Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from across the Arab world, including a Lebanese rock star, released a video on Monday to tell their peers they are “not alone.”
Lebanese singer Hamed Sinno, who is openly gay, is one of several people from Morocco to Iraq to recount their struggle with their identity in the video made by two human rights groups. “I felt like a freak of nature… People would make fun of me, hit me,” says the lead singer of Mashrou’ Leila, an alternative rock band that is hugely popular across the region.
Same-sex acts between consenting adults in private are treated as a criminal offence in most of the Arabic-speaking world. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the region struggle to be accepted by its overwhelmingly traditional societies.
“Most people don’t even what the word ‘gay’ means. They say ‘sodomite’ or ‘abnormal’ and your job is to rationally explain,” says Yousif from Bahrain in the footage.
The video’s protagonists give encouraging words, while some recount their journey towards being accepted by their family. “I went from thinking about suicide to my parents knowing and accepting me,” says Omar from Iraq, as he sits with his back to the camera. “You’re not alone. We are with you,” he says.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Beirut-based Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) made the video to give human faces to a taboo issue, AFE director Georges Azzi said.
“People are afraid of things they don’t know, so now we are putting faces on people of the LGBT community,” he said.
HRW researcher Neela Ghoshal said the video aimed to make struggling members of the community “feel empowered, bold and ready take on the challenges.”
The video was published online in tandem with a HRW report that highlighted a “sea of change” in LGBT activism across the region since 2001. That year, Egypt arrested 52 men from the Queen Boat nightclub in Cairo.
“In 2001, there was no LGBT rights movement to speak of in most Arabic-speaking states,” the report said. But “in 2017, there are dozens of LGBT organizations operating throughout the region,” it said, however warning “such organizing is still in its infancy.”