Gay in the Middle East? 11 reasons why LGBT rights are looking up in MENA

Published May 17th, 2015 - 13:11 GMT

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Since 2004, May 17 has served as International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. 

The Middle East doesn’t have the greatest track record for being LGBT friendly.

In fact most of the MENA region overwhelmingly declares same-sex relations as illegal, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). In 2007 an Iranian was convicted of sodomy, allegedly committed at age 13, and sentenced to death. Groups like Daesh have targeted sexual minorities, publishing videos throwing allegedly gay men off the roofs of buildings. Continue reading below »

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Now nearly ten years old, My.Kali was one of the first MidEast-based magazines to put LGBT issues on the map. Bold cover photography and English articles tackling discrimination across the region have made this controversial publication well known inside and outside the MENA region. (mykalimag.com)
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Image 1 of 11:  1 / 11Now nearly ten years old, My.Kali was one of the first MidEast-based magazines to put LGBT issues on the map. Bold cover photography and English articles tackling discrimination across the region have made this controversial publication well known inside and outside the MENA region. (mykalimag.com)

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My.Kali’s not alone. Tunisian publications focusing on LGBT issues have sprung up all over the country. Launched in the midst of the country’s uprising in 2011, GayDay became the country’s first LGBT focused magazine. Today, it’s accompanied by several Tunisia-based blogs dedicated to gay, bisexual and trans communities. (gaystarnews.com)
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Image 2 of 11:  2 / 11My.Kali’s not alone. Tunisian publications focusing on LGBT issues have sprung up all over the country. Launched in the midst of the country’s uprising in 2011, GayDay became the country’s first LGBT focused magazine. Today, it’s accompanied by several Tunisia-based blogs dedicated to gay, bisexual and trans communities. (gaystarnews.com)

Enlarge
The surrogacy law in Israel was amended in 2014 to allow same-sex couples the same rights to become parents. The law passed in 2014 and received unanimous support from the ministers in the leading party, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Facebook)
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Image 3 of 11:  3 / 11The surrogacy law in Israel was amended in 2014 to allow same-sex couples the same rights to become parents. The law passed in 2014 and received unanimous support from the ministers in the leading party, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Facebook)

Enlarge
After 26 men suspected of engaging in same-sex relations at a bathhouse were arrested in Egypt, the case was dismissed in a rare instance. No defendants have been acquitted in a trial court on charges of “debauchery” since 2011, suggesting an improvement in a place known to be oppressive toward the LGBT community. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)
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Image 4 of 11:  4 / 11After 26 men suspected of engaging in same-sex relations at a bathhouse were arrested in Egypt, the case was dismissed in a rare instance. No defendants have been acquitted in a trial court on charges of “debauchery” since 2011, suggesting an improvement in a place known to be oppressive toward the LGBT community. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)

Enlarge
Moroccan presence in Paris’ Gay Pride parade shows support for same-sex rights, despite current laws in Morocco. Travelers say the Muslim yet liberal nation provides a friendly environment for those who identify as LGBT. Moroccans and Jews, also attended Amsterdam’s annual Pride Canal Parade for the first time last year. (AFP/Bas Czerwinski)
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Image 5 of 11:  5 / 11Moroccan presence in Paris’ Gay Pride parade shows support for same-sex rights, despite current laws in Morocco. Travelers say the Muslim yet liberal nation provides a friendly environment for those who identify as LGBT. Moroccans and Jews, also attended Amsterdam’s annual Pride Canal Parade for the first time last year. (AFP/Bas Czerwinski)

Enlarge
Turkey’s first gay marriage between Turkish and Kurdish men took place last year. However, the accomplishment says little about the discrimination the men faced next — death threats, job loss and isolation from their families. (Courtesy/Hurriyet Daily News)
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Image 6 of 11:  6 / 11Turkey’s first gay marriage between Turkish and Kurdish men took place last year. However, the accomplishment says little about the discrimination the men faced next — death threats, job loss and isolation from their families. (Courtesy/Hurriyet Daily News)

Enlarge
But next month, Deva Ozenen could make history as Turkey’s first transgender MP, the 37-year-old is running in the country’s parliamentary election on June 7, where she hopes to push for more rights for Turkey’s LGBT community, who, although better off than other MENA countries, still face daily discrimination and hate crimes. (Twitter)
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Image 7 of 11:  7 / 11But next month, Deva Ozenen could make history as Turkey’s first transgender MP, the 37-year-old is running in the country’s parliamentary election on June 7, where she hopes to push for more rights for Turkey’s LGBT community, who, although better off than other MENA countries, still face daily discrimination and hate crimes. (Twitter)

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With the highest number worldwide in 2008, Iran is one of the most accepting places for gender reassignment surgery even outside the region. But being gay is still punishable by death, so many homosexuals are instead pushed into getting reassignment surgery, accepted by Iranian sheikhs. (AFP/Markus Scholz)
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Image 8 of 11:  8 / 11With the highest number worldwide in 2008, Iran is one of the most accepting places for gender reassignment surgery even outside the region. But being gay is still punishable by death, so many homosexuals are instead pushed into getting reassignment surgery, accepted by Iranian sheikhs. (AFP/Markus Scholz)

Enlarge
Human rights nonprofit Helem has been openly operating in Lebanon for over ten years, fighting the Arab world’s discrimination against the LGBTQ community and even earning some recognition from the government for its sexual health services. Membership is open to allies as well as sexual minorities. (AFP/Joseph Barrak)
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Image 9 of 11:  9 / 11Human rights nonprofit Helem has been openly operating in Lebanon for over ten years, fighting the Arab world’s discrimination against the LGBTQ community and even earning some recognition from the government for its sexual health services. Membership is open to allies as well as sexual minorities. (AFP/Joseph Barrak)

Enlarge
 Let’s not forget gay pride parades in Tel Aviv and Istanbul, where same-sex couples can openly celebrate who they are and their relationships. The events are unrivaled in the Middle East for its openness and inclusiveness of sexual minorities; you’d be hard-pressed to find celebrations like these elsewhere in the MENA region. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)
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Image 10 of 11:  10 / 11 Let’s not forget gay pride parades in Tel Aviv and Istanbul, where same-sex couples can openly celebrate who they are and their relationships. The events are unrivaled in the Middle East for its openness and inclusiveness of sexual minorities; you’d be hard-pressed to find celebrations like these elsewhere in the MENA region. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Enlarge
This year, Turkey opened its first shelter for transgendered people in Istanbul. Working entirely off donated funds, the shelter’s organizers hosted trans fashion shows and other events to raise almost $20,000. (Vimeo)
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Image 11 of 11:  11 / 11This year, Turkey opened its first shelter for transgendered people in Istanbul. Working entirely off donated funds, the shelter’s organizers hosted trans fashion shows and other events to raise almost $20,000. (Vimeo)

Enlarge

1

Now nearly ten years old, My.Kali was one of the first MidEast-based magazines to put LGBT issues on the map. Bold cover photography and English articles tackling discrimination across the region have made this controversial publication well known inside and outside the MENA region. (mykalimag.com)

Image 1 of 11Now nearly ten years old, My.Kali was one of the first MidEast-based magazines to put LGBT issues on the map. Bold cover photography and English articles tackling discrimination across the region have made this controversial publication well known inside and outside the MENA region. (mykalimag.com)

2

My.Kali’s not alone. Tunisian publications focusing on LGBT issues have sprung up all over the country. Launched in the midst of the country’s uprising in 2011, GayDay became the country’s first LGBT focused magazine. Today, it’s accompanied by several Tunisia-based blogs dedicated to gay, bisexual and trans communities. (gaystarnews.com)

Image 2 of 11My.Kali’s not alone. Tunisian publications focusing on LGBT issues have sprung up all over the country. Launched in the midst of the country’s uprising in 2011, GayDay became the country’s first LGBT focused magazine. Today, it’s accompanied by several Tunisia-based blogs dedicated to gay, bisexual and trans communities. (gaystarnews.com)

3

The surrogacy law in Israel was amended in 2014 to allow same-sex couples the same rights to become parents. The law passed in 2014 and received unanimous support from the ministers in the leading party, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Facebook)

Image 3 of 11The surrogacy law in Israel was amended in 2014 to allow same-sex couples the same rights to become parents. The law passed in 2014 and received unanimous support from the ministers in the leading party, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Facebook)

4

After 26 men suspected of engaging in same-sex relations at a bathhouse were arrested in Egypt, the case was dismissed in a rare instance. No defendants have been acquitted in a trial court on charges of “debauchery” since 2011, suggesting an improvement in a place known to be oppressive toward the LGBT community. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)

Image 4 of 11After 26 men suspected of engaging in same-sex relations at a bathhouse were arrested in Egypt, the case was dismissed in a rare instance. No defendants have been acquitted in a trial court on charges of “debauchery” since 2011, suggesting an improvement in a place known to be oppressive toward the LGBT community. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)

5

Moroccan presence in Paris’ Gay Pride parade shows support for same-sex rights, despite current laws in Morocco. Travelers say the Muslim yet liberal nation provides a friendly environment for those who identify as LGBT. Moroccans and Jews, also attended Amsterdam’s annual Pride Canal Parade for the first time last year. (AFP/Bas Czerwinski)

Image 5 of 11Moroccan presence in Paris’ Gay Pride parade shows support for same-sex rights, despite current laws in Morocco. Travelers say the Muslim yet liberal nation provides a friendly environment for those who identify as LGBT. Moroccans and Jews, also attended Amsterdam’s annual Pride Canal Parade for the first time last year. (AFP/Bas Czerwinski)

6

Turkey’s first gay marriage between Turkish and Kurdish men took place last year. However, the accomplishment says little about the discrimination the men faced next — death threats, job loss and isolation from their families. (Courtesy/Hurriyet Daily News)

Image 6 of 11Turkey’s first gay marriage between Turkish and Kurdish men took place last year. However, the accomplishment says little about the discrimination the men faced next — death threats, job loss and isolation from their families. (Courtesy/Hurriyet Daily News)

7

But next month, Deva Ozenen could make history as Turkey’s first transgender MP, the 37-year-old is running in the country’s parliamentary election on June 7, where she hopes to push for more rights for Turkey’s LGBT community, who, although better off than other MENA countries, still face daily discrimination and hate crimes. (Twitter)

Image 7 of 11But next month, Deva Ozenen could make history as Turkey’s first transgender MP, the 37-year-old is running in the country’s parliamentary election on June 7, where she hopes to push for more rights for Turkey’s LGBT community, who, although better off than other MENA countries, still face daily discrimination and hate crimes. (Twitter)

8

With the highest number worldwide in 2008, Iran is one of the most accepting places for gender reassignment surgery even outside the region. But being gay is still punishable by death, so many homosexuals are instead pushed into getting reassignment surgery, accepted by Iranian sheikhs. (AFP/Markus Scholz)

Image 8 of 11With the highest number worldwide in 2008, Iran is one of the most accepting places for gender reassignment surgery even outside the region. But being gay is still punishable by death, so many homosexuals are instead pushed into getting reassignment surgery, accepted by Iranian sheikhs. (AFP/Markus Scholz)

9

Human rights nonprofit Helem has been openly operating in Lebanon for over ten years, fighting the Arab world’s discrimination against the LGBTQ community and even earning some recognition from the government for its sexual health services. Membership is open to allies as well as sexual minorities. (AFP/Joseph Barrak)

Image 9 of 11Human rights nonprofit Helem has been openly operating in Lebanon for over ten years, fighting the Arab world’s discrimination against the LGBTQ community and even earning some recognition from the government for its sexual health services. Membership is open to allies as well as sexual minorities. (AFP/Joseph Barrak)

10

 Let’s not forget gay pride parades in Tel Aviv and Istanbul, where same-sex couples can openly celebrate who they are and their relationships. The events are unrivaled in the Middle East for its openness and inclusiveness of sexual minorities; you’d be hard-pressed to find celebrations like these elsewhere in the MENA region. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Image 10 of 11 Let’s not forget gay pride parades in Tel Aviv and Istanbul, where same-sex couples can openly celebrate who they are and their relationships. The events are unrivaled in the Middle East for its openness and inclusiveness of sexual minorities; you’d be hard-pressed to find celebrations like these elsewhere in the MENA region. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

11

This year, Turkey opened its first shelter for transgendered people in Istanbul. Working entirely off donated funds, the shelter’s organizers hosted trans fashion shows and other events to raise almost $20,000. (Vimeo)

Image 11 of 11This year, Turkey opened its first shelter for transgendered people in Istanbul. Working entirely off donated funds, the shelter’s organizers hosted trans fashion shows and other events to raise almost $20,000. (Vimeo)

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But not all news is bad. Some progress has been made, some voices heard. Here are some strides the region has made.

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