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Jordan was once ahead of Britain on gay rights, now it needs support

Jordan was once ahead of Britain on gay rights, now it needs support

Zeid Truscott

I am a British Jordanian. My mother came to the UK in the late 60s, around the time homosexuality was decriminalized, and stayed ever since.

Homosexuality was legalised in Jordan in 1951, 16 years before the UK. But since that point, Jordan hasn’t developed LGBTI rights and protections at the same speed we’ve seen in the UK.

Next week is the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Our whole LGBTI community is reflecting on how far we’ve come and where we still have to go.

And for it is important for those of us who have heritage that isn’t just British to compare how our other nationalities, cultures and communities have also changed over the years.

In Jordan, public opinion doesn’t back the push for legal changes and protections we need. And that is the main barrier for progress.

You are brought up between cultures, trying to fit into both

I am in no way an expert in LGBTI rights in Jordan, nor do I have a great, in depth understanding of Jordanian society.

I am in a state that most dual nationals end up in. You are brought up between cultures, trying to fit into both but ending up fitting into neither fully.

I have been brought up within a more western framework, focussing on the immediate family and promoting independence from that unit.

This is very different from Jordan. In the Jordanian model, family is core. That is not just your immediate family but the extended family too. You are expected to prioritize the opinions of this extended family. The weight that is given to these family members views is a massive barrier when coming out.

My British upbringing has given me a sense of detachment to my Jordanian heritage. I lack understanding of where Jordanian society currently sits. My only real sense of it comes from my mother’s experiences, which are themselves outdated.

This lack of knowledge worsens the existing barriers to coming out. It creates a closet within a closet. You have to come out in one society that you are familiar with and then you have to come out again in a context where you cannot judge how people will respond.

I decided in recent months that I felt secure enough in my British life, that I chose not to hide my identity from my Jordanian life.

This doesn’t mean I mention my identity at any opportunity, I still have to be mindful to ensure my safety. But I am not actively censoring myself. I felt that I needed to be my true self irrespective of the views of my family as they are rather separate to my everyday life.

We need to support LGBTI people of color who put their heads above the parapet

I know this decision in not available for every Jordanian, and not even every British Jordanian. That is something our community needs to work on over the next 50 years.

We need to support and celebrate those in our community from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who put their heads above the parapet. We need to increase their visibility within our liberation movements.

The change we want to see in these countries has to come from an organic social change within the countries themselves. It cannot be imposed from the outside. This means supporting LGBTI establishments and groups within these countries.

In the UK it is very easy to say that our fight is nearly over. But we do not live in isolation and our backgrounds are very diverse.

And just because the legal protections and rights have been put in place, doesn’t mean public opinion nationally or within our communities aligns with them. We need to keep the pressure on to ensure we don’t start moving backwards or forget those who aren’t fully supported by our community.

Zeid Truscott is LGBT+ co-chair at University of Bath, England and on the National Union of Students’ Black Students’ Committee. Truscott was writing on behalf of UK Black Pride. Gay Star News is a media partner of UK Black Pride.