A Young Gay Man in Yemen: 'A Rainbow That Is My Shadow'

He grew up and so did his shadow; but the older he got the more he realized that everywhere he went his rainbow cast its shadow. Society feared it most.
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Trapped! That is how I would describe his situation. Running with his shadow away for being what he is: a young gay man in Yemen!

He has nowhere to turn. His family is tracking him down. His brother tried to kill him. He cannot go to the police because they will arrest him instead of protecting him. His escape is to hide, scared for his life, calling on us not to look away.

I first got to know him last April through a friend and fellow human rights activist Canadian Shahla Khan Salter. The president of Muslims for Progressive Values MPV in Canada and director of Universalist Muslims linked us via Facebook: 'please connect with him as he needs us', she said.

He certainly needs us.

His problems started when he came out to his family. He was hoping for their understanding. Instead, his brother shot him and "missed, unfortunately", as he recounted.

He escaped, stopped going to work, and interrupted his university studies because his family has been looking for him everywhere. They want to 'bury his shame'!

The law will not protect him. Homosexuality is illegal in Yemen - one of the few countries in the world that imposes a potential maximum penalty of death on homosexuals. Turning to the police for help is an invitation for arrest. In fact, just writing about the issue can lead to arrest. In 2004, three Yemeni journalists were arrested and punished for writing an article about homosexuality.

I sought help for him from Yemeni human right organizations. What I expected was confirmed: no organization will risk supporting a gay man in Yemen openly. In a context of social conservatism combined with religious extremism, taking that step amounts to political suicide.

Their advise was straightforward: get him out of the country.


He needs to leave to a country that protects LGBT rights and apply for asylum there, and this requires both a ticket and a visa. Try to be a Yemeni and get a visa to Canada! Aside from the fact that you are automatically considered a potential terrorist, you also need to get the visa from Dubai -- i.e. from another country!

Our young man is a writer. He shared a script of his first biographical novel with me. His mother, who was very close to him and died, used to sit with him marvelling at the beauty of rainbows. She would tell him: "I love you as I love this rainbow. He is your shadow and he is like you. No human can live without his shadow."

He grew up and so did his shadow; but the older he got the more he realized that everywhere he went his rainbow cast its shadow. Society feared it most.

He is trapped, punished and hounded for being what he is. On top of that he cannot leave for protection. Something is fundamentally wrong in this picture.

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