A Kuwaiti official’s intimation that Gulf countries may soon expand medical screenings of expatriates to “detect” homosexuals has stirred up gay-rights activists and sent a ripple of snickering across the Internet.
But while the idea that homosexually could be medically detected may be funny to Westerners, upholding a ban on such activity is a serious matter in the states that belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), where more conservative mores prevail.
“Health centers conduct the routine medical check to assess the health of the expatriates when they come into the GCC countries,” Yousuf Mindkar, Kuwait’s director of public health, told the local daily Al Rai. “However, we will take stricter measures that will help us detect gays who will be then barred from entering Kuwait or any of the GCC member states.”
Gulf countries have banned gay-themed movies and imposed prison terms for homosexual activity, such as a 10-year sentence in Kuwait if the activity involved minors. In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, homosexuality carries the death penalty, according to a 2012 report by the The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. It is technically legal in Bahrain, but in 2011 police there arrested 127 people, mainly gays from Gulf countries, for putting on a “depraved and decadent” party with cross-dressers drinking and smoking shisha, Gulf News reports.
But on a societal level, there are at least pockets of acceptance, particularly in cosmopolitan cities such as Dubai, which has become a hub for many Western countries in the Middle East. A Dubai-based lawyer interviewed several years ago for a trade publication article on gay lawyers in the Gulf said there was “complete acceptance” of his sexuality at his firm.
“Homosexuality is tolerated provided people don’t go up and down the street with a rainbow banner,” he said.
The issue is likely to be increasingly in the news as the 2022 World Cup draws closer, which Qatar won the right to host in a controversial vote. Russia, which will be hosting the 2014 Olympics in Sochi this winter, is facing growing pressure over a recent law banning the spread of homosexual propaganda among minors – an offense which can result in deportation when foreigners are concerned. Some 40 US congressmen have expressed concern to the US Olympic Committee over the law, which could affect both athletes and spectators.