Showing posts with label Serbia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Serbia. Show all posts

September 19, 2018

In Serbia The PM is Lesbian But She's Been Told Not To March in With The LGBT in Pride

Serbian head of government at Belgrade's Pride, Belgrade, Serbia, September 2017Image copyright

Image captionAna Brnabic is the first gay head of government in a Balkan country
It's the only Balkan country to have an openly gay prime minister  so why are some of Serbia's LGBT activists determined to keep PM Ana Brnabic away from Gay Pride? 
When Ms Brnabic was appointed last year, hopes were high in the LGBT community: not only was she the first woman to head the Serbian cabinet, she was also the first LGBT politician to hold such high office in the Balkans.
She marched in the 2017 Pride parade in Belgrade, surrounded by posters reading "Ana is here," and took selfies with dozens of people. 
But one year on, progress is scant: LGBT rights have not improved, new laws are still far from being adopted and there has been no fall in the number of attacks on gay people.
In largely conservative Orthodox Christian Serbia, a candidate for EU membership, discrimination and violence against the LGBT community are widespread. 

Two gay Prides, one gay PM and no end to problems

Ahead of 2018 Pride, a group of activists disappointed with the slow pace of reforms launched a campaign called "Say no". Its main goal is to prevent politicians from attending Pride marches, as campaigners believe they have done little to strengthen LGBT rights.  
Ms Brnabic is the main focus of their campaign, because her "work on strengthening LGBT rights has been disappointing," said a statement from the organization behind the campaign, GLIC.
Anti-gay protestors surrounded by police at Belgrade Pride in 2014.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe first peaceful Belgrade Pride happened in 2014, but anti-gay protesters also took to the streets
Speaking at the 2017 parade, Ms Brnabic said that LGBT rights would be addressed only after important problems such as inflation, pensions and the standard of living had been resolved. 
"It was a scandalous statement," Predrag Azdejkovic, the head of GLIC, told the BBC. 
Unhappy with the efforts of other gay activists, Mr Azdejkovic started another parade in June. Its goal is to "bring the gay march back to ordinary people and away from politicians". 
"They say: 'You have a gay prime minister, two parades, you should be content'. But it's all just made up," said Mr Azdejkovic. 
For Serbia's LGBT community, everyday life is still marred by widespread homophobia: a survey by the regional ERA organization showed that every fifth gay couple in Belgrade gets rejected when trying to rent a flat.
The situation is even gloomier outside the capital, activists say.
The government has adopted the Law against Discrimination but cases rarely come to justice. Another survey done by ERA showed that 90% of people in Serbia are against giving LGBT couples the right to adopt, while about 70% are against gay couples inheriting a partner's belongings after death. 
Same-sex marriage is still illegal in Serbia.

Bleak history

Anti-gay protestors surrounded by police at Belgrade's pride, Belgrade, Serbia 2014.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionAround 100 people were injured when anti-gay protesters clashed with police during Belgrade Pride in 2010
Serbia's first Pride parade in 2001 ended in violence when hundreds of hooligans and extremists attacked a peaceful march despite a heavy police presence.
And in 2010, about 100 people were injured when that year's march was also attacked in central Belgrade. 
In the years that followed, the interior ministry refused security clearance for the parade to take place. Only in 2014 did the marchers return to the streets, again with considerable police presence.

Make-up and LGBT rights

Four years later, the LGBT flag welcomes visitors to the Pride Info Centre that opened its doors to the public in central Belgrade. 
"If we had opened the centre 10 years ago, I am sure it would have been demolished," said Goran Miletic from Civil Rights Defenders, the organizer of Belgrade Pride. 
"Some of the people passing by stop and comment. They say, 'faggots' and then they leave. That is a step forward — some people don't like what they see, but we are still here. It is a small, but a significant step forward."
belgrade pride 2017.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionFor Serbia's LGBT community, everyday life is still marred by wide-spread homophobia
Talking to Belgrade's Pride magazine, Ms Brnabic said that not supporting the gay march would be hypocritical.
"For me, this is a way to make an active contribution to dealing with stereotypes and prejudices," she said. 
For the organisers of Belgrade Pride, having the head of government in the front ranks is a way to show the LGBT community that the country is changing. 
"Politicians have to be part of the parade and send the message that 'gay is ok'," Mr Miletic told the BBC. 
There is gay and there is "me" first and gay if it fits where is going to help "me".
I learn a long time ago that because someone is LGBT does not mean they will serve the LGBT community. It applies to any human been in any political process. You have blacks who did not back reform on civil rights, they felt fine the way they were and did not want to rock the boat. Even during the Trump campaign Vs. Clinton in 2016 there was a commercial on cable in which you had this Guatemalan lady preaching how good Trump will be for immigrants. As it turned out she was one of the first one to be depoted because they knew where to find her, who she was and her papers were not in order. 
There was a councilman where I live and I came to his office asking for help in regard to a hate crime in which I needed a little back up to be taken seriously by the police. He never even called me to say I can't help, Im afraid of cops or love them too much or what ever. I got him once in from of a camera and reporters and he said hit had to do with cops and he didn't get involved. He didn't get anywhere as councilman and the party did not support him for any open position so he is running for judge now. That probably means he did a favor to someone in the party and that would be his pay out. 
The man is gay but would not qet get involved in gay hate crime which at the time just before the supreme court decision on Gay Marriage were coming out faster than gays.

June 21, 2017

The Appointment of a Lesbian PM in Serbia Tells More About the EU than for Serbia Advancing Gay Rights

Ana Brnabić; Photo: Tanjug/Tanja Valić
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has nominated Ana Brnabić as the country’s next Prime Minister. Brnabić, whose appointment is now largely a formality, will be Serbia’s first female and openly gay Prime Minister. Koen Slootmaeckers argues that while many observers outside the country have portrayed the appointment as a step forward for LGBT rights in Serbia, the decision says far more about Vučić’s attempts to advance the country’s EU accession process.
As the BBC put it, “Just a few years ago, the appointment would have been unthinkable. But EU hopeful Serbia can present it as proof of increasing tolerance.” And although the BBC remained cautious in its interpretation of the political meaning of the appointment, its local correspondent, Guy De Launey, argued that the symbolism of Brnabić’s appointment carries real weight. Whilst the EU has not yet formally commented on the developments, one can anticipate Serbia will be commended for their progress on LGBT rights. Indeed, already on Friday, the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, shared the news on its Facebook page as “Wonderful news from Serbia”. However, should we really consider the appointment as proof of the progress made in Serbia? When the appointment is placed in its full context, the answer is arguably no.The news that Serbia is set to have its first openly gay and female Prime Minister has generated a response from the global LGBT community and Western media that can best be described as ecstatic. As the news developed on the evening of 15 June, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were overwhelmed with people congratulating Serbia for this ‘historic’ appointment: a double first for the county. Many media outlets noted that given less than a decade ago the 2010 Pride parade in Serbia was marred by riots, the appointment of Ana Brnabić demonstrates remarkable progress for the country.
Tactical Europeanisation
I would not wish to claim that the appointment of an openly LGBT person as Prime Minister has no positive implications for LGBT people in Serbia. One can optimistically imagine, for instance, that it sends a message to LGBT people that they can make it professionally in Serbian society even if they are open about their sexuality. But it is important to be cautious with such interpretations, particularly if we are to take these political developments as proof of Serbia’s progress from a country where less than a decade ago LGBT people were beaten on the streets while organizing a pride parade.
Indeed, rather than taking this development at face value and considering it as a sign of Serbia’s progress in LGBT rights, the appointment of Brnabić is a continuation of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s politics of tactical Europeanisation. Under this approach, LGBT issues are used to speak to the EU’s self-proclaimed LGBT-friendly identity without engaging with LGBT issues domestically.
In the past, and again with the appointment of Brnabić, international observers have often responded to small improvements in LGBT rights with great enthusiasm, as if every small step taken in the Serbian context towards the protection of LGBT people represents a major shift in the country – moving from backwards and homophobic to modern and LGBT friendly. Such a superficial reading not only reifies a problematic East-West dichotomy but more importantly, it hides the underlying politics in which LGBT rights have been instrumentalised by the Serbian government to guarantee and advance Serbia’s progress in the EU accession process.
Indeed, the latest developments are merely a continuation of existing practices in Serbian politics regarding LGBT issues. My research on LGBT rights in Serbia has shown that advancements in the protection of LGBT rights are to be read against the context of Serbia’s EU accession process, as ‘homonationalist’ moves to demonstrate Europeanness without engaging with the lived experiences of LGBT people in Serbia.
The tactical use of LGBT rights becomes even more visible when one considers the Pride Parade events. When Pride reappeared in Belgrade in 2014, this was done with an eye on the political capital the government would gain by successfully protecting such events (as shown here and here). The return of Belgrade Pride is best understood as what can be labeled ‘tactical Europeanisation’, i.e. an act of compliance to communicate to the EU a readiness to Europeanise by aligning oneself with certain ‘European norms’. International observers have treated Pride as a litmus test for Europeanness and the protection of the 2014 and subsequent Belgrade Prides were aimed largely at advancing the EU accession process.For example, consider the anti-discrimination legislation which was adopted in 200as part of the EU visa liberalization process. 
Despite being in place for almost a decade, the implementation of the law remains minimal. Here, the lack of political engagement and will to stop the discrimination of LGBT people is a significant barrier to the implementation. My research has shown that the institutions which are responsible for protecting citizens from discrimination (the ombudsman and the commissioner for the protection of equality) often face indirect political pressure to speak out on the topic, but not to pursue politically sensitive cases. The country’s anti-discrimination strategy (2013) and action plan (2014) remain under-implemented and little is being done to improve court practices regarding anti-discrimination cases or to improve treatment of LGBT victims by police officers. Tackling the roots of hate crimes and discrimination remains a topic that is low on the political agenda.
This being the case, the uncritical engagement of international observers with Serbian LGBT politics has done a great deal of harm. While Serbia was widely commended by international observers for holding Pride events, the Pride parade itself has been ‘co-opted’ by the state, making it a ritual march void of local LGBT politics. Indeed, Vučić – who described Pride as a leisurely walk – used the event to emphasize the state’s (or his) power and sovereignty. The militarized nature of the Pride parade transformed it into a ‘Ghost Pride’, i.e. a state tolerated manifestation of Pride which takes place in a militarized ‘transparent closet’ that keeps LGBT people’s visibility strategies invisible and outside the public sphere.
A real step forward?
The appointment of Brnabić represents a similar instrumentalisation of LGBT issues to distract international observers from what is actually happening. Several elements of the recent developments suggest that the new PM might not have a significant impact on LGBT lives in Serbia. First, there is the fact that although Brnabić is appointed as Prime Minister, Vučić reportedly clarified that she would only lead the technical working of the government, while the current acting Prime Minister Ivica Dačić – known for his homophobic statements – is set to oversee the political workings of the new cabinet. Such a division of labor makes it relatively unlikely that the government will take tangible actions to improve LGBT people’s lived experiences. In fact, it is quite likely that Brnabić will become a shield for EU criticism on Serbia’s LGBT record. And in all likelihood, the EU will fall for it, as for how can one perceive a country with a gay Prime Minister to be homophobic?
Aside from the international politics underlying the appointment, there is little hope that the new Prime Minister will improve the lives of LGBT people in Serbia. Although she may be a suitable role model for the country’s LGBT population, it is doubtful whether she will have a significant impact on wider attitudes towards LGBT people. In fact, the comments made on Brnabić’s sexual orientation, both by herself and Vučić, might actually reinforce the commonly held opinion that any discussion of sexual orientation should be kept “within four walls”.
Consider, for example, the statements made when Brnabić was first appointed as a minister last year. At the time, Vučić said that he was only interested in her results and that “her personal choices” do not interest him. Similarly, she commented on the commotion around here sexuality by saying: “Hopefully this will blow over in three or four days, and then I won’t be known as the gay minister.” Although I do not want to claim that Brnabić’s sexual orientation should be made the central point of discussion, the constant displacement of it to the private sphere does not help in overcoming the stigma that exists in Serbia around LGBT issues.
Against this background, the appointment of Brnabić should be welcomed with some healthy skepticism and should not be taken as more than it is. It is a politically symbolic appointment, but we should wait for concrete achievements on the ground before we conclude that Serbia has made progress in protecting LGBT people. I would urge those observing Serbia from a distance (also those within the European institutions) to listen more closely to individuals who have been engaged in analyzing Serbia’s politics in greater detail. Indeed, many of those with greater proximity to the topic have argued that appointing Brnabić not only contributes to the further consolidation of Vučić’s semi-authoritarian power but also serves as a smoke screen to divert attention away from the increasing democratic backsliding within the country. Hopefully, the coming months and years will prove this skepticism wrong, but it is about time international observers realize that symbolic politics are just that, symbolic
Article by  Koen Slootmaeckers, originally published at LSE's EUROPP Blog. The original article can be found here.

June 16, 2017

Serbia Will Be Having its First Gay Prime Minister


The president of Serbia has nominated a gay woman to be his prime minister in a double first for the deeply conservative Balkan state.
Ana Brnabic was chosen by the new President, Aleksandar Vucic. Her approval by parliament will be largely a formality, as his party and its allies hold an overwhelming majority.
Just a few years ago, the appointment would have been unthinkable.
But EU hopeful Serbia can present it as proof of increasing tolerance. 
Ms. Brnabic is not only Serbia's first openly gay PM, but also the first woman in that post.
"I believe that Brnabic has professional and personal qualities to be prime minister," Mr Vucic told reporters, "and that along with other ministers she will work on improvement and progress of our Serbia."
He made no mention of her sexuality.

Evidence of profound change in attitudes to homosexuality?

The symbolism of the appointment is real, but it comes against a backdrop of ingrained and sustained antipathy towards homosexuality. It may be more of a harbinger of change than evidence that change has already occurred.
Police research in 2015 found that almost half its officers agreed with the statement "homosexuality is an illness that should be treated", reports the BBC's Guy De Launey in Belgrade. 
Even the leader of one of the smaller parties in the president's coalition, Dragan Markovic Palma of Unified Serbia, said Ms. Brnabic was "not my prime minister".
He was recently quoted as saying that the new prime minister "should be a family man who knows what children are".

So what do these hostile attitudes mean in practice?

They mean gay people face discrimination and threats to their physical safety. Belgrade's Gay Pride march was banned for three years in succession on grounds of public safety after far-right protesters attacked the event in 2010.
It was revived in 2014 amid huge security, including special forces and armored cars.
But since then, civil society organizations have reported that some individuals taking part have lost jobs as a result.
A banner referring to the upcoming gay pride parade is displayed amongst supporters of Partizan Belgrade FC, 17 September 2009.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionHostility to the 2010 gay pride march in Belgrade led to violence, after which the event was canceled for several years
An anti-gay Serb protester holds an Orthodox icon in front of riot police in the centre of Belgrade during the country's second ever Gay Pride march on 10 October 2010Image copyrightAFP
Image captionAdvances have been made to protect gay people under Serbian law, but homophobia remains rife

Why is Serbia socially conservative?

It is in the region as a whole, and then there is the influence of the Church - whether Orthodox in Serbia or Catholic in Croatia, our correspondent explains.
Church-affiliated campaigners in Croatia forced a referendum in 2013 which rejected same-sex marriage. A 2015 referendum in Slovenia failed in its bid to legalize same-sex marriage.
Far-right parties, which represent a small minority of people in Serbia, have suggested the new prime minister was not a home-grown choice but "the choice of the West".

That's an allusion to Serbia's EU ambitions. Are they right?

That's the cynical interpretation - that President Aleksandar Vucic is using Ms Brnabic's nomination to demonstrate Serbia's adoption of EU values in the hope that Brussels will overlook other shortcomings. 
But symbolism may carry weight, in this case, our correspondent says, and lead people to reassess their attitudes towards sexual orientation.
Another element is that Mr. Vucic may see Ms. Brnabic as a safe choice for prime minister - competent but without a party base - who will not be a threat to his own power.

What about Ms. Brnabic's qualifications for the role?

She joined the government last year, serving as the minister for public administration - one of the least enviable jobs in the government. 
Serbia's public sector includes many Yugoslav-era businesses, some in desperate straits, as well as a sizeable civil service. In office for less than a year, she was introducing an e-governance system designed to cut down on red tape and was behind the introduction of IT as a mandatory subject in schools, our correspondent says.
As a moderniser, she does seem well placed to continue the job of implementing the reforms needed for Serbia to gain accession to the EU - such as improving relations with Kosovo, reforming the judiciary, and promoting the rights of minorities - including the LGBT population. 

What does Ms. Brnabic say?

Since joining the government last year, Ms. Brnabic has tried to place the focus on her qualifications rather than her sexual orientation, asking: "Why does it matter?"
On accepting the nomination to become prime minister, she said she wanted to serve her country and would be working on goals "that are bigger and more important than all of us individually".
Nonetheless, her appointment was welcomed by Belgrade Pride organizer Goran Miletic, who told the Guardian that it "can only be a positive message". 
Ms. Brnabic will join a small number of gay prime ministers to lead governments in Europe, including Leo Varadkar in the Republic of Ireland and Xavier Bettel in Luxembourg.

August 9, 2016

Openly Gay Minister in Serbia, Thank You EU!

Minister Ana Brnabic 
Serbia's prime minister-designate said Monday that his new government will include an openly gay minister for the first time in the conservative Balkan country.

Aleksandar Vucic said his future Public Administration Minister Ana Brnabic does not hide her sexual orientation. He says he is aware it may draw public attention in a country where gays often face harassment.

"I am only interested in her results in the hard work that lies ahead," Vucic said, while announcing the composition of his new Cabinet. "She has exquisite energy and I am looking forward to working with her."

A gay rights group hailed Vucic's move, describing it as a "historic moment in Serbia and a huge step in building a society of equal chances." The Gay Straight Alliance group added that political inclusion of gay people is important for reducing discrimination and promoting tolerance.

Vucic's center-right government is expected to be voted into office by the end of this week, more than three months after the April 24 snap election.

Serbia has pledged to boost gay rights as it seeks to join the European Union. Gay marches in the past few years were held under police protection because of threats from extremists.



Thank You EU!

While Brexit has dominated the headlines since the UK’s referendum, other states continue to aspire to join the European Union and are presently working toward accession. Jim Fitzgerald writes on the EU’s efforts to promote equality law reform in Moldova, which signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014. He notes that although there has been substantial progress in establishing new legal protections, there still remains much to be done in implementing these new laws in practice. 
In the wake of the UK’s historic referendum decision in favour of leaving the EU, a great deal has been written about the economic impact – for both the UK and the EU – of Brexit. This overwhelming focus on Brexit and its fiscal implications is both inevitable and understandable, given the scale of the expected impacts, but ultimately, it can obscure the many other benefits of the EU to its member states and the wider world.
One such area of benefit is that of equality and non-discrimination. The EU has been a significant force for the advancement of equality within the EU’s member states. In the UK, for example, the first statutory prohibitions of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age in the UK were introduced in order to comply with the EU Employment Equality Directive. Likewise, the UK has also played a central role in expanding equality law in the EU: as William Hague and others pointed out during the referendum campaign “the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 inspired the European Union to adopt EU-wide measures to tackle workplace discrimination against disabled people”.
Even outside the EU member states, the EU has been arguably the biggest single driver of equality law reform in the world in the last decade. This is true both on the European continent, where the EU has insisted on reforms in its negotiations with countries seeking to associate or accede, and more broadly through its European Union Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, which supports projects to promote equality and combat discrimination across the globe.

March 25, 2015

Gay man in Serbia attached to Wheel Chair Still Carries Thousand of Viewers


 Nenad Mihailovic flouts Serbian taboo. He's openly gay in a notoriously macho culture. He uses a wheelchair in a society that shows little sympathy for the disabled. And he's a voice of liberal thinking in a nation where strong leaders have a tendency to quash dissent.
So it's perhaps surprising that Mihailovic has attracted tens of thousands of viewers to his independent talk show — in which he grills politicians, actors, pop stars and activists on such hot-button themes as gay adoption, same-sex marriages, government corruption and relations with Russia.
The program, filmed in his living room and broadcast on YouTube and local TV networks, has struck a chord in Serbia because many ordinary people feel increasingly starved of independent information and analysis, as the right-leaning government of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic seeks to sideline journalists who criticize his rule.
Mihailovic launched his unusual program out of revulsion over what he describes as overwhelming pro-government propaganda in Serbia's mainstream media. He turned his home into a TV studio in order to “ask the questions no one else would." 
Filmed by a small camera operated by his partner, Mihailovic has so far conducted around 20 interviews with public figures and celebrities in the "hot chair." They tackle issues ranging from politics and the economy, to gay rights, euthanasia, abortion and faith.
Since launching in mid-December, Mihailovic has won praise from liberals and threats of violence from right-wing viewers. The show follows a wider trend of news-hungry audiences turning online amid reports of official censorship in the main newspapers and television stations.
"There is no longer anything to hear on any of the television networks," Mihailovic told The Associated Press. "To say that the government is stifling the media would be putting things mildly."
Late last year, Nenad Mihailovic welcomed his first guest — popular Serbian actor Nikola Djuricko. Mihailovic, wearing a tuxedo and bow tie for the occasion, asked the actor to sit in a wheelchair like him: "So, is it comfortable?" Mihailovic asked. "Oh yes, seems it's a new model," Djuricko answered with good humor.
Several shows on, he invited right-wing activist Vladan Glisic to the program, grilling him on same-sex marriage and gay child adoption. When Glisic blasted the West and urged closer ties with Moscow, Mihailovic asked him if he was driving a Western-made car.
Glisic told the AP he felt the interview was a "media ambush." He said he accepted the invitation only because he wasn't aware Mihailovic was a gay activist.
Since then, a string of politicians has appeared on the show to face Mihailovic's relentless questioning about corruption scandals. They seem to feel it shows the Serbian people that they aren't afraid of being in the line of fire. But Mihailovic said some of them do complain later: "You pushed too hard."
Like many in Serbia, Mihailovic accuses Vucic, who won a sweeping election victory last year by promising Western-style reform, of carrying out a media clampdown in the style of the late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic.
Vucic vehemently denies that his government has exerted political and economic pressure on the media. But critics have cited several incidents of alleged muzzling, such as the detention of three men for online posts criticizing the government's handling of disastrous flooding. A leading political TV host has accused Vucic of personally orchestrating the removal of her talk show from the commercial B92 television network — once a beacon of Serbia's independent journalism under Milosevic.
Draza Petrovic, a journalist at the liberal Danas daily, said authorities have been using the mainstream media to push their own agenda and sideline opponents.
Petrovic appeared on "Personal View" weeks ago: "Those were the best questions I have ever heard from a TV interviewer, and I have met quite a few," she said. "I had to think hard before answering."
Opposition politician Goran Jesic also appeared on the program. He said he wanted to show support for Mihailovic and for online journalism — which he described as the only forum for opposition views.
"Of course there is censorship in Serbia," Jesic said. "It's worse than during Milosevic."
Depending on the guest, Mihailovic's interviews have attracted from several hundred to nearly 30,000 viewers online. The show also airs on two local television stations in central Serbia. It is ignored by national networks.
Mihailovic has received a deluge of hate mail from extremists. Some of the worst came after he pressed Glisic on gay marriage and adoption.
"I would cut people like this into pieces and throw them to cats," one viewer wrote. Another message said: "Kill, slaughter gays, so they no longer exist."
Mihailovic suffers from amyotrophia spinalis progressiva II, or SMA II, a progressive nervous system disease that wastes the muscles. A life-time wheelchair user, Mihailovic, 44, could never live without help. In his youth, Mihailovic could still move his hands, and his body looked "as if I would jump up and start to walk any second." As the illness progressed, Mihailovic's body became deformed and he lost almost all ability to move.
Still, Mihailovic says he has always lived as actively as possible, fighting passionately for minority rights in Serbia. He heads an association of disabled gays, and ran at an opposition list in last year's municipal election in Belgrade. He didn't make it into the city assembly.
Journalists should break the "barrier of fear," he said: "If I, in my condition, can do the job, why can't the others who are healthy?"
And in adversity, Mihailovic can still joke about being doubly stigmatized in Serbia for being gay and disabled.
"I am double-trouble," he said, a twinkle in his eye.           

September 29, 2014

Gay Pride in Serbia takes place No Violence

Social media—legitimately praised as democratic mobilizing tools in the Arab world—now are being used for major civil rights violations in Egypt. Authorities have taken to scouring the internet and social media in their crackdown on the country’s LGBT community. Six men were sentenced to two years in prison for advertising their apartment on Facebook as a place for men to engage in sexual acts; they were allegedly charging around $200 a night. This follows another recent high-profile case, in which eight men were put on trial for appearing in a YouTube video purportedly showing Egypt’s “first gay marriage,” on a small boat on the Nile.

Egyptian officials told BuzzFeed they are closely monitoring some social-media sites. While sexual relations between consenting same-sex adults (in private) are not illegal (pdf) in Egypt, other laws have recently been used to imprison gay men. The defendants in the video trial, for instance, were arrested for “inciting debauchery.”
As a result of the regime’s online snooping, Grindr, a smartphone hookup app, has issued a warning to all of its Egyptian users.

The LGBT community in Egypt has launched a Twitter campaignagainst the crackdown, with the hashtag #stopgjailinggays and #ضد_حبس_المثليين.
According to the ILGA state-sponsored homophobia report (pdf), only three (Jordan, Djibouti, and Bahrain) of the 22 countries of the Arab League deem homosexual acts legal. The rest categorize homosexual acts as illegal, and five (Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and parts of southern Somalia) punish them by death. In Iraq and the Gaza strip, matters are unclear as the penal codes have been undergoing multiple overhauls.

Human Rights Watch condemned Egyptian courts (pdf) for putting the eight men involved in the wedding video under medical examinations to “detect” homosexuality. Moreover, it is not uncommon for families to throw a gay son out of the house or send him to a psychiatrist for “fixing.”
A crackdown is underway across the region. A man in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 450 lashes and three years in jail for for allegedly being gay and tweeting about it. In Lebanon, where the thriving nightlife makes it easy to forget the illegality of gay acts, LGBT rights have been taking a step backward. Twenty-seven men were arrested at a public, Turkish-style bath for allegedly seeking “sexual encounters with other men.” That was followed by additional arrests targeting another public bath and a private home. As a result, Lebanese gay rights organizationshave been working to annul the penal code that has been used to target gay people. The crackdowns also extend to gender identity. Dubai, which prides itself in being the least conservative of Arab cities, jailed two men for wearing women’s clothes.

There’s little sign of relief. This past week, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, and Morocco voted against a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution against LGBT violence and discrimination.

But, rather than being a peripheral issue, LGBT rights are an important test of—and component of—any transition by Mideast regimes toward more progressive, less-controlling government. Brian Whitaker of Foreign Policy writes:
Attitudes towards gay rights are [...] an important measure of how far, or not, a society has moved from authoritarianism. Gay rights in the Middle East are not simply about gay people; they are intimately bound up with questions of personal liberty, the proper role of governments, and the influence of religion. Demands for gay rights add to the broader pressure for change and, conversely, progress in these other areas can ease the path towards gay rights.

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