Laws Against Gay Travelers In The Middle East?

Before I get too deep into this post, let me emphasize that I’m not a legal scholar (obviously), but rather am sharing my take on something I get a lot of questions about. Furthermore, I’m not making a moral judgment call here as to the ethics of traveling to countries with laws against homosexuality, and I intend to write a separate post about that.

My guess is that lots of people already know this, but it’s a question I get all the time (both from gay and straight readers), which is why I’m addressing it here.

Laws impacting gays in the Middle East

One reader asked me the following question recently:

I have always been wondering since your June trip on the cheep emirates first class fare how you and Ford can travel to bad places that ban being gay and you don’t get thrown in jail I don’t mean to be rude but it fascinates me and i would love to know?

For someone who isn’t gay, hasn’t traveled to these countries, and/or hasn’t put much thought into it, this is a reasonable question. And it’s not an isolated question. I also get asked all the time “aren’t you scared of being thrown in jail in these countries for being gay?”

The reality — and I’m painting with a broad brush here — is that in most of the major Gulf countries that are visited by foreigners (Oman, Qatar, the UAE, etc.), being gay isn’t illegal. That’s to say that having gay “thoughts” or identifying as gay typically doesn’t violate any laws. When you arrive at immigration, they don’t ask you if you identify if you’re gay or not, and there’s no “gaydar” you have to go through to enter the country (rather I’m the one with the gaydar).

What’s often not legal in these countries is one of two things:

  • Any sort of extra-marital sexual activity, whether gay or straight
  • Free speech, so there may be laws against what they could view as “propaganda” (anything not in line with their agenda)

The biggest risk with traveling to some of these countries

Generally speaking I think the biggest risk with traveling to countries like the UAE (for example) is the inconsistent enforcement of laws, and often how open-ended they are.

For example, cussing by text is illegal in the UAE. 99.9999% of the time that’s not an issue. 0.0001% of the time it’s a serious issue and you’re thrown in jail. Furthermore, saying nice things about Qatar is illegal. So does saying nice things about Qatar Airways’ Qsuites while in the UAE mean I could get jailed?

In general I think the bigger concern is the inconsistent enforcement of laws that impact everyone, laws that are violated by a huge number of visitors every single day.

My comfort zone

Everyone has to stay within their comfort zone when traveling. Personally when traveling through the UAE, Qatar, Oman, etc., where do I draw the line with things?

  • I have no problem adding Ford is my partner (it’s not illegal to have a legally recognized relationship with someone else in another country), though if people ask if we’re friends I usually just say yes
  • I have no problem booking a room with a king bed, assuming I’m staying at a major international hotel chain (I often do the same thing when traveling with one of my parents, for example, since often a suite upgrade is only available with a single bed)
  • I don’t show any sort of PDA (I don’t do that in any country, because it’s not something I’m comfortable with)

And that’s about it. Otherwise it’s business as usual for me.

Bottom line

Let me acknowledge once again that I’m being very broad here. I say “Middle East,” but obviously I’m not talking about Israel, which has one of the biggest pride parades in the world. Similarly, I acknowledge there’s a huge difference between Iran and the UAE, for example.

This is intended to be a mainstream observation for traveling through the major Gulf hubs, which is the context in which I get these questions most often.

But overall if traveling through a major Gulf hub and visiting a city, you generally shouldn’t face many issues as a gay traveler. Just understand the local customs, and I think the thing to be most concerned about is the inconsistent application of laws.

Comments

  1. My partner and I have been to several middle eastern countries (including Iran) and we didn’t have any problem there. When someone asks about our relationship, we tell them we are friends (which isn’t a lie.) The only place we would love to visit, but won’t because of their anti gay politics, is Tanzania. We would love to visit Zanzibar, but we heard many very negative stories, also affecting tourists.

  2. well said and in actuality proper decorum in public is essential while traveling in the Middle East and to an extent others as well. Public PDA in the Middle East straight or gay is ill advised.

    Not sure that in many western countries many people “turn their heads” these days.

    Safe Travels

  3. Let me first say as a writer of a gay travel blog myself, I fundamentally disagree of your characterisation of various countries in the Middle East.

    The laws in a lot of these countries are utterly opposed to the LGBT+ community so much so that even existing is potentially punishable by death in some.

    To spend our money and to publicise these destinations as being worth visiting, validates their governments’ positions and legitimises their discrimination.

    Further, I’d be very careful about saying the Middle East is fine to visit. Many countries are. However I used to work for one a global consulting firm who had a very supportive and active LGBT+ employee network. Our HR teams were also very engaged, so much so they commissioned an external firm to do travel advice for LGBT+ employees. Places like Saudi Arabia were banned for travel as the firm simply couldn’t guarantee employees basic safety.

  4. Really nice post! I’m sure you answered many readers questions. I’m not really aware of the specifics so this was really interesting for me.

    One question though, what’s a “gaydar”?

  5. Since one can only assume that this post because you are trying to justify to yourself your enthusiasm for Saudi, which you have been getting criticized for from your community.

    There is the middle east (Qatar, UAE, etc) and then there is Saudi.
    A completely different animial.

  6. I think you make a logical mistake by conflating the minor crime of texting dirty words with the “crime” of being homosexual, which in many places in the middle east carries the death penalty. It would also be a mistake to conflate these illiberal countries with places where there are unenforced laws on the books, like Singapore, but where gay people can live their lives freely and openly without fear.

    The concern should be that gay people can easily be assumed to be guilty whether you violate these laws or not, and they provide a useful pretext if somebody in authority wants to ruin your life — and the prejudices on which these laws are based provide the impetus for such a person in authority to want to do so.

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to these places — although I find the idea of gay couples (or anybody) going to repressive places like the Maldives where ordinary people would be killed for trying to live similarly to be confounding — but only that you shouldn’t be so casual about what is at stake. People go to a place like Dubai and think that they are in a liberal modern society, but be assured that this is just a facade and you are exposing yourself to real unpleasantness, and in places like Iran/Maldives/Saudi Arabia real danger.

  7. As a gay man, your post saddens me.

    Staying in major international hotel chains and flying first class on reward tickets highlights the degree of impunity some people can enjoy as a foreigner, which is a privilege to appreciate.

    Your post, however, does not convey any compassion for, or even mere interest in, the LGBT people who are born in these countries and who live there.

    It is essential to acknowledge the pervasive pressures they face to hide or to convert their immutable characteristics. As international travelers we can manage our comfort zones. On the other hand local people face constant risks of discrimination, violence, or prison or death sentences because of who they naturally are and who they love.

    Enjoy the Ritz Carlton if you want to, but recognize the lives of other people as well.

  8. Wie! I understand you’re not gay yourself. Then this piece is pretty remarkable. I’d agree with all of your points, especially the inconsistency. Basically, as long as nothing is obvious or you’re not seen doing or saying anything inappropriate/illegal, you’re fine. Note also that in some countries (Bahrain and of course Israel) acting’s upon one’s bring gay is legal if not accepted.

    One addition I’d like to make is that, when meeting get locals, we always act in a manner such that protects us and especially them. The odds that the local acquaintance will face harsh punishment and we as foreigners would leave pretty much intact are quite hot in many Muslim countries (not just Middle East).

  9. We (a gay couple from Europe/Asia) were asked ‘If it’s not a problem to share a bed in the Muscat Airport lounge’…..

  10. The „rule of law“ is one of the most important achievements of civilization. But that milestone of civilization simply does not exist in these countries, so, Lucky, I actually think “inconsistent application of laws“ is a bit euphemistic.
    Bottom line is, you have no rights in these countries and you are potentially subject to arbitrary accusations with no chance to defend yourself.
    Chances that you will ever get in trouble are very slim of course. But if it happens, you will be completely helpless and even if you are 100% innocent, what you may experience there could ruin your life forever.

    They don’t care for human rights, they don’t care for the rule of law. If you happen to piss off the wrong Emirati, your fate can be sealed.

    I have changed my views about travelling there after reading in depth about some unlucky Westerners and even though I have been in these countries myself several times without any problems, enjoying the luxuries of Emirates first class etc., I will no longer take that risk.

  11. @LANflyer –

    Don’t think the KSA has a gay scene? Try walking down Jeddah’s corniche on a pleasant spring night.

    It’s fashionable to say “Oh, I would never dream of going to the Middle East! Haven’t you heard, dear? They throw gay people off of rooftops!”

    The truth? There are gay Emiratis, gay Saudis, gay Iranians. You will see them in the gyms, in the cafes, in the shops of Dubai, Doha, Riyadh and Tehran. And there are many openly gay residents from Western countries who live and work in the GCC without any problems. I was one of them for eleven years. Discretion is paramount, but that goes for a lot of things in the GCC.

    Strange that the pompous “How can you go to the Middle East!!” crowd remains largely silent over the far more venomously homophobic attitudes of the Caribbean nations. I felt far more uncomfortable in Jamaica and St Lucia than I ever did in the KSA.

  12. @ Jon — I have serious concern with that, of course. But this post is specifically to address those who are concerned about facing punishment for being gay (and as I emphasized in the post several times, this post was more based on my firsthand experience in the UAE, Qatar, and Oman — I can’t form an opinion on Saudi Arabia yet).

  13. @ Mak — While people like to talk about how it’s punishable by death, how many people have received the death penalty in the UAE for being gay? All my research suggests the answer is zero.

  14. @ LANflyer — Quite to the contrary, this post isn’t about Saudi Arabia at all, since I can’t form an opinion on that. It has been a post that has been on my list for quite a while, and is specific to the countries in the Middle East that I have visited.

  15. @ David Cohen — I think I made it pretty clear in my post that I wasn’t making a moral justification for visiting these countries. Rather I get asked all the time from travelers about traveling through the UAE, etc., and that’s what I’m addressing here. This is a valid concern for gay people to have when traveling, as many people are just looking to connect in these countries to get the cheapest airfare.

  16. While this post is useful in addressing lucky’s personal situation for those who are personally curiou about him, I think it’s incredibly misleading about the challenges facing gay and lesbian people who want to visit the UAE or many other coutries—and it borders on insensitive to the significant fraction of the gay community that (unlike lucky) faces real risks in visiting these countries.

    It is absolutely false to suggest that the only criminal law affecting gays are general laws restricting free speech or banning “extra-martial” relations. Quite the contrary, Article 354 of the UAE Federal Penal Code states: “Whoever commits rape on a female or sodomy with a male shall be punished by death.” This puts gay sex in an entirely different category than heterosexual sex before marriage, which is illegal but punishable by *at most* 3-6 months in jail or deportation.

    Perhaps for gay people in a committed relationship like lucky is (and with no interest in meeting other gays), visiting UAE is “business as usual.” This has not been my experience at all. I’m interested in meeting other gay people when I visit foreign countries and learning about the gay life. In UAE, this is practically impossible because there are police raids through gay apps where gay individuals are actually arrested. There are no gay bars (the cloest thing that exists is a bar frequently by flight attendents, where some foreign flight attendants on layovers might be willing to talk to gay people, but no local gays can be found).

    I really think it is incredibly irresponsible to suggest to people that everything’s fine for gay travellers in the UAE. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hope this blog will consider publishing a perspective from other gay travellers who can highlight the pervasive discrimination that many feel when visiting the UAE.

  17. Very good article! You MUST go to Tel Aviv for Pride Week. It’s incredible, and you and Ford will really enjoy it!

  18. @ John — I don’t think that’s a completely fair quote of Article 354, unless I’m missing something. Looking at the government website with the penal code directly, here’s what Article 354 says:
    “Without prejudice to the provisions of the law on juvenile delinquents and displaced(1), shall be sentenced to death penalty, whoever used coercion in having sexual intercourse with a female or sodomy with a male. Coercion shall be considered existent if the victim is below fourteen years of age when the crime is perpetrated.”
    https://www.adjd.gov.ae/sites/Authoring/AR/ELibrary%20Books/E-Library/PDFs/Penal%20Code.pdf

    There’s debate as to what exactly is meant with that quote, because it’s ambiguous. Does the “coercion” part apply just to the sexual intercourse with a female part, or also to the sodomy with a male part? My interpretation is the former, though I think it’s fair to interpret it as the latter, I guess. But I don’t think your quote above paints the full picture.

  19. What’s generally accepted and quite common, however, in the middle east are holding hands between two men out in public. I’ve seen this a lot in Egypt, Oman, Iran, etc. amongst men (regardless of orientation) and it’s totally ok.

  20. Ah I forgot to write as first sentence that homosexual acts (sexual intercourse) is illegal in those countries but holding hands amongst men is totally ok and quite common.

  21. @Lucky — While there is some dispute over the correct English transaction of the Arabic text, most interpret the provision as prohibiting rape and consensual sodomy. There are in fact several cases in which people have been prosecuted for consensual sodomy, so the court system in the UAE interprets even consensual sodomy as illegal. The actual punishment imposed is usually a jail sentence (sometimes a jail sentence of several years), not death, but that is still unacceptable. By contrast, no real punishment is applied in cases of extra-marital sex.

    Moreover, I find your statement, to @mak, borderline offensive. The idea that the absence of literal executions of gays means that everything is OK is absurd. In addition to the numerous incidents where gays and lesbians have actually been jailed by authorities in UAE for consensual same-sex conduct, the US State Department has reported that “the government subjected persons against their will to psychological treatment and counseling for consensual same-sex activity.” There are reports that this extends to tourists as well, with a lesbian couple being jailed for one month in 2008 for holding hands on the beach. A Belgian man was sentenced to a six-month jail sentence for a same-sex relationship. Trans foreigners are also subject to additional police harassment, and many have been called before public prosecutors for “cross-dressing,” which is illegal.

    It’s just offensive and ignorant to suggest that your experience staying at top five-star hotels as a privileged white gay man means that everything’s OK for gays and lesbians who want to visit these countries (let alone the gays and lesbians who live there). This post is extremely problematic and should be amended to give voice to alternative perspectives.

  22. “If the Saudis are killing reporters, do you think they care about gays?”

    Not just killing a reporter at their consulate in Istanbul (which is in Europe and not the Mideast), but reportedly per multiple credible international news organizations chopping up his body and sending it out of Turkey in diplomatic cargo to cover up this crime.

    Chilling.

    But hey, America wants their oil.

  23. Pretty soon there will be laws against gays in the USA with the conservative takeover of all the branches of the government.

    I like that you are very apolitical and focused on the bottom line in your blog. Your bottom line.

  24. Lucky, you need to clarify a few things, otherwise your post is very misleading and potentially dangerous, might even have legal consequences if someone follows your advice and gets into trouble. I have lived in one of these countries over 6 years now, so I know the situation very well. Let me give three points I can immediately notice.
    1. You are visiting as a couple. As someone mentioned earlier, if you are not looking to meet other people, it is probably fine. Next time you visit one of these countries, try to talk to non-western person, potentially an arab, from a gay app. You will see a very different picture here. First, you will realize how much pressure these people are getting and how hard they try to hide their identity (real name, face pictures etc), Second, the hostility and caution. It is how people protect themselves, from being found out by friends or police. You might not believe it but there are police raids on these apps. I have been told many times “I am not a police, don’t worry”. You probably will never hear this on a gay dating app elsewhere. Third, if you piss off someone and if that someone knows you are gay, they can report you to the authorities. They can arrest you and however you interpret the law, it is the common understanding (of the police and courts) gay sex is illegal, just like back in the days in the US. Furthermore, Koran specifically states it is a sin, one of the worst ones, so the law follows. I have been with a guy from police a few times but we stopped seeing each other because he asked for money. But when he got angry, he said “we will catch you because what you do is illegal”. We is police here, what I do is gay sex. Well, I have reasoned him out because I never delete messages and he did the illegal thing with me but just an example how people think…
    2. Now I agree with you on inconsistencies of enforcement. As a white man, you will probably have much less problem in these countries because they don’t want to enforce the laws that are not in line with western laws and values for westerners. Do you know how much discrimination and mistreatment goes on in these countries based on race and nationality? White men probably don’t understand it well because of their status but these countries don’t mind putting a filipino, indian or african into prison for tiny things. That is how lower-level law enforcement people act and think. Not just them, the majority actually. You see it everywhere. Also for higher level it is because usually those won’t cause any diplomatic issues. But having issues with western citizens get media attentions immediately and causes diplomatic issues. So they avoid it.
    3. Even if you are with your partner, still making love in hotel room is potentially illegal. If you piss off someone on street or just by driving they can really screw you up. Many people in the region do not know how to let things go. They hold grudges and do stupid things to cause you troubles. Of course, the likelihood of pissing off someone in a few days is rather slim but I have seen many cases in my 6 years here.
    But once you know what you have to be careful, the likelihood is small but everyone with gay tendency here lives under pressure all the time. Constant worries when it comes to that kind of affair in bed. Yet, we still need it.

  25. I went there with the US Army 28 years ago as a female soldier in the First Gulf War and I haven’t forgotten the general oppression of women, even though I was sheltered within my Army unit, protected from Saudi laws and society. I certainly have no desire to go back there and I find it odd that given their draconian treatment of gays and women that any freedom loving person would want to go there and spend money, ostensibly supporting such practices.

  26. Every time I travel I feel the need to familiarise myself with local laws on this issue. It’s, necessary, exhausting and something straight people usually don’t appreciate.

    However, I couldn’t move past the fact you sometimes share a bed with a parent

  27. I get the point Lucky is trying to make. If you basically don’t do PDAs or wave rainbow flags in public, you will be fine. Not sure why all these people have holier than thou attitude about I won’t go there because local gays are being harassed etc etc. That’s nice for you. Last time I checked, this article is not about how locals are being harassed and how they lack gay rights. Stick with the topic at hand people. If you have been to Middle East as a gay men/ women or a gay/ lesbian couple and was prosecuted even though you didn’t do PDAs or wave rainbow flags in public, then share your experience.

  28. It’s ironic that Americans will sit there behind their keyboards and pass judgement on supposedly “backwards” countries and their treatment of the LGBT community. Take a look in the mirror girlfriend. As a gay man, I feel much less safe in a place like Alabama than I do in Doha and Dubai. Clean up your own back yard before you go spouting off about other countries. Your country is a mess — from the homophobic idiot running your country down to the backward dumbass rednecks who voted for him by the millions.

  29. Hmmmm let’s see.
    In the last 6 years as a 50 yo homo I have been to
    Mauritania
    Tunisia
    Morocco
    Algeria
    Eritera
    Ethiopia
    Uzbekistan
    Iran
    Algeria again
    Oman
    Attempted Yemen but no go
    Northern iraq Kurdistan
    And Jordan for the 3rd time
    And I’m still alive.
    Have had great experiences and lots of memories.
    The next 5 years look out as it gets more extreme.
    Am I worried , the answer is no.
    I’m discreet.
    Yet, I have had a few sexual encounters it’s something I don’t go looking for, but rather it comes to you.
    @David Cohen your full of Crap!
    There is so much to see and experience why sit at home thinking about these places when it’s perfectly ok to travel but you don’t arrive looking like a gay Mardi gra participant.

    Immerse yourself in the culture and you will be pleasantly surprised.

  30. An interesting debate.

    For those opposed to a gay man going to The Middle East:
    What are your thoughts on Jamaica?

    If you are against the Middle East, then you should be against Jamaica, where gays are routinely beaten and harassed and even murdered.

    I personally will not visit places like the ME, Jamaica, or parts of Africa due to this type of issue. But I’ve found it interesting the pass that Jamaica gets compared to the ME

    In the end, Lucky has little to worry about since he isn’t really visiting the “real” KSA. He will be sheltered in 5 star hotels surrounded by a bubble of luxury
    (Not judging just commenting)

    But I would not advertise the relationship with Saudis on the street, even a casual comment. You and Ford are friends. Nothing more. Period.
    (Until you leave)

    Good luck!

  31. “America needs their oil” regarding Saudi relations is false. Very little of US oil comes from Saudi. Our oil comes from Canada and Mexico mostly. It’s the Europeans who rely on Saudi oil.

  32. It’s probably worth pointing out that even in Singapore it’s still illegal to be gay, and until recently, it was in India as well. The Middle East is hardly alone in discrimination. They also aren’t alone in the brutal way they treat gay people; Uganda executes gay people the same as Saudi Arabia does.

    As a gay traveler, I remain aware of local laws, and try to respect local culture. I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit Saudi Arabia any more than I would Alabama; I have significant political differences with both places, and neither are particularly beautiful or have many interesting things to visit.

  33. @Lucky – you said “I think I made it pretty clear in my post that I wasn’t making a moral justification for visiting these countries”. But that’s the fundamental problem with the post, you’re attempting to ignore the moral issues about a topic which is about morality. Actually, it’s about fundamental human rights, but calling it morality will suffice. Countries like Saudi Arabia have decided that we’re amoral and shouldn’t exist.

    Rather than go, “pretend to be straight” which is basically what you’re saying, surely you should use this platform to educate and support and highlight these gross breaches of human rights?

  34. Since my partner of 32 years is a Saudi National working in Saudi, I have socially met many local gay men in Saudi and Bahrain. To my knowledge, they are out to their families and work colleagues. One Bahraini is married to a Brit and they built a house together and live there, and another (in the Saudi military} is partnered many years to an American expat, and they live together, etc. I’m not saying that they fly the gay flags from their rooftops, but they are not exactly living secret lives. Another gay Bahraini friend even announced it to his office staff after his wife kicked him out, and everyone just sort of yawned and went back to doing their work. LOL

  35. I think you are a bit inaccurate, the only countries where being gay is not prohibited in ME are:
    Lebanon
    Jordan
    Israel and surprisingly Bahrain!!!
    In UAE and Qatar sure It is, and even un superfriendly Oman.. Refer to ILGA association for proper información.
    Raids against gays are usual in these countries, even in buzzling Beyrouth there are raids, obviously against the poor sirían gay refugees.
    About other tópic , It seems that a saudi reporter had disappeared un istanbul consulares and chopped into pieces…
    Lastly even with all your points in these countries you are definetely haram…

  36. @derek glass: You’re joking me. Honestly. As a heterosexual 55-year-old man with a gay mother I can assure you that this is so not the case. I can remember growing up in the 70s with a gay mother like it was yesterday. Absolutely not even close to being what it is today .
    Isolated incidents of hatred? Of course. However this country has come leaps and bounds In the acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality. And rightfully so. At the end of the day who really cares? Do no harm……

    Oh and for what it’s worth go to Birmingham as a gay man/woman. No. One. Cares.

  37. @davidcohen
    Please don’t start on the moral issues regarding luckys travels just look at Israel and it’s continued punishment of Palestine.
    Sorry to get politic folks!

  38. There exists gay hatred in every corner of the world. It doesnt matter where you are, it exists.
    Algeria to Alabama. There are plenty of places in America that I have no interest in visiting because I value my life.
    If your a decent human being and treat people respectfully and follow local laws then there is no problem in visiting these countries.
    For any adventurous lgbt people out there be adventurous yet discreet and go for it!

  39. Ben,

    While I like you I feel you are a terrible hypocrite. You want to be all things to all people, but in the real world it just doesn’t work that way. In the end you just alienate everybody.

    In most of the Muslim countries that you fawn over they’d gladly throw you and your boyfriend/husband off the nearest roof. And you’re okay with that. Okay, good for you. It’s basically self-hatred but maybe you need a psychologist to explain it to you. I feel sorry for you and for your delusion.

    I wish you all the best but maybe you’d do well to see a psychiatrist specializing in self-hatred.

  40. @Jon Not wanting to detail the discussion but America most certainly needs Saudi oil, even if very little of it ends up in the US. Oil is a global market and the loss of Saudi production would send global prices through the roof and US gas prices through the stratosphere. Look at what happens every time Saudi or one of the other big producers varies their output.

  41. @David Cohen – I am an LGBT traveler who has been to nearly every country in the middle east, including all of the GCC. The name of the game is to be discreet and don’t go walking down main street in leather pants and a pink top. Not all LGBT travelers are created equally. Some are more ‘obvious’ than others. I am on the ‘not obvious’ side of the spectrum, but I can understand how there may well be a large portion of travelers who are on the ‘very obvious’ side, and for some of them, I agree that it may not be safe for them to travel certain places. But I think the point of this blog and of Ben’s post was to educate people to make their own decisions. We should always do our own research before traveling anywhere. One of the first things that we learn as travelers is that the views of the government are not always (and in some cases are rarely) the views of the people. Does some of your money end up supporting a regime that you don’t politically agree with? Sadly, yes. But I think the larger point is that travel is much bigger and much more rewarding than that. To make a blanket statement that we should just not travel to these places is to me, a little ignorant and irresponsible. The opportunity we have to interact with people whose views we may not agree with, or to volunteer and help people in need, or to learn something about a culture that we may not understand because we haven’t yet been given the opportunity to understand, these are all much more important to me, and it would be a shame to lose that over making a political statement.

  42. I lived in Abu Dhabi for a year and thought it was the gayest place I ever lived. It was great. Just be careful and there are no issues. The ex-pat scene is gay friendly accepting, and locals don’t care. If you haven’t been and you don’t experience it then you’re just opining based on stereotypes. The reality is very different.

  43. @Pepe: I am curious about your comment about Zanzibar – could you elaborate? My partner and I have always wanted to visit – it probably wouldn’t stop us but be good to be aware of what kind of thing we would be up against.

  44. On Oman: I know a lot of gay people who have been there – particularly older gay couples and have not had a problem. Whilst it is technically illegal, it is almost never enforced. A lot of people have put this down to the fact that Sultan Qaboos is most likely gay although not open about it, and as result had a more lax attitude to gay people to the point that it is quietly tolerated…

  45. I will say a lot of rhetoric here is reflective of the environment and atmosphere of the world we live in – to say it is an atmosphere of islamophobia.

    As someone above pointed out, some of the most homophobic regimes aren’t even middle eastern or muslim majority countries, such as Jamaica, yet it wouldn’t even cross few peoples minds to to this majority Christian nation. One of the most homophobic countries in the world is Uganda – again another Christian majority nation…

  46. Do you worry at all about your blog being a source of these countries “knowing” you’re gay and more or less trapping you?
    Like it would just take one opportunist working at EK to look up your flights, find your layover, and report you to some ultra-conservative.

    Just curious if that crossed your mind!

  47. It will be a totally different story if you are transgender, like myself. At least you still can disguise as a ‘straight’ guy everywhere you go. As much as possible , I try not to visit, or transiting in middle eastern countries. This article is not a true representation of a LGBTQ community.

  48. The title of the article is a bit misleading. There aren’t really any laws against any travelers in the broad sense. If a country has an issue with someone trying to enter their country they can refuse to issue a visa or block entry upon arrival. Its one’s conduct within a country that is what matters. As grotesque as many countries laws are they are their laws and to be followed when visiting. It’s up to each individual traveler to decide if they want to financially support thru their travel dollars that country. Travel to countries like Saudi Arabia help expose their people to other cultures and ideas and can only benefit that country in the long run. But travel should not be to advocate certain social or religious issues IF one wants to not run afoul with certain governments.

  49. If the UAE (which I’ve been to numerous times) is so cosmopolitan I wonder what would happen if you actually declared to customs on arrival that you’re a homosexual. Since it’s such a cosmopolitan place, I’m sure nothing would happen. Same goes for Saudi Arabia now that they’re opening up tourism to the country.

    You should give it a shot and write a report for all of us so we know how tolerant Muslim countries are towards homosexuals.

  50. Wow – an excellent discussion even though sometimes hyper-ventilated. Here’s my view for whatever it is worth far down on the thread: I’ve traveled to 48 of the 55 African countries for about 40 years, lived in 2 of them for 7 years and am comfortably gay (although I dislike these sexual categories). I have close African friends whose sexuality runs the gambit from hetero to 100% homo, and a lot in between. As has been mentioned numerous times, discretion is the key to living and traveling comfortably anywhere What isn’t mentioned is that discretion is in all these countries, a norm for everyone. Married couples in many countries, especially where Islam is practiced, rarely show affection publicly to each other. Ditto for Christian countries. In both, there is an understanding of what is appropriate public and private behavior – which is fundamentally different from North America. It has nothing to do with sexuality – no more than two men holding hands in many of these countries. In most African countries, and many in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Iran perhaps excepted), the homophobic behavior comes from families and society, less so from governments, so the laws on the books are far less significant than cultural norms. No sub-Saharan African country has executed a person for a “gay” crime – just to be clear about the facts. Also, as a U.S. citizen, I notice how often U.S. gay commentators look at “other” countries as so different from their own. Lest we forget, 12 U.S. states have NEVER revoked their anti-sodomy laws (since the 2003 Supreme Ct decision making them unenforceable), and guess what? With a heavily conservative SC, it is very possible that these laws could be enforceable again. The reality is that from my observations in more than 50 countries, same sex behavior is everywhere regardless of laws or religious hyperbole, and that includes Mauritania where I lived and Senegal where I live part of the year today. It is a diversion in the discussion about whether we “should” visit countries that are homophobic – what about female genital cutting? Do we not visit countries where this practice exists? what about gross gender-based regulations, overt animal abuse, child abuse and abandonment – the list goes on, and we have all of these ills in the U.S. as well, some condoned by government. Thanks for “listening.” BTW, no problem visiting Zanzibar – I’ve been there three times in the last few years.

  51. I would not recommend gay or straight travel to most of the Middle East countries. Have you already forgot about the British woman that was arrested with her child this summer for entering Dubai after she drank one glass of wine on the plane. What about the British man arrested last fall in Dubai after he brushed up against another man in a crowded bar. You may have been lucky so far but laws are laws and if you just upset one person in authority you could end up in jail in a country that does not believe in basic human rights.

    It’s amazing people will boycott Chick-fil-A because they do not like where the owners donate their money but endorse travel to countries that do not have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, no democracy, no rights for women, no rights for anyone except the dictators who rule.

  52. Part of the problem here is that OMAAT, I think by design, addresses issues of politics and human rights as superficially as possible, and only inasmuch as they relate to miles & points. And that’s fine—I doubt anyone comes here to develop or refine a worldview, with all due respect.

    Which is why posts like this are ultimately futile. They make Lucky appear more oblivious and out-of-touch than he actually is to the more progressive readers of the blog; right-wingers will be irritated by what they see as pandering or political correctness. Haters gon’ hate; you should just keep doing what you do, Lucky, and allow your readers to make their own judgments.

    To be sure, as travelers (and consumers of travel content) we have a responsibility not so much to pre-judge places and things based on our existing worldview, but to allow our perspective to evolve based on our experiences. I went to Iran last year, for example, and wrote about it in very personal and frank—and, I hope, balanced—terms, including my awareness of the situation for local people and my empathy toward them: https://leaveyourdailyhell.com/2017/10/18/the-truth-about-iran/

  53. Lucky while I understand your stance on being gay and travelling to these middle eastern countries but Saudi Arabia is completely different and not only is it a very homophobic country it is sexist. It was illegal for women to drive cars up until a few months ago (and even now only the rich ones can) there is so much poverty and inequality. I just don’t understand your willingness to travel to a country like Saudi Arabia

  54. I cannot abide with Ben’s POV on ME anymore. So it is my choice (and yours) to have OMAAT in your life or not. I’m opting out.

  55. Don’t travel to because they are mean to . Their law forbids , punishing it with . Silly nonsense. I could not disagree with David Cohen more. Dialogue among people who disagree is vital. Travel opens dialogue. Cohen’s righteous rejection of specific countries as destinations is sad and wrong, if he wants to make the world a better place. I violently disapprove of antisemitism but I’m eager to visit Saudi Arabia. I violently disapprove of Israel’s actions in Palestine but I’m keen to see Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My beautiful Saudi boyfriend said to me, with kindness, mischief and patience, as I spewed my Western ignorance about public executions of homos there, “Grindr works perfectly in Jeddah” (Nobody shows his face and they’re all tops). The symbolic value of refusing to shake your enemy’s hand is less than the value of listening patiently to his crazy talk. He’ll wonder what you think, soon enough.

  56. site edited punctuation out of my post, above, removing its meaning. Sorry the two beginning sentences are wrong

  57. I think “travel” means different things to different people. For some it is superficial. For instance, if one stays in a chain or luxury hotel which quite literally could be anywhere in the world, the risk for gay travellers is low – but equally so is the experience.

    For others, travel is about sampling a country, experiencing the culture. It is richer – but much riskier for gay travellers.

    My concern is that I think Lucky wrote a post which assumes everyone travels as he does which therefore fails to properly portray the risk to those travellers whose modus operandi is immersive.

    Some others have also used the phrase LGBT* and its alternatives. The situation for trans travellers is very different and I think we should extrapolate from gay to trans. Interestingly, almost all the comment – and Lucky’s post – seem to concentrate on male travellers and ignore lesbians for whom the experience – and often the law – is different again.

  58. I’m with Lucky on this one. We can find fault with nearly every country in the world on various issues. I’d rather visit them and learn more about their culture, then just boycott them all.

  59. My fear for you upon seeing the headline is that you (especially being a blogger) could get flagged by some computer algorithm and then be singled-out for …unpleasant treatment!

  60. “the British woman that was arrested with her child this summer for entering Dubai after she drank one glass of wine on the plane”

    Actually, she was arrested because she was traveling with an expired Swedish passport.

    I doubt the story of the Saudi army officer in an open relationship with an American in Saudi Arabia. If anything, they’re probably living the a very quiet, closeted life.

    Being gay in the Middle East is possible, not easy, but very doable. While it varies from country to country, in most cases as long as you keep it to yourself (until you get to know people and find out their views on homosexuality), hide your gayness, avoid PDAs, and be careful when looking for hook-ups (both online and in real life), you should be ok. Even in KSA. Lots of gay people live and survive here, you just need to know how the game is played and follow the rules. Heck, as open as Israel is, there are parts of Israel that are as homophobic as other parts of the GCC, and those parts of Israel aren’t just in the Arab parts either. Just do as much research as you can before going to any country and know what to expect.

  61. My concern, as someone who’s in a gay marriage, about traveling to countries that don’t recognize our marriage is what will happen if one of us needs hospitalization or becomes seriously ill. My concern doesn’t stop us from traveling, but it’s always in the back of my mind. We have healthcare powers of attorney, but are those definitely going to be recognized in all third world countries?

  62. Lucky any advice for trans women planning to go through these countries, mainly just as airport stops? My wife is trans and I’m concerned for her safety so I do trips that transit through anyplace like that alone, as it is not within her comfort level and there is very little information about the safety of doing so. I agree with your assessment for gay couples but trans women who present as visibly trans cannot simply avoid being noticed. Any thoughts?

  63. @Lucky – great post. You’re not going to win with the crowd who has their own agenda and bigotry cloaked in the guise of “concern.”. That being said enjoy the ME, I’m here now with my family and the hospitality we’ve encountered is far more generous than any in the West. The anti-ME crowd should just stay in their comfort shell and everywhere else in the world is better for it.

  64. Yawn.
    These countries are so boring I don’t think I could stand another day in one of them.
    You know Saudi Arabia is screwed up when their idea of a party vacation is a trip to Dubai.

    There’s just one thing more I’ll say on the subject: Don’t bother trying to interpret the laws of these countries (other than Israel) because they don’t follow them when they don’t want to. You guys and gals have enough problems dealing with countries where they actually do have legit court systems.

    Look, if you get in trouble in any of these countries, there is little that can be done for you by the US. You’ll certainly be treated better than most, but only Israel is actually a country of laws.

  65. A number of Middle Eastern nations isn’t fundamentally anti-LGBT but straight-up medieval. Over the years, there have been reports on women being thrown into jail after being raped. While on the surface, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Muscat may seem modern and relatively secular, their laws haven’t really changed to keep pace with modern society. Nowhere else is that more obvious than the fact that OTC painkillers could land you in jail.

    I honestly can’t comprehend why Lucky flies through there. Particularly with regard to the KSA…

  66. Lucky I would advise you against going to KSA but not because of the above.

    You’ve applied for a visa in bad faith. You even outlined on this very blog how obtaining the Formula E visa was a ‘workaround’ to gain entry to the KSA. That would be considered misrepresentation. In democracies you’d probably be just turned around at the border and marched back on a plane, in KSA well……..

  67. I will never travel to these kind of countries with my partner, nor will I connect or even consider using their airlines.

    If I have to travel with these kinds of concerns in back of my mind then this is no place I want to travel to.

  68. As a straight male who loves this blog…
    I’m perplexed lately by all the “Gay”, “Gay”, Gay” talk in the comments has certainly triggered to this post popping up…
    I’m disappointed that in this day and age there is such debate and talk over how people want to live their lives. Some people are acting like victims unnecessarily, In this day and age the whole world is aware of LGBT and people know how its treated here or there… All you have to do is act accordingly and sensible within the place your visiting whether you like it or not, SIMPLE.
    Also be patient everyone who thinks they have rights for this and that unfortunately some parts of the world still have and maybe always will have a different mentality, you might not repsect this but you must accept it.
    This is a travel blog regarding airline, points, miles, hotels and tourism.
    Feels as though Its about time you turned this post into a forum Lucky… So all those who wish to discuss LGBT stuff can do so in a specific forum, those who wish to discuss trump, republicans and politics can view and chat in another section, those who only pay for and exclusively fly first class in another section…. Why is some stuff over sensationalized. Not your fault Lucky, Just frustrating members carrying on with “what if”, “imagine if”, “this and that” waste of time clogging a great blog from being readible and enjoyable to some times annoying and hard to bear.

  69. The point of this article is not to give legal advice or help Lucky think outside his limited comfort zone of First Class and Airport Hotels. It was to garner clicks.

  70. UAE or Qatar aren’t totally safe places for foreigners … In these countries everything is fantastic until a policeman or a UAE/Qatar citizen decides you are wrong or you have done something he think it’s offensive. There are hundreds of Westerners who have been jailed in Dubai for behavior that is usually permitted. There is a interesting report of NY Times called “Holding Hands, Drinking Wine and Other Ways to Go to Jail in Dubai”
    BE CAREFUL!

  71. I do want to applaud the point you make about inconsistency in the law. I think this is perhaps where a great deal of the misunderstandings come from. In general, “Western” countries champion the idea that the law applies to everyone. In our part of the world, inconsistent enforcement is present but is neither the norm nor considered acceptable. In the Mideast — especially in the UAE — the law is not uniformly enforced. If you are a white foreigner behaving conservatively in public, it is unlikely anyone will bother you. If you are a local or a south Asian a whole different set of rules will apply.

    It’s also worth stressing that there are huge differences between countries, so as with any foreign travel, it’s advisable to read up on the local culture so as to know what is considered acceptable. In most parts of the world, people feel bound by honor to be courteous to guests, and in return foreign guests should be courteous to the locals by respecting their customs.

  72. Lucky, snap out of your privileged bubble and see the world from the perspective of those less privileged than you.

  73. This is one of those all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. My husband and I refuse to travel to places that are hostile, whether dangerous or not.

  74. I’ve never understood why so many gays love Dubai, Doha etc. LGBT are oppressed in these countries as they are in most of Middle East and Africa. Add the fact that the rich Middle East countries treat third country nationals like dirt and slave labor. Lived in Dubai for two years. It was depressing. Glad I’m gone.

    I guess you and Ford have found a balance with these countries that I never did.

  75. I am glad you made a distinction as to Israel in regards to the “Middle East.” The gay scene in Israel is in many ways equal to, or perhaps even more open and accepted, than in the US. And so is the rule of law. No despots or dictators acting at their whim, and no corrupt police that can’t be trusted.

    I can’t comment as to most of the other countries mentioned in the article because as an Israeli passport holder they do not allow me entry into their countries – silly, childish and comical behavior – but true.

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