One Foot in the Closet

Being born in Egypt to a Muslim father and a Christian mother wasn't ideal -- but writer Omar Hassan says his experiences are nothing compared to the torture most LGBT Muslims must endure on a daily basis.

BY Omar Hassan

May 18 2009 12:00 AM ET

My mother informed me that I would be seeking reparative therapy as soon as possible. This unnerving threat was mirrored by physical abuse from one of my brothers. The next day, he cornered me up against a wall and held a butcher's knife to my neck, warning me that the worst was yet to come.

Despite all of this, I couldn't muster the courage to leave. I would sit down at the dinner table and let my brother yell "pedophile" at me while I ate. For some reason I thought this would make me stronger.

With time I managed to weave a more intricate web of lies. My female friends would come round and I would pretend that they were my girlfriends. I upped my workout sessions at the gym, attempting to bulk up my body. I even developed a deep growl whenever I spoke to the family in Arabic. Now I am back to the placid state that I was in before. But deep inside of me a fire still rages.

What I endured does not even begin to compare to the suffering that LGBT Muslims must endure on a daily basis. One of the most widely referenced examples is that of the 2001 Queen Boat raid, which found 52 men arrested for "deriding religion" at a gay hotspot in Cairo. Over 20 of those men faced prison sentences, spanning three to five years. The rest of the men returned home to find their faces splashed across national newspapers, with some of the news stories suggesting that the detainees were members of an organized "Satanist" group.

After the event, Egyptian filmmaker Maher Sabry spent three years independently financing and producing a film about the raids, titled All My Life ( Toul Omri ). The film was never released in Egypt, and Sabry informed me that a former religious cleric called for the "immediate burning" of the movie ... without ever seeing it.

At the same time, Zein el Abedeen, the director of Egypt's anti-AIDS program, stated that "the film was a painful blow to all of our efforts to combat HIV." Sabry has also had to deal with an in-box overflowing with hate mail (from Muslims and Christians).

"I got e-mails warning me of the wrath of God ... some would recite verses from the Koran describing the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah, promising me a similar fate ... while others would just send messages calling me vulgar names and scolding my parents."

Tags: Politics

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