Sat. Nov 19th, 2022

FILE PHOTO: People line up for the subway in Doha, Qatar, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup on November 18, 2022 REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/

DOHA – A group of Arab friends living in Doha, the capital city of Qatar, got together for cocktails and snacks last week and exchanged views while browsing profiles of gay men on the Tinder and Grindr dating apps.

Someone’s phone flashed with a message from a suitor in the corner. The man in his 20s rushed off the table to meet his date face-to-face.

The friends, who met days before the football World Cup kicking off in Qatar on Sunday, are part of the Doha gay scene, which has managed to fly under the radar in a country where gay relationships are illegal and punishable by up to three years. imprisonment.

“We socialize together. We are going out for dinner. We go to parties. “We’re going to the beach,” said another gay Western man, who has lived in the wealthy country for over a decade. “We don’t make out with our boyfriends in public or wave rainbow flags, but we certainly don’t lower our voices.”

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

All four spoke on condition of anonymity amid concerns about possible penalties from the authorities. But they said they could live their lives to some extent by meeting potential partners at private parties or through dating apps that are typically blocked in Qatar, which they access via a VPN.

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

In fact, the quartet expressed concern over the World Cup’s wave of international criticism of gay rights in Qatar, and feared that once global attention was mobilized, they might lose their freedoms if the censure sparked a public backlash against the LGBT+ community. .

“What about us who have lived in Doha for years and make Doha weird?” said the Arab man. “What happens when the World Cup is over? Does the focus on rights stop?”

These men offer only a snapshot of life for gay people in the Gulf country, and the four realize that their relative freedom is a product of privilege; They can afford to live alone, throw parties, and meet up with partners in luxury restaurants or nightclubs, where the strict rules of Qatari society are often more lax.

It’s not like that for everyone.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that other members of Qatar’s LGBT community were detained. The group also accused authorities of ordering some trans women to participate in conversion therapy.

A Qatari official criticized the HRW report for containing false information and said the country did not license or operate conversion centers.

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

“When you are an LGBT person (in Qatar) and not fully experiencing your authentic self, then you lose your sense of self,” Mohamed told Reuters this month at a clinic 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 backed by a commitment to human rights for all”.

No show of affection

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

The four men interviewed by Reuters said there were strong financial and career incentives to reside in the country, adding that life for gay people there is better than in some other parts of the Middle East.

They cited Saudi Arabia and Iran, where men are sentenced to death for being gay.

“If you’re an immigrant, you can live your life the way you want,” said the 30-year-old Arab man. “I also know that because I am privileged, I can live like this. I know that gay men in the labor camps cannot live the same way.”

The Qatari organizers of the World Cup warned visitors against public displays of affection, but say anyone can attend the event, regardless of sexual orientation or background.

During the tournament, doctors will not ask patients about their sex, religion or any other status outside of marriage, according to FIFA World Cup health spokesperson Yousef Al Maslamani.

In the 12 years since Qatar hosted the 2022 tournament, the country has faced intense criticism for its record of rights on workers, women and the LGBT community.

Anger was fueled by comments from prominent figures, including former Qatari football player and World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman, who told a German broadcaster that homosexuality was “mind damage”.

“Qatar and FIFA had more than a decade to introduce basic protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but they failed to do so,” said Rasha Younes, LGBT+ researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“In 2020, Qatar assured prospective visitors that the kingdom will welcome LGBT visitors and that fans will be free to wave the rainbow flag at the games. But it did raise the question: What about the rights of Qatar’s LGBT residents?

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