It can be clearly stated that UAE is not well-known for its substantial human rights. Due to being under Sharia Law, there are many laws and conventions which are extremely different from the UK. Under the law, being LGBTQ+ in the UAE can be punished with fines, imprisonment, deportation and even the death penalty. However, this does not reflect a universal opinion, and the attitude of the average citizen does vary.
When talking to a friend who recently moved to the UAE, one of my greatest worries and questions was about how she would be treated as a Queer woman in a country in which her rights were compromised. I asked her about what she and those around her had experienced. She immediately told me of a story in which two girls were discovered to be dating by the school and the police were promptly called; she told me that the two girls had not been seen in school since the incident. Actions like these created a school environment of fear for all Queer youth – an environment in which, she said, almost everyone remains in the closet.
I asked my friend about the day-to-day experiences and attitudes which people have when talking about LGBTQ+ issues. Much like England, she told me almost all of the negative comments came from a place of ignorance. She said that people have grown up in an environment where even mentioning the word “gay” was seen as odd, so they end up with a distorted and completely incorrect image of everything regarding LGBTQ+ matters. This is perhaps due to the fact that, under Article 356, the “promotion “ of homosexuality is also illegal. She told me that, luckily, the attitude did vary as she was in an international school and the majority of her social group does not share the views that Sharia Law reflects. Instead there is blatant homophobia, much like when she was in England, prejudices and jokes which continue to enforce stereotypes. Making school for queer students an even less safe environment, where acceptance is not expected.
I asked her whether she would ever come out to her friends in school she told me: “never”.
This heartbreaking word was strange to hear, as only a year ago she was in England in an extremely liberal and accepting school, where the outsiders were those who did not share the same “liberal beliefs”. There have been many people questioning whether the UAE will change their laws, and hopefully then the social stigma. The UAE government has taken steps to promote tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, the UAE became the first country in the Gulf region to host an official Pride event. The event was not officially endorsed by the government, but it was an important milestone in the country’s LGBTQ+ rights movement!
The UAE government has taken steps to provide healthcare services to the LGBTQ+ community. For example, The Dubai Healthcare City Authority, established a centre for gender and sexual diversity healthcare in 2019. The centre provides medical services to transgender individuals and offers to counsel to people who identify as LGBTQ. However, it must be addressed that this “counselling” is not specific and is most likely conversion therapy, therefore the health care provided is simply a step backwards, and not forward.
Discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ+ people is still common, especially in the workplace and in school settings. However, this statement could be said for many other countries, and my friend believes that during day-to-day life people act almost identically despite the range of laws.
This shows how important beating social stigma and talking about Queer issues is, as well as how, although laws are important, they are not the first step to an equal and fair society.
By Valentina Del Bo, student