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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saudi Arabia Arrests Alleged Gays in Raid

From the Associated Press - June 21, 2008

Saudi Arabia arrests alleged gays in raid

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A Saudi newspaper says religious police have arrested 21 allegedly homosexual men and confiscated large amounts of alcohol.

Al-Medina daily says the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which employs the religious police, was told Friday of a large gathering of young men at a rest house in Qatif, in eastern Saudi Arabia.

The paper says scores of men were initially arrested but only 21 remain in detention.

Homosexuality is seen as a sin in Islam and prohibited in Saudi Arabia and most other Muslim nations. In the conservative kingdom, the offense can be punished by flogging or prison.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Conservative Anglicans Plan Rival Conference as Split Over Homosexuality Grows

Ana Pimsler/The Potomac News, via Associated Press

The Rev. Martyn Minns, who was made a bishop last year in the Church of Nigeria, is a prominent Anglican conservative.

Op-Ed: The World is an Unkind Place for Gay Refugees


The World is an Unkind Place for Gay Refugees
Commemorating June 20, World Refugee Day

By Hossein Alizadeh

Just two years ago, Arash and Javad (not their real names), two young Iranian men were building their future together. Arash was pursuing a successful career in Iran's financial sector and Javad was a university student in Tehran. Now the men live in abject poverty in a remote area of Turkey. They have no income and are frequently forced to scavenge for food in their neighbors' trashcans. Javad, a diabetic, needs regular monitoring and medication, which he cannot afford. His health has deteriorated to the point where he regularly suffers diabetic comas.

How did two young, upwardly mobile Iranians end up in such dire circumstances? The answer to this question is simple. Arash and Javad are gay men forced to flee their country as refugees. According to the Iranian penal code, homosexual conduct is a crime that is punishable by death.

Arash and Javad met in 2005 and conducted their relationship in secrecy for over a year. But late in 2006, Javad's father caught them in an intimate act. Incensed at being dishonored, the ultra-religious man locked his son and his partner in the bedroom and rushed to the kitchen to get a knife, intending to kill them on the spot. Arash and Javad managed to escape through a window but knew that if they stayed in Iran either the mob or the morality police would soon catch up with them. Left with no choice, they fled to neighboring Turkey and applied for refugee status.

According to UN statistics, there are currently over 21,000 refugees in Turkey, 2,500 of whom are from Iran. Turkey is the preferred destination for many Iranian refugees because they do not have to get entry visas. However, once gay refugees arrive in Turkey, the situation is bleak. Due to the volume of applications, it normally takes up to two years for them to be reassigned to a country willing to accept them. During the transitional period, gay refugees are only allowed to live in small towns, without the right to work or pursue education. While the UN Refugee Agency may provide some financial aid, the amount is nominal and before they are eligible they must be recognized as "genuine" refugees. This is a process with results that are not guaranteed.

Arash and Javad have been interviewed twice by the UN Refugee Agency since their arrival in Turkey in December 2006. So far they have not been recognized as refugees, and therefore they are not eligible for any financial or medical aid.

This can lead to destitution for gay refugees, like Arash and Javad, who are forced to leave their country to escape persecution and death. Unlike other refugees, who travel in groups and enjoy various degrees of support from their family, church, or party members, gay and lesbian refugees are often disowned by their family members, have no support network, and in most cases do not have enough resources to survive the resettlement process.

The situation of gay refugees is complicated because the Turkish public and law enforcement agents are very hostile to sexual minorities, despite the fact that homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey. In recent years, many gay and lesbian refugees have been subject to verbal and physical attacks. As a consequence, they are often forced to remain indoors during the day for their own safety, and venture outside only at night, under cover of dark, when they are less likely to be recognized as foreign and can more readily hide their sexual orientation.

Tragically, there is no organization that attends to the needs of gay and lesbian refugees worldwide. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, along with a few human rights and resettlement agencies, tries to respond to the refugee crisis but the overwhelming volume of cases makes it impossible to do without large-scale intervention. The US government currently spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to resettle religious and ethnic minorities who are persecuted in their home countries. Isn't it time for our government to show some interest in protecting this vulnerable population, too?

Hossein Alizadeh, a gay Iranian who won asylum in the United States, is Communications Coordinator at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.


The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating international human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in Cape Town and Buenos Aires. Visit for more information

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gay Arabs Party Here (NYC), Risk Death Back Home

From the Village Voice - June 17, 2008

Upstairs at the Stonewall: Habibi heats up
Cary Conover

By Trent Straube

It's Saturday night, and Sami is feeling the Middle Eastern dance tracks of DJ I.Z.'s set at Habibi. Upstairs at the Stonewall Inn for the monthly roaming party, he pushes through a thicket of men and hits the makeshift dance floor, where he and an Egyptian friend break into freestyle belly dancing. A gay Muslim Moroccan, Sami loves Arabic pop music but rarely gets to dance to it.

But Sami (like most of the people in this article, he requested that his real name be withheld) does go dancing often. Sure, he frequents Splash, Therapy, and other homo hot spots, where the Habibi devotees blend into the city's multicultural stew pot. Yes, they arrive from diverse—and sometimes harrowing—backgrounds. And yes, they've experienced various degrees of anti-Arab fallout from September 11—but most remain closeted to some degree, and once in a while, they just want to hang with their homies.

Finding other gay Arabs wasn't always so easy. In the early '90s, Jennifer Camper, a first-generation Lebanese-American, sought out other lesbian Arabs. The first she met ominously whispered: "I have a list of seven names." At that time, few Arab immigrants self-identified as gay; finding them in the pre-Internet age posed a challenge, since there was no official lesbian social group, like Assal for women, or places like Habibi.

What did exist was a local branch of the national Gay & Lesbian Arab Society (GLAS). The group met twice monthly at the LGBT Community Center. Immigrants were terrified to attend their first GLAS meetings, lest someone see them and tell their family. Even today, Arab families—the primary, all-important social unit—place immense pressure on their children to marry. It's still common for gay Arabs to do so, then take an out-of-town job while sending money back home. Those who are able to attend college abroad enjoy a reprieve—but once back home, they face an arranged marriage.

Politics and religion exert more pressure to stay in the closet. In most Arab countries, homosexuality is not only illegal, but the penalties for it are also harsh—including torture and death. The infamous "Cairo 52" were arrested by police who broke up a boat party on the Nile River in 2001; the men were beaten, exposed, publicly humiliated, and imprisoned for up to five years. In Islamic-fundamentalist nations like Iran, gay men are allegedly hanged.

Although Islam remains the dominant religion in the Middle East, it accounts for only half of our Arab immigrants. Most others are Christian, with a smattering of Jews. "A lot of people not from the Arab community don't understand the large role religion and ethnicity play in the typical Middle Easterner," says current GLAS president Nadeem Ghali, himself an Iraqi immigrant. That's why the group employs a rule: No religious or political discussions. For GLAS members struggling to reconcile their religion and sexuality and requiring additional guidance from their peers, the organization directs them to specialized support networks like the gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha and the gay Catholic group Dignity.

Even within those very strict boundaries, the meetings could become unexpectedly emotional and therapeutic. Ghali recounts leading a gay discussion group a few years back. Thinking it'd be a neat icebreaker, he asked the guys to describe—without going into graphic detail—their first same-sex encounter and what made it special. "About 10 people were in the discussion," he recalls, "and for three of them, their first experience was being raped. I was like: 'Whoa, OK—I guess we'll have to talk about this.' "

In 2005, GLAS discontinued its meetings. By then, the women had splintered into Assal, and most men socialized at Habibi. But another demographic was making itself known in the gay Arab-American world: "hummus queens"— gay men attracted to Arabs. Not that all hummus queens were on the make: One attended to seek advice on how to help his closeted Arab partners come out.

The real death knell for GLAS meetings was the Internet, which offered anonymity, safety, and thousands of friends. A local LGBT Arab online forum thrives on Yahoo (subscribers can join at; discussions range from the struggles of coming out and the newbies in town to relevant entertainment—such as the first gay Arab film, Toul Omri (All My Life).

Even in the Internet age, a savvier new breed of immigrants must deal with violence from the old country and family pressures.

Kamar, a Lebanese immigrant from a liberal family, effortlessly assimilated into American culture. When he settled in New York, he didn't care to cultivate friendships with other Arabs—yet he recalls being afraid to come out to his parents because of a childhood incident in his native Beirut. He, a brother, and his mom were walking outside when gunfire erupted: "She threw us into a corner and shielded us with her body, so if a bullet came it would hit her instead of us," he recalls. "I can remember every detail of that day—her dress, everything. My mom was willing to die for me. I couldn't come out to her. I didn't want to upset her. How could I?"

Happy ending: Kamar has come out to his family, and after the usual disappointments and drama, they've drawn much closer.

Post-9/11, the U.S. government mandated that all immigrants must be registered—and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security was especially on the lookout for Arabs. Many people required legal counsel and turned to Assal and GLAS, which had always helped their members on matters involving immigration, health care, housing, and HIV.

The FBI even questioned GLAS founder Ramzi Zakharia, allegedly for dubious online postings, but the inquiry ended when agents learned that he was openly gay. Others weren't so lucky. Blue-collar workers and devoutly religious Arabs—men who wore beards and women who covered themselves—found themselves laid off and the victims of random violence. They turned to GLAS and Assal for help.

Within months after September 11, queer Arabs knew they had to show the world that they remained a proud part of New York City. In June 2002, GLAS joined the Pride March down Fifth Avenue for the first time. Viewed by hundreds of thousands and broadcast internationally, the event was a double coming-out— as Arab gays and as Arab-Americans. GLAS invited gay non-Arab Middle Easterners—Iranians, Turks, and Armenians—to join its members as they blasted Arab pop from boom boxes, waved banners, threw candy, and, yes, belly-danced.

They couldn't have been more visible— which is why many others opted to stay home. Ironically, openly participating in the Pride March was one way that asylum seekers could prove they were gay: The U.S. grants asylum based on the sexuality, but many immigrants missed the window (up to one year after first arriving) to apply.

Group meetings became safe havens from an America that equated Islam— and, by default, all Arabs—with terrorism. For Camper, being around other Arab lesbians meant "your shoulders come down, you relax, and you don't have to explain yourself." They could talk about an unaccepting family without having the comments taken as proof that all Arabs are rabidly homophobic.

Habibi and Assal—which translate to "Dear one" and "Honey"—still serve that function. Assal is especially important, because social and religious activities in Arab culture are often segregated by gender; women foster strong and intimate bonds away from men. At a recent Assal dinner, excitement swirled around a member's pregnancy and the discussion topic: "How to tell your Arabic parents you're having a baby—with your female roommate!"

Like their American counterparts, many queer Arab immigrants simply don't want to join gay social networks or activist groups; they're too busy working, playing, and just living day-to-day lives. For instance, Zakharia—a Palestinian- American who's been in the U.S. since 1982—works at an advertising agency, has been out to his family, and lives with a longtime partner. For immigrants like him, "being here makes it much easier," as Sami puts it. "There are so many things around you that make you feel welcome. You can do whatever you want—have a life, a job, whatever—and be gay." You can even dance to Arabic pop music in the arms of another gay man.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)