Syrian Homosexuals Are Beginning To Step Out Of The Shadows

by Aruna on  June 4, 2009 at 11:15 AM Lifestyle News
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In Syria, where being gay is often regarded as sickness or perversity, changes may be afoot. To come out as a homosexual in a vibrantly macho Arab nation cannot be the easiest of lifestyle choices.
Syrian Homosexuals Are Beginning To Step Out Of The Shadows
Syrian Homosexuals Are Beginning To Step Out Of The Shadows

Homosexuals there are beginning to step out of the shadows after a group of them joined together to launch an appeal on the Internet for tolerance.

"They're becoming more and more visible at certain meeting places around Damascus," such as a chic shopping area, a public garden near a top hotel and pubs in the old town, according to one Syrian journalist.

Most of those behind the bold move are born into the urban middle-class, "the driving force behind homosexual emancipation," adds the young reporter, speaking to AFP on condition that he not be identified.

"It's on the Internet that they truly come out," he adds.

The world wide web is a way for gays to "overcome social restrictions" and unwind in safe anonymity, or to build up a circle of acquaintances, he says.

Some 200 Syrian gays banded together to form a group labeled "I'm just like you" which published an appeal for tolerance.

"I'm gay and I have a right to my opinion. I belong to this society, and it owes me some respect. I'm gay, I don't come from another planet," the unprecedented appeal says.

The Syrian homosexuals' Internet plea urges that the country's penal code be repealed, saying it "sanctions individuals for a sexual orientation they have not chosen."

As in most Arab states, homosexuality is considered a criminal offense, although it is not specifically mentioned in a law that imposes a penalty of six months to a year in jail for "offensive relations," according to National Organisation of Human Rights chief Ammar Qorabi.

Writer Nabil Fayyad, a staunch defender of human rights, denounces the fact that many people bracket homosexuality with prostitution.

"There are more homosexuals and lesbians than people think," he says. "One in five is homosexual or bisexual", a fact most Syrians refuse to recognize.

Fayyad says gays in the Syrian capital tend to meet in restaurants and public gardens. He adds that public bath houses or hammams, where people used to engage in discussion, are also "now traditional meeting places for gays."

He cites the case of an American he names as Edward G from San Diego in California, who used to travel regularly to Syria for "sexual tourism."

The visitor was equipped with a gay guide and said he was "astounded at the extent of the phenomenon" in the country.

Souheil, who is about 30, is reluctant to give his real first name. He says he is forced to lead a double life "for the sake of appearances."

His fervent wish is for "mentalities to change" so that the rights of everyone can be "respected independently of their sexual orientation."

But the battle to change attitudes towards homosexuality in Syria will not be an easy one.

Bassam, a driver, says he "is disgusted" merely by the idea of it. He sees homosexuality as a sickness. "They should seek treatment," he adds of gays.

In December last year, 67 countries signed the first ever statement on sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN General Assembly, sponsored by France and the Netherlands.

But 60 other UN member states signed an opposition motion read out by Syria and supported by other Arab nations.

Homosexuality is still punishable by death in seven countries, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Source: AFP

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