In some ways Qatar is a bit of a sociological experiment. What happens when men and women are segregated, where men outnumber women three to one, and sex outside marriage is a serious taboo? Turning to people of the same gender appears to be the answer.
On the surface, the staunchly conservative view that homosexuality is a sin, a western disease, and, according to religious leaders like Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi and Bilal Philips, something that should be punishable by death, continues to be the status quo presented to the outside world. And, yet, under the surface, homosexual acts are widespread.
The reality, however, is many taking part in these activities are essentially ‘straight’. And among those who are sexually active with members of the same sex, there is still a major concern about being seen as or labelled as gay. Therefore, a system of justification has developed where, if someone is on the receiving end of sexual contact, they are gay… the giver is not. To have sexual relations with people of the same sex has been justified through a variety of ways and has become fairly widespread and common.
The result, however, helps to add confusion to the issues around homosexuality. It is hard to argue that homosexuals haven’t made a choice when clearly there are straight people who are making a conscious (though often in a haze of denial and justifications) decision to have sex with members of their own gender as a way of finding sexual release.
It’s similar to the idea of prison sexuality, harem sexuality or priests who have dedicated their life to celibacy who may seek sexual fulfillment from other sources. It is fair to say that these realities are, in a great part, due to a denial that humans are sexual beings, and that denying sex doesn’t mean that the desires go away. They do come out in one way or another. So, this is happening on a national scale here in Qatar, and other countries in the region.
Sex exploitation of migrant workers
Recently, Gay Middle East, which I am Qatar editor of, and GSN ran a story on Africans allegedly being brought as sexual slaves to the Gulf region. Asians are also at a high risk of exploitation and harassment. It would be very easy in Qatar to take advantage of people for sex, especially among domestic workers.
In the case of homosexual advances, if a person were to come forward about harassment to the police or other authorities, they risk serious prosecution, with being deported as the end result, especially if the advances ended in a sexual encounter. And often, these advances are made by people who hold a certain amount of power over the people they are harassing. An employer can make life very difficult for their employee, either by withholding pay, withholding a passport, refusing to give permission to seek another job, or refusing them permission to leave the country. This is the result of a sponsorship system that gives power to the employer and little to the employee.
A friend from Hong Kong, who was walking to a nearby mall, was offered a ride from a Qatari gentleman recently. He thought this was nice and took the guy up on the offer. When they arrived, the Qatari asked if they could have sex. Another friend went to a Thai massage parlour for a legitimate Thai massage. Turns out, it wasn’t that kind of place. The male, Thai masseuse offered additional services… Asians seem to be on the front lines of this. A demand seems to be there for young Asian men as well as African sex slaves.
One specific group, the large Filipino population in Qatar, have developed somewhat of a stigma as having a high concentration of homosexuality in their community. This is not so much because there are more lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people among Filipino, it tends to be based purely on stereotypes: The way they talk and look, more often than not, the higher pitched voice which sometimes come across as effeminate, the youthful looks, the smooth skin and often lack of facial hair, maybe?
In the late 90s, 40 Filipino workers were deported on suspicion of being gay: key word being ‘suspicion’. This led to an ad campaign by the Philippine government to warn potential workers wishing to go to Qatar that gays were banned from working there. In the middle of July last year, there was a tremendous amount of anger expressed by some Qatari’s over Filipino comedian Vice Ganda, who is perceived to be gay and felt that his mere presence in the country was an affront to the values and traditions of Qatar. At the same time, this stigma, which outwardly is seen as such a negative, does mean that the Filipino population garners a certain amount of attention from those seeking sex.
A statistical fact
Female same-sex encounters also relate to the population imbalance. According to Qatar Statistics Authority, of the 1,759,227 people living in Qatar as of 31 January 2012 (the highest yet recorded in an ever-fluctuating overall population), only 26% of the population is female. This creates a situation where men turn to men for sexual fulfillment. And, with the ‘purity’ of a woman being key to her ability to marry, there is a low number of girls who are ‘available’ for sexual encounters. And because these girls are ‘off limits’, guess where the girls are turning to? That’s right, each other. There is nothing wrong with this, but if a country’s laws are so stiffly against acts of homosexuality, creating the perfect societal conditions for widespread gay sex seems counterproductive.
Whatever the causes, same-sex activity is happening. A continual denial of this doesn’t make sense. Qatar has to start being more honest with itself. If homosexual acts are taking place, then why on earth should being gay be such a problem?
It’s time for Qatari society to take a good, hard look at itself and be truthful. Go back to the Quran and other holy texts. Does Allah not tell his followers to learn, understand, develop, discover and gain knowledge? Well, here we are – ready to explain what homosexuality is and who the LGBT community is.
It’s time for a mature conversation about this and re-evaluate what it is that Allah really wants. It’s time to put our new understanding into practice, not ignore it and hope it will go away. And, sadly, with this denial and pushing almost all sexual activity underground, it is creating a situation where people are being sexually exploited, used and abused.