LGBTQI+ individuals in the Arab world have been facing oppression, harassment, societal judgment and a wide array of discriminatory laws for decades.
In many Arab countries, engaging in same-sex relationships can subject one to imprisonment. In more severe cases, they are faced with the death penalty.
Organizations, international and local, have been seeking change in the way such marginalized groups are treated.
Recently, Human Rights Watch - in collaboration with the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) - released a video series titled "No Longer Alone" featuring the stories of 18 Arab activists and artists from 10 different countries in the MENA region.
Those who took part in the series include Hamed Sinno, lead singer of Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila, Khalid Abdel Hadi, founder of the Jordan-based non-profit LGBTQI+ online magazine My Kali, alongside many others.
They describe their "journeys of self-acceptance" in the series, HRW said in a statement.
The main aim behind the videos is to "hear the voices of the LGBT community," said Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher at HRW, at a news conference in Beirut, in hopes of "sending a message that will reach the masses."
Since its founding in 2009, AFE aims to "encourage and support activists working for sexual and bodily rights and gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa."
"The video series offer messages of support and encouragement to LGBT people throughout the Arabic-speaking world"
"We don't want the image anymore of just being victims," said Zoheir, a gay activist from Algeria, according to the report.
"We want to speak about reality, speak about violence, but also to [show what is] positive."
The video series is accompanied with a 75-page report titled "Audacity in Adversity: LGBT Activism in the Middle East and North Africa," which details the many obstacles LGBTQI+ individuals encounter on a daily basis.
The report - which is based on interviews from 34 activists from 16 countries - also highlights the efforts that have been made to improve the status for the minority community.
"Religious figures, the government, your parents – they all want to have a say in what you do between your legs. I want to tell you it’s none of their business and that your body, your desires, and your ideas are yours alone. If they don’t like what you are, they are wrong," said Rima, a bisexual woman from Lebanon, according to HRW.
Videos detailing stories from LGBTQI+ activists in the region have been created previously by local organizations in MENA.
However, the mentioned video series is HRW's first time taking such an approach, Ghoshal explained during the press conference.
The rights organization tends to document "violations" against minority groups, rather than working directly with members of the LGBTQI+ community. In collaboration with AFE, which works directly with members of the LGBTQI+ community, they have successfully done so.
The two organizations reach varying audiences, as Georges Azzi, executive director at AFE explained to StepFeed.
HRW focuses heavily on the international community, whereas AFE targets local communities across MENA.
The collaboration aims to benefit from both audiences, in an effort to reach the masses.
Watch the full video here:
Arab countries: where do they stand on same-sex relations?
On Sept. 29, 2017, the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council resolution titled "The question of the death penalty" was passed.
The resolution saw 27 vote in favor, 13 against while seven abstained.
The United States was among the countries that voted against the resolution. Five Arab nations also voted no, and they include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar, and the UAE.
Where do they stand on same-sex relations?
While homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, according to The Guardian, police routinely arrest individuals using decades-old prostitution and debauchery laws.
According to media reports from earlier this year, Egyptian police have even been targeting gay men through hookup apps like Grindr.
In 2017, a number of individuals were arrested for raising a rainbow flag during a Mashrou' Leila concert in Cairo.
The country's Musicians syndicate also said it will ban the band - whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay - from performing in the country again.
United Arab Emirates:
Article 354 of the UAE Penal Code is pretty vague in its definition, however, it condemns "coercive sodomy or intercourse with a female."
The law can easily be amended to persecute those who engage in same-sex relationships.
The death penalty has never been carried out as a punishment for homosexuality or sodomy, according to The Independent.
In 2016, gender reassignment surgery was legalized, although the legality of changing one's gender on official documents is still unclear.
As per the country's interpretation of sharia law, a married man engaging in sodomy can be stoned to death, according to The Washington Post.
It doesn't stop there. Any non-Muslim who commits sodomy with a Muslim is also at risk. All sex outside of marriage is illegal.
In 1995, Saddam Hussein created a paramilitary group with an aim to identify, torture, and execute LGBTQI+ individuals.
The post-Saddam era saw the gay community organize a number of meet-ups in gay-friendly spaces, but attacks on the community drove LGBTQI+ individuals back to their shells.
While Iraq’s Penal Code does not directly criminalize same-sex intimacy, Article 394 criminalizes extra-marital sexual relations. That provision effectively criminalizes all same-sex relations, since the law does not provide for same-sex marriage, according to Human Rights Watch.
IraQueer - the country's only LGBTQI+ awareness organization - has been fighting oppression for years. It seeks to provide advice and safe houses for LGBTQI+ people who were disowned by their families.
Muslims in the country are subject to laws based on the country's interpretation of sharia, which calls for the death penalty for those engaging in extra-marital sex, regardless of sexual orientation.
A look at Lebanon
LGBTQI+ individuals in Lebanon are sometimes prosecuted under the controversial Article 534, which says sexual acts that "contradict the laws of nature" can be punished by up to one year in prison.
However, court rulings in recent years have challenged the use of the law.
In 2017, Lebanon hosted an LGBTQI+ Pride week, in what organizers called a "first".
The week-long event positioned itself as a "collaborative platform that takes a stance against hate and discrimination."
"For the first edition, we refused to work, to receive money and to collaborate with political parties and embassies. We even refused to host events at embassies and places that have a political leaning or that are somehow linked to politicians. We have also rejected corporate money, because at the end of the day, this is not a platform that needs money, it’s a platform that is funding itself," Hadi Damien, the organizer behind the event, told StepFeed at the time.
Tunisia has stood against anti-LGBTQI+ laws numerous times in recent years
In Tunisia, homosexuality is still punishable by up to three years in prison as depicted by Article 230 of the penal code.
In recent years, Tunisians have made it a point to ensure fair laws, safety, and most importantly, inclusion for the LGBTQI+ community in the country.
In September 2017, Tunisia’s Human Rights Minister, Mehdi Ben Gharbia, announced that members of the country's LGBTQI+ community will no longer be subjected to forced anal examinations.
Earlier this year, Tunisia launched its first-ever queer film festival titled "Mawjoudin Queen Film Festival," spanning four days, despite homosexuality still being a crime in the country.
In December 2017, an LGBTQI+ radio station titled "Radio Shams" stole international headlines after debuting in the country.
The network launched with an aim to combat opposition to LGBTQI+ rights in the country by creating a platform for the community's stories to be told.
To read more about the laws prohibiting or used to punish same-sex conduct in MENA, check out HRW's report here.