Gay community hit hard by Middle East turmoil

Published: October 29, 2014

BBC News
James Longman
Original Article: 

Jawad worked in sales in Syria before the war began. When his father found out he was gay, he had him arrested.

After five years of hard labour, he emerged a broken man, only to find his country at war. Estranged from his family, he found himself dangerously exposed.

Soon after his release, he was gang raped at gun point by four men from an armed group.

"They could tell I was gay," he told me, through stifled sobs, looking out over the Beirut cityscape.

His vulnerability made him an easy target for this brutal weapon of war. Now in Lebanon, where he thought he could start again, he works as a prostitute.

"I have nothing but my body to sell. That was my reward for the Syrian revolution."

It might come as little surprise that gay men and women don’t have the easiest time in the Middle East. But it was not always so.

In many ways modern attitudes to homosexuality in the Middle East are similar to western European attitudes of the 19th and 20th Century – religious zeal and a specific vision of gender roles.

Those convicted of committing homosexual acts in Europe faced the death penalty. In the Middle East at this time, same-sex relations were relatively commonplace and accepted.

But colonialism brought the influence of Western prudishness and a codification of anti-gay laws.

The result was that homosexuality became effectively illegal in every Arab country. From "debauchery" in Egypt, to anti-sodomy laws in Tunisia and "acts against nature" in Lebanon – now all enforced with varying levels of severity.

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