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

This religious tension is just as pertinent (if not more so) in non-Arab nations such as Iran, whose very own president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, noted in 2007 that there were "no homosexuals in [the country]." Soon after the remark, Be Like Others, a film by Iranian-American filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian, revealed that the Iranian government had been encouraging gay men to undergo sex-change operations as an alternative to the death sentence.

Most recently, homophobic strife has been on the rise in Iraq. In late April the BBC reported that there is a vigilant campaign against gay men in the country, which activists say has already claimed more than 60 lives this year. Apparently, the militant movement has also started putting up posters with lists, revealing homosexuals by name and threatening to abuse, molest, and kill them. In spite of pleas from the likes Amnesty International, leaders in the country have denied any association with these acts.

In December of last year a joint U.N. statement, designed to protect the vulnerable LGBT community, was signed by over 60 nations, but it has done little to protect the gays in the Arab world. However, said Brian Whitaker, an editor of the London Guardia n and author of the book Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, "It is becoming more and more difficult to keep a lid on the discussion of homosexuality in the Middle East." He also noted that Western debates surrounding the likes of Brokeback Mountain and even something as seemingly banal as George Michael's bathroom arrest have helped raise "gay awareness" in the region -- all of which could potentially alter the future of these defenseless citizens.

Still, I am left questioning my own place in all of this. If I am unable to find the nerve to stand up for my beliefs (while living in a liberal democracy), how will the helpless LGBT community in the Middle East ever find the strength to fight for change? Regrettably, every time I come to raise my voice, something stops me. For instance, a Gallup-Coexist survey released May 7 found that there was zero tolerance for homosexuality among U.K. Muslims. This disheartening news, coupled with the memories of fearing physical harm by my own family, have once again forced me to reconsider my decision.

I guess nothing in life can prepare you for that moment when your family chooses to reject you. When the people who taught you about compassion, unconditional care, and friendship suddenly decide that you are not worth being loved, the world tends to seem like a very lonely place. But I'm still hopeful. Together, we can build new families and communities -- this time, with people who will stand by us. It won't be easy, but that shouldn't stop us from trying. After all, we owe it to each other -- we deserve it.

Tags: Politics

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