magazine to keep and we’re the magazine to hold on to. We like to be your pillow of comfort, your best friend and your new wing-man/woman… We’re suitable for youngsters and tweens; (teenagers & twenty+ people), young adults and adults.
We try to set a good example as much as possible. We do feature the most wanted articles in the most wanted and much happened situations. Taboos we open and re-open strongly and gracefully, as well as we forward helpful tips, easy going features and writes. We like to think that we bring you comfort you may not feel in real world, since we come in handy aiming for a better place stage of mind and place
What My.Kali means? It comes from a personal confirmation on privacy, to be held, to be mine and to be yours! This magazine belongs to "Kali" where he holds on to his unfound privacy, it belongs to you too. What’s his is yours and what’s yours are here, it’s your Kali and it’s my kali. Why? "Because you’re worth it!"-Kali
October 14, 2009 – Anderson Cooper Blog
Women, bloggers & gays lead change in the Arab World
by Octavia Nasr | BIO
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs
The Arab Middle East teaches minorities some tough life lessons and shapes them in ways that might surprise you. While the effect of a conservative patriarchal society is expected to keep people under the thumb of tradition, culture and tribal and religious beliefs – sometimes too much oppression and control yields opposite results. Having lived in several parts of the Middle East as a child, I learned that a woman doesn’t exist except as someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother. Her opinion is not required, her emotions don’t count and she has no rights whatsoever – except those granted to her by a male.
With a few recent exceptions, an Arab woman’s testimony is not accepted in court. Most Arab women can’t travel outside their countries without permission from a male guardian, and most Arab women still can’t give nationality to their children. In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive cars. A popular Arabic saying describes it best: a good woman “has a mouth that eats but not one that speaks.” The Arab Middle East taught me that sexual expression is exclusive to men. Men can have pre-marital sex, and when they’re married, their extra-marital affairs are ignored, justified or blamed on the wives. Their bodies are their own to do with them what they want. A woman’s body, however, represents her family’s honor. So, girls and women are expected to cover their bodies and repress their sexual feelings to protect the honor of the family.
This is such a deeply-rooted belief that, to this day, girls and women are killed by fathers, brothers or cousins at the suspicion of sexual activity. Even if a girl or woman is the victim of rape or assault, she can be killed under the pretext of “cleansing the family’s honor.” The practice known as “Honor Killing” is still common among all religions in the Middle East; it is even justified under the law and carries no penalty.
As someone who grew up and spent my early adulthood in the Middle East, I also learned that men run the show and they run it for life. Imagine that with the exception of a few, all Arab leaders haven’t changed since I was a child; and those who died were replaced by their sons. So far, the customary behavior has been such that if you wanted change, you had to ask men for their permission, their blessing, their support, their approval, their orders, and their actions to bring that change.
The women in my family were very active in the women’s rights movement of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Men listened to them, gave them a forum to express their desire to become equal through conferences, speeches and occasional articles in the media. They even gave them some rights – like the right to vote in some countries and the right to run for office in others. But, women’s rights were always controlled by men’s approval and that didn’t go far at all. As a matter of fact, a quick look at the Arab Middle East shows you that with very few exceptions it remains a region controlled by the ruling few who are unwilling to relinquish power. They resist change as if it were a contagious disease that will lead to their demise if they ever catch it.
Enter the age of the computer and the Internet, the age of blogging and connecting with the world. The only age that will allow a Saudi female cartoonist to draw pictures depicting how a woman feels when her husband takes on a second or third wife. It simply rips her heart out she draws. Islam accepts polygamy and blesses it with a caveat which men enthusiastic about the practice tend to ignore. You can take multiple wives, but “if you want to be fair, marry only one,” the holy Muslim book guides. While not many in Saudi Arabia might care about how Hana Hajjar feels, a whole world outside the kingdom, is paying attention, supporting and perhaps even lending a hand.
The online traffic we witnessed in the aftermath of Iran’s contested elections and the outpour of support Iranian reformists received through social media are perfect examples of the effect of international support on local activism. In the case of Iran, it energized and helped spread the message to far reaching corners of the world.
Other stories that have captured the world’s attention are bloggers jailed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia for speaking up against the Status Quo in their countries and demanding social justice and political reform. We are learning about what’s going on inside the most conservative and most police-controlled countries in the region through bloggers who are not allowing the intimidation of prison, harassment or abuse to silence them.
It is obvious now there is a growing number of Arabs, men and women, who not only want change but they are willing to get to that change on their own. They grew tired of demanding it and not receiving anything in return, so they made the decision to truly become the change and live it in practice. Now, you have bloggers like Wael Abbas in Egypt who openly criticizes President Hosni Mubarak’s policies and screams out slurs against his country’s secret police that detains him for hours and confiscates his laptop without any explanation or apology whatsoever.
You also have the gay and lesbian Middle Eastern community publishing their online magazine which deals with issues they find important. They discuss sexual orientation out in the open and provide a voice and an outlet they wouldn’t have even dreamed of a few years ago. Their headlines read, “Who we sleep with is nobody’s business” and “Homophobia and Paranoia: Words that Ryhme.”
The Lebanese Association of Women Researchers ‘Bahithat’ just organized what is dubbed a cornerstone of Arab Feminism through a conference at the American University of Beirut. Women from all over the Middle East – including Iraq and Iran – were there promoting the idea that “change will have to be imposed not demanded anymore” says Lebanese Feminist Zeina Zaatari, one of the most vocal voices at the conference.
The Feminist Collective promoted the event online through social networking sites such as Twitter. They drew the world’s attention to hear the voices of powerful women who gave themselves the right instead of waiting for officials to give them permission to speak or express themselves. Zaatari captured the limelight as she linked a woman’s equality with a woman’s sexual freedom and sexual expression. “A woman can’t be free if she doesn’t own her body and has full control of it and if she doesn’t express her sexuality,” she told me in a phone interview from Beirut.
Another example of women taking matters into their own hands is a quarterly magazine called ‘Jasad’ which means ‘Body’ in Arabic. It’s a racy magazine that was launched by a woman in Lebanon at the end of 2008 dealing with the female body and its deepest sexual desires. ‘Jasad’ is banned and its website is blocked from many Arab countries.
“This doesn’t stop subscriptions from being delivered by courier mail,” founder and editor-in-chief Joumana Haddad told me as she was busily preparing the fifth issue. She says the magazine is doing well despite the fact that “no one dares to advertize” in it. She talks about threats she and her editors receive on a regular basis and unending harassment since they all use their real names. She says it is the support she receives from within the Middle East and outside that keeps her going and that “nothing will stop ‘Jasad’ from being published.”
Several new lines are being drawn in the Middle East’s desert sand simultaneously…. If they continue to be drawn at this rate longer and thicker, it’s hard to foresee any governments, censors or jails being able to stop them.