Very little LGBT news comes out of the Emirates gulf states because it is such a closeted culture, but the recent removal of an anti-gay video from YouTube, made in the United Arab Emirates, has evoked some dialogue around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the Emirates. In this report, Dan Littauer of Gay Middle East, interviews two gay men from the Emirates about their public and private experiences and feelings as they seek a “Gay Life in UAE”.
This is followed by another story ‘Detained in Dubai’ that was written in 2010 by an unnamed author using detainedindubai.org as their identity. The purpose of the report is to warn gay visitors of the risks of being caught by police for illegal behavior: “enjoying the underground scene doesn’t come without serious risks. There have been a few widespread reports regarding the condemnation and punishment of homosexual behavior in Dubai and the UAE. But many more stories likely go unreported.”
Compiled by Richard Ammon
Gay Testimonies From the Emirates
I just want parents to hear how their kids feel, how I felt and couldn’t be heard because I didn’t dare to speak out. I was really bullied in school and called names. I remember vividly being called ‘daga’, I don’t know an equivalent offensive term in English, it’s like someone who is very submissive, flamboyant and being taking advantage of.
I felt ashamed inside, like I have a dirty secret, so I felt I had to hide, or answer back: ‘Ha! You’re daga yourself’. So we traded insults and I felt compelled by shame and guilt to act like a macho man who bragged about dating girls, etc.
One day in high school, an imam came to do a lecture and told us: ‘If you masturbate you are going to go blind and go to hell.’ I couldn’t understand how my parents didn’t go blind. So I asked: ‘But why aren’t my parents blind?’ And I got suspended.
That was the limit of our sex education. In our biology class we had all pictures of pregnant women cut off, and at grade 6/8, I can’t exactly recall, they one day suddenly separated the girls and boys. We went to gym and the girls vanished. Years later I learned that they had a special lesson about what it means to have a period.
We just didn’t have a clue about sex or sexuality, basic biology, not even from the internet because all the sites were blocked. So for me and my classmates we had to learn how to hack websites, at the age of 15! We were so repressed and sexually frustrated – even my heterosexual classmates.
On top of it all I was ready to explode psychosocially with my ‘dirty’ secret. With my parents completely revolted by these subjects and unsympathetic to any discussion of sexuality or intimacy, I had no one to talk with for a long while.
Beneath it all I started believing I was mentally sick, that I had an illness. I even had a crush on a guy but that made me feel disgusted, guilty and ashamed of what I felt. The pain and hurt was so intense that I felt like committing suicide. I don’t know how I survived high school; carrying that ‘dirty’ secret felt so heavy, so painful, and I almost lost hope. It took long term psychotherapy to work through this, and I still carry scars.
I guess hope kept me going… I just kept on thinking, this is going to end one day, I am going to have my dream of finding a boyfriend, sharing a life with him and a cat.
I eventually felt more at peace with myself and could say to myself: ‘Yes I am and that’s ok,’ and really feel and mean it. Now I can speak the truth, even if my voice shakes. But many people that went through this still can’t speak and live with their burden of a ‘dirty secret’ with grave consequences for their entire lives. Many kids and adolescent youths are being traumatised for life right now, like I was, and like many adults that continue to be.
Campaigns were launched, for example, the recent one against the Boyat [“masculine”-appearing women], telling us how girls should behave and that anything else is sick and abnormal and needs to be treated and cured by hormones and or ‘psychology’. Or alternatively how men should behave and how, as a contrast, sick and sinful homosexuality is. This is done without anyone even having a chance to listen to our experiences.
So this is why I welcome dialogue as a first step; rather than campaigns, let’s have a dialogue in our society and especially with families. Let’s speak about sexuality not only homosexuality. Let’s try to understand the youth and give them some hope. I am not even asking that people completely accept things, just that they allow us to be heard and listened to, and, most of all, offer some hope for our youth.
I discovered my sexual orientation at a very young age. And as I was growing up, I tried very hard to change to what my surroundings taught me. That a man is supposed to be with a woman, and that’s how life is. The years went by, and after trying innumerable times, it just didn’t work out, and I just learned to accept myself the way that I am.
I was not thrilled about the idea, and every night before I laid my head on my pillow, my prayer was: ‘Oh God, please don’t let anyone find out this little secret of mine.’ Moreover, I used to have nightmares about being publicly humiliated for who I was and I was always insecure about myself in everything I did.
In late March 2011 I finally packed up my courage and posted to the world on Facebook that yes, I’m gay! And there’s nothing you can do nothing about it. And, as if being possessed by a demon, it felt as though I just came out of an exorcism. I felt a burden being magically removed from my shoulders. There was a smile on my face that made me look like the most idiotic person on earth!
That status received only three ‘likes’ and well over 80 comments, three quarters of which were saying my account was hacked and the rest were all hate.
Not one person supported me. After explaining everything to everyone who had a doubt and after gaining a bit more courage, I told my parents. At first they were neutral and affectionate because of my emotional situation at the time. Then, they thanked me for my honesty and we decided to talk the next day. We discussed and it was an average conversation. It was very hard for them to absorb what’s going on. The mood was a mix of anger and concern. And then later, adult gossip started spreading.
My parents were humiliated by other adults and naturally, I got all the blame. I was threatened by my own mother that if I didn’t bluff everything, I couldn’t call her mum anymore. I promised her that I would do whatever she wants because she was so hurt, and tiptoed back into the closet. (Later I came out fully once more and for good.)
A few weeks later, we had a more open-minded conversation that cleared up a few bumps here and there. I discovered that my parents are completely against homosexuality, and are disgusted by gay people; calling us ‘filthy pieces of trash’. Out of anger, they even preferred my death over me being gay. I faced many friends who supported me and still continue to support me and believe in me, and these people have been the flame of my heart. I will never forget them for being there for me when I needed them.
On the other hand I faced a few self-appointed homophobic judges on my way, which I just learned to ignore and walk over. It was really sad that the biggest homophobe I’ve ever met in my life was my own best friend. No matter, for freedom there must be a sacrifice and that was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
I live a happy and loving life, filled with great people who I love and am loved by, so what I would like to tell you guys as LGBT people around the world is to be yourself. Don’t let anyone say a word against who you are because ‘baby you were born this way’!
And to the LGBT people in the Arab world, be yourself but don’t demonstrate it. In an Islamic country, men are forbidden to show love to even women in public, let alone other men! Speaking of Islamic countries, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) follows the Sharia law as the guideline of life for its citizens and people. And in the Sharia law, homosexuality is taboo. Therefore, members of the LGBT in the UAE if spotted by four eyewitnesses performing homosexual acts become subject to flogging, hormonal treatments that usually lead to death, imprisonment or in extreme cases a death sentence!
They say man is responsible for his own ruin; well if you provoke certain people who are sensitive on this matter with acts they don’t approve of, they automatically ensure your end. So, being wary is keen.
I love you all, and make sure you don’t die a copy, because you were born an original.
I’d just like to conclude by saying thanks to Lady Gaga; I love you so much. Thank you for lighting the path for me! Your spiritual support is what keeps me alive. God bless the LGBT.
Detained in Dubai
2010 (reprinted by permission)
Warning! Many LGBT individuals may chose to visit Dubai or the UAE but it is extremely important to be informed of the consequences of being openly gay in this region.
Although one should never have to hide who they are, it’s the only way to travel safely in the UAE if you are gay. With harsh and discriminatory laws condemning homosexuality and promoting homophobia in the name of religion, one must consider the risks quite carefully.
According to Dr. Raymond Hamden, a Lebanese-American psychiatrist, it is important for foreigners to remember that while Dubai appears modern and advanced in terms of technology and architecture, it is still a young, developing city. He says, “it’s not different to [how Americans] were… a hundred years ago, right after or during the end of the Victorian era. Even though we are seeing globalization, in the city that defined globalization, we are still seeing a value system that still looks like new Victorians”.
For the majority of nationals, this mentality is acceptable. Dr. Habib al-Mulla a lawyer and government spokesperson said, “this is a conservative society. Homosexuality, conducted homosexuality is an illegal act. And we are not ashamed of that”.
The Underground Scene
There is a vibrant underground gay scene in Dubai even though being gay is a punishable offence. If you know the right people and the right places, one can enjoy the gay scene to a certain extent. There are no official gay clubs, but locations of unofficial gay clubs circulate on the Internet and men gather with little fear of the consequences.
Some claim that the police will simply disperse crowds if a gay club is busted, but other people are fearful that the situation might be worse. There are stories to suggest this fear is well founded. Apparently, one does not need to worry as much in a night club in comparison to being in public (keeping in mind nationals cannot drink and don’t frequent night clubs) but that does not mean that night clubs are always safe enough to be open about your sexuality.
When the police find out about gay friendly clubs they get shut down fast, people get deported and punishments are likely imposed. Police reportedly frequent pubs and clubs with the intention of entrapping unsuspecting people. But, it’s not just the police who are entrapping homosexuals. There are stories of fundamentalists chatting online and meeting up with gay men and subsequently threatening to report them to the police.
Enjoying the underground scene doesn’t come without serious risks. There have been a few widespread reports regarding the condemnation of homosexual behavior in Dubai and the UAE. But many more stories likely go unreported.
Reports claim that punishment for homosexuality can range from 10 years in prison, fines, deportation and even the death penalty. The UAE Federal Penal Code, Article 354 states “whoever commits rape on a female or sodomy with a male shall be punishable by death”.
Article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai has consensual sodomy as being punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Both penal codes are extremely hard to locate in English and translations vary. What appears to be true is that male rape is not recognized. Instead, consensual homosexual activity is criminalized.
Cases of Injustice
BBC reported a story regarding a man who was attacked by Sheikh Falah al-Nahyan with a belt back in 2003. Silvano Orsi, an Italian US citizen and victim, rejected a bottle of champagne offered as a gift from the Sheikh at a hotel in Geneva. The incident arose out of allegations that the Sheikh made homosexual advances to Orsi. Although not much has been reported on the details of the actual incident, published materials suggest that the Sheikh after sending over a bottle of Dom Pérignon approached Orsi, sat in his lap, and tried to fondle him. After Orsi rejected the Sheikh, the Sheikh turned violent. Orsi suffered a herniated disc, nerve damage and post-traumatic stress disorder from the assault.
The Sheikh was convicted of bodily harm and ordered to pay a fine of approximately £4,930, but was subsequently acquitted by Switzerland’s highest court. Orsi claimed that the ruling was a cover up and that his human rights were infringed. The court’s decision was as a result of the necessity of proving an attack was carried out with a dangerous object, which did not include a belt buckle. In countries such as Australia, even a pencil can be considered a weapon; its how the object is used, not what the object is intended to be used for.
It took 5 years for the court to hear Orsi’s case in 2008. After the Swiss court’s acquittal of the royal family member, Orsi decided to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Orsi believes that neither the US or Switzerland wanted to upset the UAE, hence the verdict. Considering the status of the accused, a royal family member, and the pending nuclear agreement between the US and the UAE at the time of the verdict this accusation is arguably plausible.
CBS Report & BBC Report
Reports claim that in 2004 a wedding was raided in Sharjah and Fujairah in the UAE, but remained secret. Two dozen men were apparently arrested in Sharjah, lashed and released according to a prominent lawyer, Abdul Hamid Al Kumaiti. Because the mentality in the UAE is that homosexual men need to be deterred from homosexual activity, hormone treatments were required. These treatments were justified based on the social impact of homosexuality and risk for society. In breach of international law, men with low levels of hormones were treated accordingly.
Officials in Dubai arrested 26 men attending a gay wedding raided by police. Some of the men were from the UAE, others from India and other Arab countries. Twelve men were arrested and detained while 14 others were dismissed. Eleven of the men confessed to practicing homosexuality and were sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for homosexuality, and an additional year for obscenity. According to reports the men were dressed in women’s clothing and make-up in preparation for the wedding.
Hormone therapy is considered a useful treatment to deal with the ‘homosexual problem’ in Dubai. The US State Department has condemned the arrests, psychological and hormone treatment of the men in this case as it is in breach of international law. While the foreigners were deported, the Emirati men would have been given the hormone therapy with consent. BBC correspondent Julia Wheeler said there were suggestions that agreeing to this treatment could help reduce the men’s sentences.
In 2005, reports spread about the increase of lesbianism in the UAE, especially in ‘all girls’ educational institutions. The topic has been regularly ignored considering the taboo nature of homosexuality in Muslim countries. Lesbianism is seen as a disease by many in Dubai, including Rashida Badri, the former assistant director of private Education in Dubai. A disease they say should be treated medically or through therapy or counseling.
At the Ajman University of Science and Technology, lesbianism is apparently not common, with only one case being reported. To deal with the ‘problem’ the two girls involved were separated and sent to different living quarters. Qualified female staff members and social workers monitor all female students to prevent any ‘abnormal’ behavior or traits.
No one will likely forget the shocking story of Alexandre Kafkaesque, a French boy aged 15 who was raped by three Emirati men in 2007. Kafkaesque was offered a ride home by an Emirati acquaintance. The acquaintance and 2 local men raped Kafkaesque in the back seat at knifepoint, while stopped in the secluded desert. The boy was later dumped after the 3 men were finished with him. Kafkaesque was threatened and told that his family would be killed if he reported the incident.
The three men pled not guilty to the charges, but all three men’s sperm were found inside Kafkaesque. Reports suggest that the doctor claimed there was evidence of a history of sodomy and that it did not appear that force was used.
Kafkaesque claims he was discouraged by the police from pressing charges and even faced the possibility of being charged with criminal homosexual activity himself. Officials even allegedly hid the fact that one of the attackers tested positive for HIV while in prison years earlier.
This case has raised many issues about the injustice that occurs in Dubai, especially the treatment of foreigners in the legal system. This is alarming considering the large proportion of foreigners in Dubai. Khalifa Rashid Bin Demas, the Dubai Attorney General stated that there is no distinction between nationals and non-nationals in the criminal justice system. It appears that the opposite is true.
This case highlighted the taboo nature of homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. The law provides that foreigners with HIV or foreigners who have committed homosexual actions are to be deported, or so it seems. Prosecutors, however, have rejected these accusations as untrue. Considering the difficulties in acquiring a criminal code for the UAE or Dubai in English, there is no way to confirm or dismiss whether these accusations are valid. What is apparent though, is that there have been various cases over the last 5 or so years that demonstrate harsher treatment for foreigners and criminalization of homosexuality.
Kafkaesque and his mother in protest, have launched a website, boycottdubai.com. Radha Stirling spoke with the victims father several years ago and is extremely supportive of the family’s public endeavours to prevent this happening to others in the future.
Dubai police in conjunction with the Watani program held a one week awareness campaign with seminars against transvestitism. They warned people of the dangers of cross-dressing and its impact on society.
According to Adel Al Marzouki, the Head of Guidance at Islamic Affairs and Charitable work, there has been a noticeable increase among youth who are cross-dressing in schools and colleges. Al Marzouki claims this increase is due to a lack of parental attention; children left unsupervised or with maids, broken homes and working parents. Also to blame, the media and movies that apparently encourage this type of behavior. Homosexuality has a grave impact on a society where religious books condemn homosexual behavior for being immoral and against human nature. If these values are not respected, he believes, foreigners should be deported. Dr Mamdouh Mukhtar claims that hormonal factors play a role in this type of behavior and that people should be given medical and psychological treatment.
Based on today’s standards in the Western world this type of mentality would be shunned. Homosexuality is not a disease or mental problem that needs to be fixed.
Another story in 2008 involved a lesbian couple that was jailed under public decency laws for kissing and groping on the beach. The Lebanese and Bulgarian women pleaded not guilty but were sentence to one month in jail. The women were to be deported after serving their sentences.
Seventeen homosexual men were also arrested in 2008 for cross-dressing and being gay. This comes as no surprise considering the local campaign against transvestites earlier in 2008. The foreigners were to be deported.
While it is clearly a violation of human rights to criminalize homosexuality and promote discrimination, there is a fine line between the right to be yourself and the importance of respecting other people’s cultures. While it is imperative that homosexuality be accepted in the UAE, it is also important for foreigners to be respectful of the culture in which they impose themselves – even if they disagree with the customs. For some, this may mean skipping the UAE in their travel plans.
A Canadian couple was detained for 28 days in Dubai. The couple felt that they were targeted for being gay. They were detained for carrying prescription drugs, Celebrex for arthritis, which is banned in the UAE. The couple, Rocky Sharma and Stephen McLeod have been together for almost 20 years and only stopped in Dubai for a day in transit before returning to Toronto from their vacation in India. They claim that the airport security was targeting people who were young, dressed well, and were from the Western world. It was suspected they were looking for party drugs.
The couple was given little information regarding their detention as security officials spoke little English. They were not given the opportunity to contact a lawyer or consular officials. Instead, Sharma was able to contact friends on his Blackberry, which he had with him upon arrest. His friends gave him the emergency contract number for the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi, which he called before his phone was confiscated. They were taken to the detention centre and forced to provide urine samples for drug testing. They survived an unhygienic prison cell with 8 other prisoners for 10 days before they were sent to separate prisons; their only means of communication was through the Canadian consular office.
This prison conditions were reported as terrible by the couple. “You were lucky if you received a blanket and pillow” they said. They slept on the floor for the first few days. The washroom conditions were worse – just a hole in the ground for 200 people to use. Meals were provided 3 times a day and consisted of rice with some sort of sauce. The couple says they will never return after their experience. A sentiment held by many who have encountered the legal system in the UAE.
This year, “AZ”, a Syrian prisoner at the Central Jail dropped a claim of a rape against 7 inmates. This is even though a medical report indicated that he had indeed been attacked, beaten and raped. The original charge contained accusations against 7 men for assaulting AZ, tying a rope around his neck to immobilize him while each of the men raped him. AZ, appeared before a judge and stated that he was under the influence of drugs for schizophrenia when he lodged his complaint and that the incident had actually occurred in the Ajman Central jail, where he had been held previously. Although the six Emirati men and one stateless person denied the charges, the judge noted the discomfort of AZ when the he read excerpts of the medical report.
Another hearing was subsequently held regarding one of the Emirati men, AA who was charged with consensual sex with AZ. AA faces 1 year in jail for his ‘crime’. While it seems evident that rape occurred, AA is being charged with consensual homosexual sex. This degrades the reality of the rape AZ suffered. Arguably by acknowledging male rape Emiratis authorities may consider that as encouraging sodomy by only criminalizing the behavior when it is not consensual.
Stories from February of this year suggest that there are still growing fears of lesbianism in all girl schools in the UAE. One student estimates that about 1/3 of the residents are lesbians. These fears have led to strict rules on dressing appropriately even inside the dorm rooms, with sleeveless dresses and shorts being banned.
In March of this year, a male student was sentenced to one year imprisonment for prostitution. The student’s laptop was seized as it was believed he was luring men to have sex with him in exchange for money via the Internet. The 18 year old was busted when he unknowingly tried to lure a police sergeant into having sex with him. The 23 year old sergeant claimed he was conducting a security patrol on the internet and had a chat with the defendant. The charges arose in January and another man, MN was also charged with prostitution, consensual homosexual sex, pornographic material, cross-dressing and insulting religion.
MN was arrested at the Dubai International airport allegedly in possession of homemade pornos. MN denies the charges, but is being held in solitary confinement for his own protection. MN is also accused of insulting religion after posting images of himself dressed up as a woman reading the Quran. While this arguably may be in bad taste, there is still a right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. These rights clearly bear no weight in Dubai or even the UAE.
The government in the UAE has restricted access to various websites and monitors chat rooms, instant messages and blogs. There were only few reports of prosecutions and punishments but many people on the Internet censor their conversations and identity in gay chat rooms. The country’s only service provider of Internet has a proxy server which blocks any website that go against the country’s moral values. Sites regarding dating or marriage, LGBT issues, the Baha’I faith, Israel or sites related to unblocking the censorship are all inaccessible. Reports even suggest that any site with the word gay or sex is blocked.