Members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender group commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) with a message of hope and appeal for dialogue and change.
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates who each have different harsh laws regarding homosexuality, from up to 10 years in prison in Dubai to 14 in Abu-Dhabi, while Article 354 of the Federal Penal Code may even prescribe a death sentence for ‘consensual sodomy’. Punishment for homosexuality may range from harsh imprisonment, fines, deportation, flogging and death.
Public displays of affection are also illegal and can carry harsh sentences such as several months in jail, fines and deportation for non Emirati residents. Many men and women find it difficult to meet even in private settings as same-sex acts technically are illegal even out of public sight, while families can often have very conservative views regarding homosexuality. Several recent reports have highlighted the issues of private settings.
Meanwhile psychologists and psychiatrists in the UAE regard being gay as a psychological disturbance that is, in some cases, to be ‘cured’ with hormonal ‘treatments’, despite global clinical guidance saying this is both misguided and dangerous.
Abdalla (name changed), the chair of the group comments: ‘On 17 May 1990 the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from the international classification of diseases. Today is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, and I sincerely hope the Emirates medical and psychological associations will soon follow in the footsteps of the WHO.
'I hope that LGBT people in the UAE will soon no longer will have to live in fear, I hope that in the near future there will be programs that protect the youth in school from being bullied, as I was but never really realised how bad it was until now. I hope that in time homosexuality will not be treated as a hormone imbalance, but rather a normal variation of love and sexuality, that isn't shunned by society.
'We are not sick, we are an integral part of society. We are migrant workers, we are policemen and women, we are teachers. We are men, women, transgender. Most of all we are the voice of our generation, and we want equality for everyone.
‘My main advice to the LGBT community in the UAE is “don’t lose hope! You are wonderful. Believe in your dignity, equality and right for freedom!”
'I call upon Emirati society and leaders to give equality a chance and cherish diversity', he concluded.
Nasira (name changed) also spoke passionately about her vision: ‘Days like IDAHO help to remind us all, not only the LGBT community, but every individual that basic human rights are still being fought for. LGBT rights are not special rights, they are human rights! We will not be ignored and we will continue to fight for our basic human rights.’
She had this message to convey to gay, bisexual and trans people in the UAE and beyond: ‘Don’t despair, even if there is intolerance, believe in yourself and your basic human right to live your life openly, proudly and without fear of injustice.’