The modern Middle East views the subject very differently. A survey by Pew Research Centre in 2013 found that most people in the region believe homosexuality should be rejected: 97% in Jordan, 95% in Egypt and 80% in Lebanon. In 2007 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then the president of Iran, told a crowd of incredulous students at Columbia University in New York that “in Iran we don’t have homosexuals”. In 2001 the Egyptian Ministry of Culture burnt 6,000 volumes of Abu Nuwas’s poetry. What happened?
The change can be traced to two factors. The first is the influence, directly or indirectly, of European powers in the region. In 1885 the British government introduced new penal codes that punished all homosexual behaviour. Of the more than 70 countries that criminalise homosexual acts today, over half are former British colonies. France introduced similar laws around the same time. After independence, only Jordan and Bahrain did away with such penalties. Combined with conservative interpretations of sharia law in local courts, this has made life tough for homosexuals. In some countries, such as Egypt, where homosexuality is not an explicit offence, vaguely worded “morality” laws are nevertheless widely used to persecute those who are accused of “promoting sexual deviancy” and the like.
Second, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1980s coincided with that of the gay-rights movement in America and Europe, hardening cultural differences. Once homosexuality had become associated with the West, politicians were able to manipulate anti-LGBT feelings for their personal gain. Last year Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, an Islamist political group based in Lebanon, accused the West of exporting homosexuality to the Islamic world, echoing Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei’s warning a year before of “ravaging moral decay” from the West.
The Rainbow Railroad helps members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community get to safer countries.
The organization was founded in 2006, following the World Pride event in Israel. Canadians who attended the event met a young Palestinian man who said he had been tied up in his basement and stabbed by his parents, Taylor said.
He was able to escape to Israel, where he was living illegally. The man’s story moved the Canadians to come up with a solution for others in similar situations.
The charity’s founders were inspired by the “Underground Railroad,” a network of secret routes and safe houses used in the 1800s by African Americans to escape slavery in the southern United States.
While not an explicitly political platform, Khalid advocates for change across the region. Decriminalisation across the Middle East and North Africa, greater education of the straight majority, and legal recognition of trans existence are keystones of the movement. “For now, the LGB community is fairly stable, so we are trying to lend trans people our voices, to move them forward,” he explains. It seems at least one segment of the Arab movement is avoiding the mistakes of the West, which privileged gay and lesbian struggles and hoped trans rights would naturally follow.
The West and its failings is a topic that we return to again and again over the course of our conversation. Many Jordanians grew up on Queer as Folk, Glee and Will and Grace, but they offered few recognisable models for Arab queers. “Cultural imperialism is strongly felt in Jordan, and we’re trying to reclaim our Arab identities: we are trying to negotiate wanting to be associated with the west [and the benefits of LGBT visibility and acceptance], but not wanting to endorse all of the west.” After all, women’s issues and LGBT rights have become central justifications for the West’s bloody interventions in the region, fuelling the perception of the Arab world as prejudiced and primitive, crying out for the aid of white saviours.
“There’s colonialism in queer theory,” Khalid adds, “and we need to think about whether [LGBT identity] is just another idea from the West imposed on the Arab community, and consider if we have ever had or are able to have forms of identity that are uniquely Arab. We’re looking back through history and trying to develop something in the present.” The history of the Arab world provides fertile ground for LGBT researchers: much classical Arabic poetry addresses same-sex love
Meanwhile, if you listen to the types of stories that dominate Western media, you’d think that the biggest issues facing LGBT people in the Middle East are based purely on their identity as queer. Many people in the West have ideas about how queer people in the region should come out or live their lives. Some non-Middle Eastern LGBT activists are so eager to “save” queers in the Middle East that they’ll speak over Middle Eastern queers themselves.
Here’s the problem: when queers and other vulnerable communities are painted as simply needing to be saved, the logical conclusion is that the West should come in and do the saving. Many of the narratives around LGBTQ issues in the region implicitly or explicitly support Western imperialism and foreign occupation, or only talk about queer issues by painting the rest of the Middle East as backwards or stuck in time. This often creates more harmful prejudice, rather than helping to alleviate the problem.
Which is a great time to start giving money to your favourite queer history project! Because we are fueled on rage, second-hand books, and cheap tea at this point. If you become a patron, we could be fueled on rage, FIRST-hand books, and EXPENSIVE tea.
“I confess that I am one of those passengers that Fate put in the wrong train. Should I have caused an alarm? I chose the second, quieter way: I applied for a rewrite of the ticket.”
— Zdeněk Koubek
In 1932, at the age of 19, he broke his first national record and shortly after set five more.
He won two medals in the Women’s World Games in London in 1934 and set two world records.
There was an anonymous request for Koubek to be examined by Olympic-sanctioned doctors to ensure he was not lying about his gender, and Koubek left competitive sports entirely.
Writer Lída Merlínová wrote a biography about Zdeněk Koubek titled Zdenin světový rekord // Zdena’s world record. Merlínová was known for her writing on queer people, publishing the first Czech book about lesbians.
Koubek wrote The World Record Woman, a 20 part biographical series, speaking on how doctors had mistakenly assigned him female at birth.
He held lectures and told his life story in America after coming out as a transgender man