By Anika Syeda
The unveiling of the gay rights movement in the Arab world was welcomed at Ryerson by a crowd of varying ages and faces, yearning to know more.
Hosted by the International Issues Discussion series, the talk on Oct.1 titled, “Is a Gay Rights Movement Possible in the Arab World?” was led by Ryerson’s associate professor of journalism Kamal Al-Solaylee. As an openly gay Arab from a conservative Muslim background, he discussed how far back in the closet the gay Arab world may be and why.
In a largely Muslim region, the intolerance of same sex acts is often tracked back to religion – mainly, Islam.
“I am not an apologist for Islam,” said Al-Solaylee. “But I am not convinced that it is the root of intolerance [of homosexuality].”
Al-Solaylee said that the Islamic holy book makes few direct references to homosexuality. When questioned about the validity of this statement in the Quran, he responded that according to his research, there are a number of misinterpretations for the stories. Throughout the religion’s history, it was often difficult for its followers to decipher gospel from narratives.
Despite this ambiguity, same sex acts are often punishable by death in almost all Arab countries.
Al-Solaylee said that he believes the homophobic sentiment in the Arab region is shaped by the threat the gay community poses to social norms existing in the nations.
To live against what is considered the norm is to challenge the family dynamics. Some parents look to reorientation therapy, as homosexuality is seen as a behavioural problem as opposed to an identity.
Male homosexuality is problematic, said Al-Solaylee, as it threatens the traditional gender roles in the Arab world. In simpler terms: who’s on top and who’s on the bottom? “The fucker is in no danger of being considered queer,” Al-Solaylee said. “Being on the receiving end places the man decidedly in the female position, and therefore devalues his gender identity.”
Despite traditional views, the growth of social media and access to gay magazines is allowing the Arab gay community to flourish. Grindr, a free iPhone app, is available for those looking to meet others in the gay community. However, it is accompanied with a label of caution as the government may trace usage to uncover gay social hubs.
The Arab nations await prospective change. Al-Solaylee said he refuses to back down in his fight for human rights. When his blunt, uncensored activism was met with shock from fellow gay Arabs, he has a killing reply: “I didn’t move to Canada so I could use a pseudonym.”