This report accompanies a series of videos produced by Human Rights Watch and the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE). The videos feature individual activists reaching out in Arabic to LGBT people living in the Middle East and North Africa with messages of support.
The report provides context for the videos, highlighting and detailing the existence of movements that are making change in the face of significant obstacles, including criminalization of same-sex conduct (and, in a few countries, gender non-conformity), arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment, forced physical examinations, lack of gender recognition for transgender people, violence by state and non-state actors, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, family rejection and community stigma.
Activists in the countries that are the focus of this report must contend with state hostility, to varying degrees. Many governments in the region reject the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” altogether. Faced with official intransigence, some activists choose to work outside state structures: their activism focuses on communitybuilding and attitudinal change. Others have taken on their governments, successfully pushing for incremental change in various forms.
The report examines how LGBT activism survives under severe constraints, in repressive states and conflict zones, in places where activists risk social exclusion, prison sentences, and violence by security forces, armed groups, and their own families. It also highlights creative approaches used in less repressive contexts to gain public support.
Several LGBT activists from the Middle East and North Africa expressed frustration, in conversations with Human Rights Watch, at one-dimensional international media coverage portraying the region as a black hole for LGBT rights. Such coverage fails to recognize theagency of LGBT activists from the region, or renders them completely invisible. The report aims to capture the complexity of a movement that is opening doors for LGBT people in the region, even as some governments seek to slam those doors in their faces.
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.