Oh by the way, Arabs are fighting for LGBT rights too. Today's spotlight (and my current obsession): Al-Qaws, a Jerusalem-based organization promoting sexual and gender diversity in Palestinian society.
Haneen Maikey, the director of the organization, told the Electronic Intifada in May, "We want to start an honest conversation that can also raise... limitations and tough questions. It's not to be accepted, but rather to bring the society to a safe place that we can discuss these issues."
Considering Arab society's current stance on homosexuality, open discussion of LGBT rights seems like the best place for Al-Qaws to start. There is no doubt that there are homosexuals in the Arab world and that many even live openly. In some countries, same-sex activity is technically legal, though same-sex relationships are not recognized by the state. In other countries, homosexuality is punishable by death. No country, though, has legalized gay marriage.
Al-Qaws aims to fill the gap between what Palestinian society doesn't know about homosexuality and what it needs to. The organization does this by pushing four main goals:
1. Help build an well-established Palestinian LGBT community dedicated to activism
2. Destabilize social structures that reinforce gendered norms
3. Deepen social awareness and discourse
4. Help develop an alternative vision for sexual and gender identities, one rooted in Palestinian-specific culture and history
from Singing Sexuality
Al-Qaws's latest campaign is called "Ghanni A'an Taa'rif," or "Singing Sexuality," wherein Al-Qaws used music to incite discussion about LGBT rights. But that campaign is not just a musical platform aimed to educate young Palestinians. "Singing Sexuality" also includes written testimonials for youth to be inspired by, and well as photographs and even a few videos.
The campaign is still new, too new to judge its success, but all Al-Qaws's steps are steps in the right direction. And according to Safa Tamish, the director of Arab Forum for Sexuality, Education and Health, Palestine has seen major changes in the past few years.
“I think there has been a shift in peoples’ perception," Tamish said. "I’m not saying that Palestinian society is so pro-gay rights. I cannot say that, but I can say that it is more and more acceptable. The fact is that we know of many, many families that accepted their children.”
And may there be many more.
Al-Qaws hosts a "Palestinian Queer Party" each month. The next will be on August 23, 2013. Location: TBD, Israel. Find more details as they arise here.