‘It’s not all pain’: Qatar’s gay community ahead of World Cup

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'It's not all pain': Qatar's gay community ahead of World Cup
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A Qatari official said the country “does not tolerate any discrimination against anyone”.

Doha:

A group of Arab friends living in Doha, the capital of Qatar, met last week over cocktails and snacks, swapping opinions while flipping through profiles of gay men on social media apps. Tinder and Grindr dating.

One of them’s phone flashed with a message from a suitor around the corner. The man in his twenties jumped up from the table, leaving to meet his date face to face.

The friends, who met days before the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar on Sunday, are part of a Doha gay scene that manages to go unnoticed in a country where same-sex relationships are illegal and punishable by up to three years. from prison.

“We socialize together. We go out to dinner. We go to parties. We go to the beach,” said another gay man, originally from the West, who has lived in the wealthy country for more than a decade. “We don’t kiss our boyfriends in public or wave rainbow flags, but we certainly don’t lower our voices.”

Reuters spoke to four gay men in Doha – the Westerner, two Qataris and an Arab from elsewhere in the region – who said they lived in the country, a magnet for foreign workers, as they had high-paying jobs, as well as friends or family. .

All four spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns about possible punishment from authorities. But they said they could live their lives to some extent, meeting potential partners at private parties or through dating apps typically blocked in Qatar that they accessed through a VPN.

“It’s not just suffering,” said a 30-year-old gay Arab who has lived and worked in Doha for nearly 10 years.

In fact, the four have expressed concern over the wave of international criticism of gay rights in Qatar sparked by the World Cup, fearing they will lose the freedoms they enjoy if the stigma leads to a public backlash against the community. LGBT+ once global attention would shift. .

“And we, who have lived in Doha for years and made Doha queer?” said the Arab. “What happens when the World Cup is over? Does the focus on rights stop? »

These men present just a snapshot of gay life in the Gulf nation – and all four acknowledge that their relative freedoms are a product of privilege; they can afford to live on their own, throw parties and meet partners in high-end restaurants or nightclubs, where the strict rules of Qatari society are often more relaxed.

It’s not like that for everyone.

Other members of Qatar’s LGBT community have reported being detained, some as recently as September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. The group also accused authorities of ordering some transgender women to undergo conversion therapy.

A Qatari official criticized HRW’s report as containing false information and said the country does not authorize or operate conversion centres.

Nas Mohamed, a gay Qatari doctor who has lived in the United States for about a decade, welcomed the attention the tournament has brought to Qatar’s rights record, saying it has prompted him to speak widely about his sexuality.

“When you’re an LGBT person (in Qatar) and you don’t experience being fully authentic, you just lose your sense of yourself,” Mohamed told Reuters this month at a clinic. which he operates in San Francisco.

Other groups, including Amnesty International, have also criticized Qatar for discriminating against the LGBT community.

A Qatari official said the country “does not tolerate discrimination against anyone, and our policies and procedures are underpinned by a commitment to human rights for all”.

No show of affection

Qatar, a wealthy gas-producing country, attracts workers from across the region and around the world. Qatari nationals make up just 380,000 of its 2.9 million people, with the rest foreign workers, ranging from low-income construction workers to high-level executives.

The four men interviewed by Reuters said there were strong financial and professional incentives to reside in the country, adding that life for gay men was better there than in other places in the Middle East.

They cited Saudi Arabia and Iran, where men have been sentenced to death for homosexuality.

“If you’re an expat, you can live your life the way you want,” said the 30-year-old Arab. “At the same time, I know I can live like this because I’m privileged. I know gay people in labor camps couldn’t live the same way.”

Qatari World Cup organizers have warned visitors against public displays of affection, but say everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or background, is welcome at the event.

During the tournament, doctors will not ask patients about their extramarital sex, religion or other status, according to Yousef Al Maslamani, the health spokesman for the FIFA World Cup.

In the 12 years since Qatar was named host of the 2022 tournament, the country has faced increasing criticism over its record on workers’, women’s and community rights. LGBT.

The fury was fueled by comments from public figures, including former Qatar player and World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman, who told a German broadcaster that homosexuality was “a damage in the mind”.

“Qatar and FIFA have had over a decade to introduce fundamental protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but they have failed to do so,” said Rasha Younes, LGBT+ researcher for Human. RightsWatch.

“In 2020, Qatar assured potential visitors that the kingdom would welcome LGBT visitors and that fans would be free to fly the rainbow flag at the games. rights of LGBT residents of Qatar?

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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