Forced to hide like animals and fearing for their lives, this is the reality faced by many LGBTs not living in the West


Many cultures today are slowly becoming more and more accepting of LGBT people and beginning to advocate more for their rights. The Middle East, however, has a much more complicated history with LGBT rights and, for many reasons, members in this part of the world still live in fear. This issue has come up several times in the media recently. One occasion was the shooting in Orlando and another, the LGBT pride marches in Turkey being canceled because of threats from far-nationalist groups like Alpern Hearth and the Anatolia Muslim Youth Association.

In the nineteenth and twentieth century the Middle East had a much more accepting attitude about homosexuality than the rest of the world. However, as Europe, which had very anti-gay laws at the time, began to colonize, it brought with it its attitude about homosexuality. As Europe became more progressive, the Middle East became even less tolerant. Presently, many Middle Eastern countries still have laws restricting gay sex, some that even punish offenders with death. The Qur’an itself seems to have a somewhat conflicted opinion of homosexuality. Most who argue that it is against homosexuality cite the story of Lut (Lot), who condemned a city for homosexual behaviour. And when the people refused to heed his warning, God destroyed them and their city. However, there are many implied references to homosexual behaviour in paradise within the Qur’an, which seems to indicate a more tolerant attitude. Like the Qur’an, the Muslim community, especially the LGBT community within it, has many conflicting feelings about homosexuality.

In many Muslim countries, especially those that exist under Sharia law such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexual acts can be punished by death — such as through stoning. Though this punishment is rare, in certain other Islamic states that are controlled by ISIL (or ISIS) it can be even worse. During a United Nations Security Council in 2015, a man named Subi Nahas, spoke about his town being taken control of by Nusra Front, a group linked to al-Qaeda, who began to systematically kill gay people by throwing them off roofs. He said: ‘At the executions, hundreds of townspeople, including children, cheered jubilantly as at a wedding. If a victim did not die after being hurled off a building, the townspeople stoned him to death’. Even in situations as severe as this, these killings do not serve as cause for reform. In the words of a man called Adnan to the UN Security Council: ‘when (ISIS) kills gays most people are happy because they think we are evil, and (ISIS) gets a good credit for that’.

However, in many other parts of the Middle East LGBT communities are able to thrive under the radar of the law. Much of their ability to do this comes from rules which closely monitor heterosexual behaviour. The Qur’an is much clearer about expressly forbidding sex between a man and woman outside of wedlock. In Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law is the only legal code, it is illegal to mix with an unrelated person of the opposite gender. Because of this there are many places where single men are not allowed to go, such as malls and certain areas of restaurants that are deemed ‘family zones’. If police were to find a boy and girl together on a date they might take them into custody. As a Saudi Arabian homosexual man told the Atlantic in 2007, it is in some ways ‘a lot easier to be gay than straight here’. This limited freedom, however, is clearly not the result of open-mindedness in the community. ‘Gayness’ is still considered abhorrent to most, including some who participate in the LGBT community and struggle between their faith and themselves.

One of the reasons this issue has become increasingly urgent, is because of the thousands of refugees fleeing Syria to places like Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. Most refugees have someone to call on to provide them with support. The LGBTs however are often abandoned by friends and family and left to fend for themselves. Some are even hunted down by their own relatives while others are forced to work as sex workers.

Prejudice towards the LGBT community still runs strong in the Middle East. The result is that many LGBT people are killed or forced to hide themselves, while refugees have nowhere to go. This widespread homophobia prevents many activist attempts from gaining traction, either because of a lack of public support or because they are blocked by the government. Though it is important to keep sight of the nuances in this issue, in view of  the deep-rooted cultural and religious believes of the Middle East, it is still necessary to do everything possible to help end the pain of those beaten down by intolerance.




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