LGBTQ Arabs Share Stories Of The Social Stigma Of Growing Up Queer

A new campaign aims to show how queer activism survives under political, cultural and religious constraints.

LGBTQ activists from Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa open up in a poignant video campaign about the challenges they experienced as they came to self-accept their sexualities and gender identities.

Produced by the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch, the “No Longer Alone” video includes some famous names, like actor Omar Sharif Jr. and singer-songwriter Hamed Sinno, who is the frontman in the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila. Some others appear on camera with their faces obscured.

The one trait all of the participants share, however, is the personal strength they feel in their decision to live authentically.

“I felt like a freak of nature ― that there was something completely wrong with my existence, even,” Sinno, who identifies as queer, explains in the clip, which can be viewed above. “People would make fun of me, hit me. I used to feel very alone.”

After Sinno came out, however, he came to understand “that there is nothing wrong with me. It’s the people around me who were wrong.”

Dalia, who hails from Egypt and identifies as gay, shares a similar anecdote. “My father was against me in every way,” she said. “But he transformed from hateful to accepting and tolerant. he accepted me and loved me unconditionally. This was, in itself, a miracle.”

The video, released on YouTube Monday, coincides with a new Human Rights Watch study. Titled “Audacity in Adversity: LGBT Activism in the Middle East and North Africa,” the report is based on interviews with 34 activists from 16 countries, conducted between July 2017 and March 2018. It outlines the obstacles facing LGBTQ rights advocates in the region, including criminalization of same-sex conduct and gender non-conformity to lack of recognition of transgender people. But it also aims to show how queer activism survives under political, social and religious constraints.

Both the video and the report aim to encourage young LGBTQ people to stand up for themselves despite the adversity they face.

“Religious figures, the government, your parents ― they all want to have a say in what you do between your legs,” Rima, a bisexual woman from Lebanon, says. “I want to tell you it’s none of their business and that your body, your desires, and your ideas are yours alone. If they don’t like what you are, they are wrong.”

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