Saturday, November 19, 2005

Open Letter (In Response: Palestine and Gays)

Hey James -

I just read a recent article of yours "Palestinian anti-gay atrocities need attention" ( in InNewsweekly and its off-spring "Gay Rights Before Palestinian Statehood" ( However, I'm concerned about your reporting and the argument you're advancing.

One early claim made in the article is that "[i]n the disputed territories run by the Palestinian Authority, gays are routinely harassed, tortured and murdered." Unfortunately, there is insufficient accountable information to make this claim. The reports you use and quote throughout the article are the few that exist (and their authenticity has not been corroborated). I routinely research reports and have been looking into accounts/research on homosexuality in the region for a while. I could appreciate an attempt to such a claim for Egypt or Saudi Arabia - however, there is no reliable evidence for us to make such a claim about Palestine. (I would like to note, however, that there are other reports you could have cited. The majority of the "literature" you can find about gay Palestinians is in the press and is based on the testimony of gay Palestinians in Israel. Palestinian abuse of homosexuals is usually mentioned in conjunction and with equal emphasis to how these homosexuals are now facing persecution for being Palestinian in Israel. I, therefore, dispute your claim that "Tel Aviv, Israel's flourishing gay hub, has become for Palestinian gays what Miami is for Cubans." Many Jewish gay-rights activists are actually trying to highlight this double persecution of gay Palestinians.)

The first article you cite is one written in The New Republic by Yossi Klein Halevi. The article has been used in reports by Israeli-based gay-rights organizations. I, unfortunately, have not been able to get the article. (If you happen to have it, I would really appreciate it if you could possibly send it to me - I'll owe you one.) I cannot verify or dispute the claims made by Halevi's article. I do think that more research and information about homosexuality in Palestine is needed.

You go on to cite "Hamas' man in Gaza... Mahmoud Zahar" comments "on the question of gay rights." You use a quotation made by Zahar in the Times of London. However, in Times of London Zahar was responding specifically to the question of gay marriage, not gay rights more generally. I hardly think it is fair to characterize the entire discussion on gay rights only with reference to responses to gay marriage. Furthermore, I believe the translation of Zahar's words is problematic. Zahar supposedly discusses "homosexuals and... lesbians, a minority of perverts" - Arabic words that distinguish between homosexuals and lesbians are very recent and rarely employed by anyone outside of gay Arab community. The most common Arabic words for homosexuals could be translated as "perverts." (I'm not trying to make the argument that Zahar was trying to same something particularly nice about gays, but I don't think we get very far by responding to comments when we don't really know what he said or why he said it.)

In a subsequent paragraph you decide to address Yasser Arafat's death. Again, there is insufficient evidence to make the claim you are making. And I realize that you are not the first one to advance this argument but the claim remains speculation at best, even if it is based on others' speculation. No report has been able to cite reliable evidence concerning Arafat's possible sexual activities or an HIV-related death. I have written the following in response to recent questions about these speculations about Arafat:

"The best I can characterize these allusions and references to AIDS and homosexuality is as rumors. They surfaced around the time of Arafat's death. I read the articles that initiated the dialogue - mostly in the Israeli press - and they provide no actual evidence and rely on visual symptoms that are interpreted by "medical professionals". I highly doubt there is any evidence to actually be uncovered. (Although I did pay attention to the fact that Arafat's cause of death remains inconclusive.)

"I think that the more worthwhile question is why these references came up at all. (Janet Afary and Afsaneh Najmabadi have argued that in Iran public narratives of homosexuality were deliberately used as political tools leading up to the 1979 Revolution.)"

I would be happy to provide a more detailed rebuttal to your assessment that Arafat "most certainly was" a homosexual, if you would like to discuss it further - although I don't feel particularly inclined to discuss a dead man's sexual activities.

Having discussed the majority of the evidence and references to Palestinian homosexuality, I would like to address your major argument: Advocating that human rights, and specifically gay rights, be conditional upon the creation of a Palestinian state is one step gay groups can take. Although I do not necessarily agree with many of the arguments being advanced that gay-rights are Western impositions (and I really hope we can move beyond such Western vs. non-Western arguments), I nonetheless think it would be irresponsible for us to ignore the how arguments against homosexuality are framed by many Arab states and officials. You could look back specifically at the news reports that surfaced around the time of the Queen Boat case in Egypt, or more generally across numerous articles and reports from the Middle East and find links made between homosexuality in the Arab world and Western imperialism, Western decadence or moral corruption, as well as Israeli spies. Using US political and diplomatic force to push gay-rights legislation is indisputably problematic. There are already more than enough arguments being made by religious and political leaders to insure that such moves will be greeted with serious resistance. And, more importantly, at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been seeing significant advancement I think it is particularly dangerous to jeopardize a possible resolution and the creation of the state of Palestine for a mere written agreement to protect homosexuals. (Even if you were to get the Palestinians to be forced into an agreement where they recognize gay rights in order to get a state, there are no possible enforcement mechanisms through which this could be verified. The majority of human rights initiatives, and especially those concerning gay-rights, have been moot in the Middle East - even with countries that have a well-established relationship with the US.)

I hope that you found some of this material useful - and I hope you continue engaging the question of gay-rights in the Middle East and the Arab world.

Good luck tomorrow,

Friday, November 18, 2005

"Arrests in Beirut Gay Club"

The following story from HELEM, the Lebanese LGBT organization, was received and posted by Ahbab News on November 14.

Last night (12-11-05), 11 people were arrested at Acid nightclub. We don't know if there were any women among those taken in. They were charged with article 534 and are now in Hbeich. An emergency meeting was held in Helem on Sunday and a preliminary plan of action was put together following contact with our lawyers and a gathering of testimonies from people at Acid that night and a relative of one of the men arrested. Tomorrow, the parliamentary committee is holding its meeting with the Arab Human Rights Network and we have contacted parliamentarian Elias Attallah who will present our case at the meeting.

Our prime concern at the moment is to get the arrested people out as quickly as possible. Legally speaking, the arrests fall outside the scope of 534, which states explicitly that "moujama3a" (ie penetration) against nature is punishable by law, since the arrests happened on the presumption of homosexuality and not on any evidence of penetrative sex. This is the argument our lawyers are going to be using to push our case and get the people released.

Helem is going to issue an official press release on the arrests to be sent out to NGOs, the media, and other concerned bodies, as well as a list of ministers, parliamentarians, and other key actors that might be of help. We are not going to mobilize any international body at this time.

This is the first time such a raid on acid has resulted in mass arrests specifically for 534.

We will keep you updated if we find out more information.

In solidarity,


After reading the above article, I contacted a number of people in Lebanon. I have not heard back from Helem, yet. (I'm trying to give them time.) However, the story has been corroborated by a number of people. People have described that the men singled out were those that were either kissing or who were dressed effiminately. Acid nightclub remains shut down. At least one of the people arrested - a student at AUB's CAMES department - has been released. (AUB was involved in his case.) There have been suggestions that the wasta that has allowed Acid to prosper in the last few years had connections to Syria - and hence Acid has become prone to such a raid.

Generally speaking the effect on the gay community has been minimal. Social activity, including Internet activity, has not subsized. The case remains open and significant since Article 534 (punishing acts of homosexuality by up to one year in prison) has rarely been invoked. In the past individuals have been charged, and most charges have been dismissed promptly - no group arrests such as this have taken place in Beirut.

That's all I know at this point. I mean Helem has a relationship with Acid and they've worked together and had disucssions. Helem has handled cases like this, mass arrests based on Article 534, in Tripoli in the last couple of years - although many of those cases still remain open with people in custody, particularly because Helem is quite weak outside of Beirut. Not sure if they will decide to mobilize any international body - I'm pretty sure they'll try to avoid it. (They have not made a major press release and have not included these events in recent updates of their website.) The Egyptian Queen Boat case is still fresh in the institutional memory of Helem - they were founded the same year.

(If you're unfamiliar with the scene in Beirut: Acid is the oldest and largest 'gay nightclub', a title the club has only recentlly accepted. Many new travel guides have started listing Acid as the gay club to visit while in Beirut. Numerous other gay clubs have emerged since 2001 as a result of a large increase of gay Arab tourists. In the past few months, the press has been making reference to Beirut as the "gay capital of the Arab world." )


Notes on August (2005) Iranian Case

> From: "Philipp Braun" <>
> Date: August 12, 2005 2:02:57 AM EDT
> To: <>
> Subject: [chr] Doug Ireland: Iranian Sources Question Rape Charges in
> Teen Executions

> From: Al-Fatiha - LGBTIQ Muslims <>
> Reply-To:
> To:
> Subject: [al-fatiha-news] News: Protests Continue Against Iranian
> Executions; Rights Group Claims Two More Gays to be Hanged
> Date: Fri, 19 Aug 2005 11:38:03 -0700 (PDT)
> iran.cfm
> From the Washington Blade - August 19, 2005

> From: Paula Ettelbrick <>
> Date: September 21, 2005 5:54:08 PM EDT
> To: CHR List <>
> Subject: [chr] Fwd: IGLHRC Op-ED on Holding Iran Accountable for
> Violating Human Rights
>> I want to share with you an IGLHRC op-ed IGLHRC related to recent
>> executions of two young men in Iran.
>> IGLHRC's approach to this barbarous situation has been to seek
>> clarity about the facts (which may never actually occur) and to
>> pursue avenues for reaching out to and working with human rights
>> defenders in Iran and elsewhere. It is the standard way that IGLHRC
>> pursues it's human rights advocacy agenda: reaching out to our human
>> rights colleagues and advocates in the country at issue, taking care
>> that our work does not leave people in the country more vulnerable to
>> attacks and other human rights violations, and lending whatever
>> support we can to individuals and groups in that country as they take
>> on opposition to their government's policies and human rights
>> violation. As we all know, sexual rights advocacy is a dangerous
>> pursuit in Iran. Advocates risk exposure to arrest, criminal
>> convictions for "immoral" acts, and even death. In such dangerous
>> settings, as we have done many, many times in the past, we have
>> chosen a strategy that is consistent with our values of working
>> closely with human rights defenders throughout the world to build and
>> support strategies that work for THEM within their cultural,
>> political, religious, and social contexts. Often we are asked to
>> release action alerts and to campaign publicly to put pressure on the
>> government to change. Often we are specifically asked not to do so
>> for fear of putting them at further risk or complicating the
>> political situation presented by public pressure from external
>> sources, in particular the West. Despite that, however, IGLHRC's
>> developing work with international human rights monitors has opened
>> doors for us to report abuses directly to them - and to demand
>> accountability from Iran's President through channels other than
>> massive letter writing campaigns from outside of Iran. Our strategic
>> choices in combatting human rights violations vary tremendously
>> depending upon the context, as they must.
>> Others, such as OUTRAGE! in the UK, have chosen a full fledged public
>> campaign to draw attention to the dangerous situation for LGBT people
>> in Iran. I met last week while in London with Peter Tatchell from
>> OUTRAGE! to talk about our different strategies for pursuing change
>> in Iran, and elsewhere where execution of LGBT people is prevalent.
>> The end result: we simply use different strategies and operate from
>> different philosophies about how best to promote human rights.
>> Especially because this has been a widely circulated discussion, I
>> would welcome any feedback, thoughts, ideas, or connections that
>> anyone of you have that can help IGLHRC and our community move a
>> government like Iran's to refraining from such egregious violations
>> of human rights related to sexuality - whether consensual or not.
>> Paula

Holding Iran Accountable for Violating Human Rights
Paula Ettlebrick
The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joined the largest gathering ever of world leaders last week at the United Nations without one question being asked about his country’s continued violations of international human rights law. Iran has signed both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Both forbid the execution of any person under the age of 18 for any crime. Yet there has been a rash of public executions in Iran that have involved youth or were related to sexuality and gender identity.
We know from Iranian lesbian and gay people among us in many parts of the world, that treatment of homosexuality/gay/lesbian identity in Iran is horrific. For years, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has collected information about the conditions faced by LGBT people and people with HIV in 144 countries around the world. Among our findings in Iran are:
• November 12, 1995: Mehdi Barazandeh is condemned to death by the Supreme Court of Iran for acts of adultery and the “obscene act of sodomy.” The court’s decree is carried out by stoning.
• January 24, 2002: Le Monde reported that: “Between March 2001 and December 2001, twelve men, aged between 14 and 57, have also been stoned for homosexuality and sodomy…. Sixteen men were killed by stoning between March 2000 and March 2001, and ten between March 1999 and March 2000.”
• May 13, 2003: Agence France Press quoted a judiciary official as stating: “An Iranian was beheaded in public and eight others hanged for offences ranging from rape and murder to kidnapping women and girls, homosexual acts, sodomy and fornication.”
A well-accepted principle of international law is that sodomy, even where criminalized, is not a crime appropriate for the death penalty. But the fear of punishment or death for gay men in Iran is so great that at least two Iranians who claimed to be gay and were denied asylum in the UK killed themselves:
• April 20, 2005: The Daily Telegraph reported on the death in London of Iranian Hussein Nasseri: “A homosexual asylum seeker shot himself in the head at a children’s play center after his appeal to remain in the UK was rejected, an inquest heard yesterday.”
• August 21, 2005: The Observer in London, reported that: “In September 2003, Israfil Shiri, a destitute Iranian asylum seeker, died six days after pouring petrol over his body and setting himself alight in the offices of a refugee charity in Manchester. He had fled Iran after the authorities obtained documented evidence of his sexuality.”

Under the Islamic Penal Code adopted in Iran, lesbians fare no better than gay men. Though documentation of punishments has not been as specific, the law provides that, “Punishment for lesbianism (Mosahqeh) is one hundred lashes for each party….If the act of lesbianism is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, [a] death sentence will be issued the fourth time…If two women not related by consanguinity stand naked under one cover without necessity, they will be punished to less than one hundred lashes.”
Stories, laws and practices in Iran point to some of the most egregious human rights violations based on sexuality. What is it that the LGBT community can do to bring these violations to light, to move our governments to respond? The US government has successfully whipped up so much anti-Muslim, anti-Arab hostility to justify the war on Iraq, that many Americans find it hard to distinguish among people from the Middle East. They think of all of them as enemies, just at a time when the most important thing we can do is to engage with Iranians who are committed to human rights—both LGBT and non-LGBT.
We must reach out to and work with our Iranian colleagues, both in the country and outside, and help move opinion leaders and international human rights experts to demand of Iran that it honor its commitments under international law to suspend use of the death penalty.
We need to engage world leaders to speak out against imposing the death penalty everywhere in the world in cases involving sexuality– whether consensual or not, since in either case, the punishment is certainly disproportionate to the crime.
President Ahmadinejad should have been among the first to receive this message last week at the UN. He did not. World leaders did agree last week, however, to create a new UN Human Rights Council. IGLHRC is calling for governments of the world to use this space so that a country like Iran can be called to account for its pattern of human rights violations.

Paula L. Ettelbrick is Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission