Friday, April 9, 2010

A Gay Middle East?

Well, not exactly.

Being gay in the Middle East is probably one of the biggest taboos in that region. The social, political, and legal discrimination that LGBTQ people encounter in Arab countries can lead to serious psychological damage, harassment, and assault. Many LGBTQ Arabs report (anonymously) that they have to lead double lives; “one that falls within the acceptable social norms our society follows and another that fulfills their true sexual orientation.” To 'come out' in the Middle East is to demoralize society and bring dishonor and shame to your family.

As a person who has traveled to the Middle East a number of times (Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon), I believe that Israel may be one, if not the only, country that is an LGBTQ oasis of acceptance in a region dominated by intolerance and discrimination. Israel boasts a thriving and visible community; from lesbian women and gay men able to openly serve in the military, to being able to hold hands and kiss your partner on a crowded street without fear of retaliation. Tel Aviv, one of the most populated cities in Israel, has an extensive gay scene with a number of bars, clubs, saunas and gay sex shops on its streets. The city is also host to the House Of Freedom, a shelter for gay, lesbian and transgender youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been thrown out of home after coming out to their parents. At the House Of Freedom they are counseled by social workers who then visit the parents and attempt to bring about a reconciliation. Those attempts are often successful, each year hundreds of gay teens return to a better home.

Despite this harsh reality and negative consequences of coming out or being open about one's sexuality, LGBTQ Arabs in neighboring countries create safe spaces for their community in the privacy of small nightclubs, underground parties, cafe's and beaches. These places are still approached with trepidation and caution, but they do provide a small venue for gay Arabs to express themselves. Unfortunately, I'm not too sure that countries like Lebanon, Pakistan, and Iran will create a welcoming atmosphere for the LGBTQ community, even with time. But I can hope.


  1. Have you heard of openly-gay Israeli singer Ivri Lider? He's pretty well-known and surprisingly successful in the region. He comes across as very down-to-earth and soft-spoken in interviews too. Just wanted to share my fandom of Ivri Lider....

  2. i have! i'm pretty sure that my mom has his first or second album too...