by Aaron Munoz

LGBT rights are hard to find in the Middle East. Most ME countries, with one exception, have harsh laws against homosexuals and even greater laws for a homosexual caught in sexual acts or sodomy. In a number of countries, death is a common occurrence as punishment. If you thought freedom was a universal right, you were mistaken.

A number of ME countries, including Iran, Yemen, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, call for penalty of death for any person who openly identifies as gay. Despite these countries having democratic governments, or at least democratic qualities, it is seen as reasonable to put to death gays on the grounds of immorality or perversion. In many instances, homosexual persons have had to flee their homelands for safety.  This is particularly true in Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated on several occasions that the Islamic Republic has “no gays” within the borders.

In the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority such as the West Bank, where homosexuality is legal, there are still no rules to protect homosexuals from gay bashing, beatings, floggings, or other forms of persecution and harassment. In the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, homosexuality is illegal in all instances for men.  Women are excluded from this but again, there are no laws protecting them from harassment, persecution, or abuse.

Many in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have fled or immigrated to Israel.  Israel, although it does not sanction homosexual marriages through its religion courts, recognizes same-sex licenses from other countries.  Israel also recognizes same-sex relations that file under cohabitation, or common-law marriage. Israel also allow gays to serve openly within its military and allows gays to hold positions of authority in the military. And, Israel is the only country in the region to host annual Pride Parades, mainly in its largest city (Tel Aviv) and the capital (Jerusalem).  These parades have drawn historically big numbers — close to 100,000 participants in some instances.

Egypt, when ruled by the dictator Hosni Mubarak, at one time refused to acknowledge that there were homosexuals in Egypt.  Whether before and after the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising, no politician has voiced support for LGBT rights in the country.  Instead, many politicians call for executions and institutionalization or imprisonment of the gay community as forms of punishment.

What can be done? Contact your representatives! Highlight the issues with them and let them know that you won’t support any type of partnership or trade agreements with countries that continue to deny even the most basic rights to LGBT citizens. You can also donate to several LGBT advocacy groups. The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, for one, advocates human rights around the world for many people who face discrimination or abuse based on their sexuality. There are many more groups like these, and they’re easy to find. Do your part to raise awareness and help bring human rights to all people.