MONTREAL – There are no gays in Yemen.
That’s the Middle Eastern republic’s official position on homosexuality.
But in the event that a person is caught committing a homosexual act in one of Yemen’s southeastern provinces, two kinds of punishment are meted out: flogging and death.
In the face of the country’s profoundly homophobic laws, one Yemeni has chosen not only to live an openly gay life but also to blog about it, among other human rights issues. Ala’a Jarban, 23, is one of 37 people in Montreal this month to receive human rights training at a conference held on the John Abbott College campus.
Jarban came to Montreal after creating an online space where Yemen’s queer community can post about their lives anonymously and ask questions without the fear of being met with violence. His blog also inspires youth to use technology and the Internet to advocate for democratic reform.
“You’re taking a huge risk by being an activist in a place like Yemen,” Jarban told The Gazette. “It’s an extremely conservative country, where being gay is a crime under our constitution. Coming here is a great way to see that other people are facing similar challenges and that there’s a lot we can learn from each other.”
The training course, organized by Montreal-based group Equitas, brings people together from human rights “hot spots” across the globe in hopes of sending them home with tools to keep fighting for their respective causes.
For three weeks, the 37 men and women live in dorms on the West Island campus and take part in about nine hours of courses each day. They follow a curriculum designed by Equitas, but organizers say the majority of the learning that goes on in workshops comes from the participants themselves.
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