Hmmm: Saudi Arabia Now Welcomes LGBT Visitors

Hmmm: Saudi Arabia Now Welcomes LGBT Visitors

79

Saudi Arabia has ambitious goals to grow its tourism industry in the coming years, beyond the religious tourism that the country has historically gotten. We’re seeing investments in tourism to a level we’ve never seen before in any country, between endless new developments, hundreds of luxury hotels in the pipeline, and even two new airlines.

Among many foreigners, though, Saudi Arabia has a bit of a reputation issue. While a vast majority of people feel comfortable traveling through a place like Dubai, Riyadh is a different story. We know that Saudi Arabia is slowly starting to liberalize, though still has a long way to go. Here’s an interesting example of that…

Saudi Arabia now formally welcomes gay visitors

As noted by Al-Monitor, Saudi Arabia has updated the FAQs on its official tourism website. Specifically, the following question and answer has been added:

Are LGBT visitors welcome to visit Saudi Arabia?

Everyone is welcome to visit Saudi Arabia and visitors are not asked to disclose such personal details.

On the one hand, I’d say that it’s progress that Saudi Arabia is even acknowledging the existence of gay people when it comes to tourism. Obviously some discussions took place for this to be added, so the fact that gay people are even being discussed is a step in the right direction. I can’t imagine that this would have happened five years ago.

On the other hand, the invitation for LGBT travelers to visit Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem all that genuine. Saudi Arabia’s answer is basically “yeah, well, everyone can visit our country, just don’t tell us who you really are,” rather than “absolutely, we welcome LGBT travelers, and please enjoy our Riyadh Pride parade.”

You’d think that some caveats around expectations on behavior would be added with that answer. While the tourism website has some sections about customs in the country, nothing really addresses the topics that gay travelers should be aware of.

Saudia’s Boeing 777 business class

The Middle East’s complicated, unenforced laws

I’ve written in the past about laws against gay travelers in the Middle East, and have also written about my experience traveling as a gay, married couple.

The fundamental issue is that many countries in the Middle East officially have laws based on traditional value systems, but don’t typically enforce them. So there’s some nuance to understand:

  • Admittedly several Gulf countries have a lot of laws that aren’t actually enforced, and this goes way beyond being gay; this includes laws around public displays of affection, laws around unmarried people staying in the rooms, laws around sex, etc.
  • For example, until 2020 it was technically illegal for unmarried people to share a hotel room in the UAE; yet how many tens of millions of unmarried couples visited the UAE over time, shared a hotel room, and had no issues?
  • Essentially many Middle Eastern countries operate on a system of unenforced laws, which is a problem, but that also goes way beyond laws involving same sex relationships
  • My philosophy is that if you’re respectful to locals, including following local customs, then they’ll usually be respectful back to you

I also think it’s important to recognize when countries are making progress, even if they’re not as far along as other countries, or as far along as many of us would like them to be. I think we often forget that many countries in the Middle East have official religions, and are only a few decades old.

Yes, it’s the year 2023 for all of us, but there’s a difference between a country that has been around for hundreds of years and claims to not be guided by a particular religion, and a country that has been around for a few decades and is based on religious law (though admittedly Saudi Arabia is one of the older countries in the region).

Specifically in the case of Saudi Arabia, technically gay relations are punishable by death. Yet the US State Department’s 2022 report on human rights also stated that there were no known prosecutions for same sex relations during the year in Saudi Arabia.

Will people ever travel to Saudi Arabia in the same way they travel to Dubai?

Bottom line

Saudi Arabia now formally welcomes LGBT visitors, explaining that visitors aren’t asked to disclose personal details. Yet at the same time, same sex relations are still technically punishable by death, even if that law isn’t enforced.

Saudi Arabia has ambitious tourism goals, and it’s clear that the country is slowly and subtly liberalizing, from allowing women to drive, to allowing unmarried couples to share hotel rooms, to now welcoming gay travelers. Obviously the country still has a long way to go, but I still think progress is to be commended.

Personally I’m quite keen to visit Saudi Arabia. Why? While I obviously take issues with many of the laws, I always enjoy experiencing things firsthand, and I’d like to see how different life is in a city like Riyadh or Jeddah. I’m also fascinated by Saudi Arabia’s tourism investments, and if the country can actually become somewhere that people will travel far to visit.

I think we’ll continue to see Saudi Arabia liberalize significantly. Heck, who knows, maybe drag shows will soon become more commonplace in Saudi Arabia than Florida, with the way things are headed.

What do you make of Saudi Arabia “welcoming” gay visitors?

(Tip of the hat to reader Icarus, who oddly asked if I’ll “have the integrity to report on this or willfully ignore it” — have I ever really shied away from the topic of traveling to the Middle East as a gay person?)

Conversations (79)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. Sundragon Guest

    Well - any comment by the Saudi Tourist Board is welcome. It has shades of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the US armed forces?
    I don’t know that Saudi would be on my top 20 places to go (I have never been to any Middle Eastern country due to what I perceive as non-welcoming attitude) but I suppose if someone said let’s go and it was winter in the UK I might for a...

    Well - any comment by the Saudi Tourist Board is welcome. It has shades of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the US armed forces?
    I don’t know that Saudi would be on my top 20 places to go (I have never been to any Middle Eastern country due to what I perceive as non-welcoming attitude) but I suppose if someone said let’s go and it was winter in the UK I might for a few days
    My concern would be the “unenforced” law… too frequently external events, politics or just someone making a point locally has resurrected a law that commonly wouldn’t be enforced (and this applies everywhere in the world!). What would be a clear indication of “welcoming” and real change would be a repeal of that law?

  2. Jay Guest

    I would rather walk on a bed of nails then ever contemplating a visit as a tourist to a place like Saudi Arabia. Likewise for Uganda, and numerous other African nations with repressive laws. There are so many wonderful places to travel, including many lovely places in Africa which I have visited. Why would I give a dime of my hard earned money to places like that?

  3. Frednyon Guest

    I am a fan of this blog.
    This article caught my attention. I feel a few misconceptions need to be discussed here:
    1- Saudi Arabia does NOT welcome gay tourists. They merely allow them in, provided they stay below the radar and « behave » according to the local laws.
    2- Saudia Arabia sits in the desert, and is most of the year inhospitable for human life during day time. The only way to...

    I am a fan of this blog.
    This article caught my attention. I feel a few misconceptions need to be discussed here:
    1- Saudi Arabia does NOT welcome gay tourists. They merely allow them in, provided they stay below the radar and « behave » according to the local laws.
    2- Saudia Arabia sits in the desert, and is most of the year inhospitable for human life during day time. The only way to survive is indoor in an airconditioned environment. One should wonder who on earth would seriously consider « visiting » this country for leisure. Not even mentionning the catastrophic human rights track record of the local dictators. What is there to « visit » ? Desert sands and dunes under an oven-like baking sun.
    Shopping malls are probably going to be another major « attraction », like an indoor mini ski-slope and ice-skating ring. The ridiculous of the situation would be laughable if it wasn’t appaling.
    There are so many nice countries on earth. Why fool people in trying to justify the unjustifiable ?

  4. robbo Guest

    Ahh, bugger it.... what a shame

  5. Tim Guest

    No drag shows as yet but all the men wear dresses already

  6. Mark Guest

    I had no issue when I visited Saudi Arabia in 2009.

  7. Joe Guest

    @Lucky - I don't think there needs to be a 'Hmmm...' to start the article.

    This is a (small) positive step forward. As people like you and your husband Ford visit and the people in these (oppressive) countries see there is nothing to see, they will continue down the road of full acceptance.

    Sure, we want them to move faster, but, that is not how societies evolve.

  8. Jason Peters Guest

    Im an openly gay male living in Australia, there is absolutely no way I will ever visit Saudi Arabia in its current dictatorship. It’s not safe.

  9. Robert Fahr Guest

    Sounds more progressive than the "Don't Say Gay" state and that is saying a lot.

  10. henare Diamond

    Lol, no. This is very much some more "don't ask; don't tell" nonsense. They need to do better.

    I don't foresee this changing much during my lifetime.

  11. iamhere Guest

    You are reading too much into this. They have not formally welcomed gay visitors. They just commented that they welcome everyone and that is all. This is not exactly welcoming.

  12. Terry Guest

    Ben - Thanks for reporting an interesting piece of travel information. I found your presentation factual, nuanced & thoughtful. I know Middle Eastern countries are all different, but I have enjoyed all my visits (UAE, Jordan, or Egypt). And I always found the people so friendly & welcoming.

  13. Charles Chan Massey Guest

    Thanks for be sharing. In the spirit of full disclosure, I wouldn't be caught dead in that hateful dictatorship in disguise as a "kingdom,"

  14. UA-NYC Diamond

    Pretty soon the KSA and other ME countries will be more welcoming to the LGBTQ population than the retrograde USA Red states

    1. Syd Guest

      So don’t go there. Go to Saudi Arabia instead. Jeez people you are a ridiculous bunch

  15. Gene Guest

    I did Saudi Arabia last November against the advice of many. bottom line ? I am so glad I went. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. People gasp when they hear that I've traveled there but that is just a display of their own stupidity. Yes, MBS is not perfect as evidenced by the Kashogi dismemberment in Istanbul but he has done many good things that have rapidly changed the face of the country.

  16. phil Guest

    That's super! Except for torturing and murdering journalists, it sounds like they're awesome

    So they're 'tolerant' now as long as you don't sat gay (sound familiar Ron?). Washington said it best when he wrote in 1790

    It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights

  17. STEFFL Gold

    Will people ever travel to Saudi Arabia in the same way they travel to Dubai?

    to make it simple:

    NO!!!

    As long as a country still has an Islamic religious police and they enforce there duty as written in the Sharia, LGBT has NO "right" in any way in Saudi Arabia!

    Was there last in 2012 and how people are treated then would make me wonder if it has changed much by 2023!

    Dubai is...

    Will people ever travel to Saudi Arabia in the same way they travel to Dubai?

    to make it simple:

    NO!!!

    As long as a country still has an Islamic religious police and they enforce there duty as written in the Sharia, LGBT has NO "right" in any way in Saudi Arabia!

    Was there last in 2012 and how people are treated then would make me wonder if it has changed much by 2023!

    Dubai is a TOTALY different story in many ways!

    LGBT people and even those who think different and like to show there "normal" western lifestyle, stay away from that Country as many others too!
    Thankfully, this globe id big and has a lot more to offer then only Saudi Arabia.

    1. Aziz Guest

      1- You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about.
      2- Believe it or not there are countries that are moving forward, unlike the US

    2. Eskimo Guest

      You do know what "Sharia" is.
      Do you know that Sharia in applied UAE as well as Saudi Arabia right?

      Dubai doesn't enforce it doesn't mean it isn't there. It is "TOTALY" there.

      Thankfully, this globe id (sic) merciful enough to not catch too many ignorant people off guard.

    3. Malc Diamond

      There haven't been religious police for years.

      I was also here in 2012. The country is very different now.

    4. Alan Diamond

      I visited Saudi last October and loved the country. The religious police are a thing of the past. The best example I can give is with respect to renting a car. The agents were all young Saudi women and very friendly. They were not covering their faces. When I returned the car, I asked the young lady if they could give me a rid to the bus station. She replied that the agency did not...

      I visited Saudi last October and loved the country. The religious police are a thing of the past. The best example I can give is with respect to renting a car. The agents were all young Saudi women and very friendly. They were not covering their faces. When I returned the car, I asked the young lady if they could give me a rid to the bus station. She replied that the agency did not provide that service but if I waited a bit until her last reservation arrived (this turned out to be a Saudi woman) she would take me. We walked together out to parking lot to her car. I looked at her and asked if I should sit in the back. She replied that I could sit anywhere I wanted. So I chose the front. She drove downtown and we had a great conversation on the way. A year prior she would not even have been able to drive, much less have a foreign man in her car.

  18. Big AL Guest

    Another example of why the whole world hates the US.

    Tell the whole world what to do, and if they try and do it then its stacks on with more bullshit.

    Hilarious

    1. Eskimo Guest

      And annex out an untouchable "expat compound" for breaking numerous local laws.

      That's just from reading the confessions in the comments, LOL.

  19. AJ Guest

    Sexuality and sexual practices in Saudi Arabia are really complex, Ben. Obviously, as a natural expression of human sexuality, homosexuality exists in Saudi Arabia. But as noted in the comments relaying anecdotes here, however, there is an important distinction between homosexuality insomuch as an identity (“gay”) versus homosexuality as an undesired and disfavored comportment.

    For more information, I strongly encourage you to read the below from The Atlantic, which is now 16 years old: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/05/the-kingdom-in-the-closet/305774/

    Sexuality and sexual practices in Saudi Arabia are really complex, Ben. Obviously, as a natural expression of human sexuality, homosexuality exists in Saudi Arabia. But as noted in the comments relaying anecdotes here, however, there is an important distinction between homosexuality insomuch as an identity (“gay”) versus homosexuality as an undesired and disfavored comportment.

    For more information, I strongly encourage you to read the below from The Atlantic, which is now 16 years old: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/05/the-kingdom-in-the-closet/305774/

  20. Creditian Guest

    Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (Saudi version)

  21. ken Guest

    many people talk like the west is more advanced but when did the gay marriage is accepted in the US? How about the gay right movements? I would say it is really recent in our history. SO many gay haters in the US south these days...But one thing that the west does not know well is that homosexual acts are widely accepted in the middle east as long as it is not called like that....

    many people talk like the west is more advanced but when did the gay marriage is accepted in the US? How about the gay right movements? I would say it is really recent in our history. SO many gay haters in the US south these days...But one thing that the west does not know well is that homosexual acts are widely accepted in the middle east as long as it is not called like that. Straight sex is actually a lot more problematic in these countries if you are not married with the person...Also, as Ben mentioned, if you are respectful to their culture, they are respectful to you. It becomes a problem when the west (or their people) try to push their values to the locals...

    1. BradStPete Diamond

      I live in Florida and I am now uncomfortable as a Gay man in my state

  22. stogieguy7 Diamond

    Saudi Arabia: come for the dates, stay for the lashings!

  23. Leo Liang Guest

    Have their state carrier allow female traveling on fifth freedom to wear shorts yet? No Action, Talk Only?

  24. Leo Liang Guest

    As welcoming as the level of DEMOCRACY in DPRK?

    1. Eskimo Guest

      You do know that D in DPRK is Democratic right?

  25. Bitter Proffit Guest

    As many tourists have found out in the UAE, its never a problem until it is.

    As long as the law is on the books, its a potential problem.

  26. ZTravel Guest

    So Saudi is more liberal now than Florida? What’s next? They are going to allow history books in Saudi? :)

    I’d be careful with UAE/Dubai and other gulf states… they might ignore “implementing the law” until they need something from you (you accidentally have a traffic incident with a citizen) and then hell would break loose.

    1. Sel_D Member

      No, Saudi is not more liberal than Florida. Ben's jab is very misleading and likely refers to the incorrectly named "drag show ban" which only applies to minors. Sexualized drag shows are very prominent in the US and Florida, including those with minors present. If that's your definition of liberal, than I think Saudi has a long way to go, and it will be a cold day in Jahannam when they get there.

    2. Andrew Reiser Guest

      Have you been to many sexualized drag shows? Most I have been to have been awesome entertainers singing Whitney Houston songs. Not sure what the problem is.

    3. JP Guest

      I'm pretty sure when Sel_D said "sexualized" it means all drag shows because any element of revealing skin runs the risk of "turning" them and others LGBT.
      But then again, who are we to judge, Sel_D could be going to watch these "sexualized drag shows" that allow children and are everywhere - we might not know the back alleys enough.

    4. henare Diamond

      I can *guarantee* you that the best drag queens are not hiding in back alleys sexing up children. Maybe @Sel_D meant to say "Christian minister" instead?

    5. Ken Guest

      Agreed. As a Florida resident, the ban on drag shows applies to the presence of underage individuals. And having seen a few drag shows in my life, I can appreciate why minors are safeguarded. That said, most of the restrictions being enacted in Florida will likely be overturned in the liberal federal court system.

    6. Jason Peters Guest

      I’m a gay, and I now consider Florida to be one of the most anti lgbt states in the USA.

  27. Hiro Diamond

    Regarding how Saudi has changed - I've just transited in the kingdom after 9 years, and I was surprised to see that half the airport staff (shop attendant, lounge receptionist, check-in agent etc) were local Saudi women. Such was never the case before!

    1. KingBob Guest

      I landed in Jeddah a few weeks ago and every agent at Immigration was a woman. Leaving, at the check-in counters, about half were female. Since it was a first time visit, I have nothing to compare it to.

  28. Andy Diamond

    I think part of the problem is also that "gay travel" is different from "a gay person travelling". I am gay and been to Saudi several times and never had any problem. But I obviously did not travel to Saudi to date or let alone to visit gay venues. There are enough such places in other countries, if this is what you are looking for. Meanwhile, if you want to visit the beautiful country together with your better half, I think there is no problem doing so.

  29. Icarus Guest

    You’ve always had a tendency to be harsher/more heavy handed when it comes to Saudi compared to the rest of the gulf region, but I stand corrected.

    Check out Cafe Sociale when you get there to truly get a sense of how far things have come, it’s essentially a gay hangout spot akin to gay bars elsewhere.

    1. Jason Guest

      The way other gay men have described their experiences in Saudi mirrors my experiences living in the UAE. And this one too - there were places that were very gay, etc. Hangout places all over UAE. Never had any issues living as a gay man there, and made many good friends I'm still in touch with. Attitudes among the locals varied greatly but most younger Emiratis were supportive/ open and tended to live and let live.

  30. Super VC10 Guest

    When I think of Saudi Arabia three things instantly come to mind: The murderous Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi. And the 9 a.m. public beheadings that took place on Fridays when I was working in The Kingdom in 1980, and still take place with sickening regularity. (Saudi Arabia executed 81 people IN A SINGLE DAY in March, 2022.)

    But by all means folks, turn-off your conscience and hurry over...

    When I think of Saudi Arabia three things instantly come to mind: The murderous Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi. And the 9 a.m. public beheadings that took place on Fridays when I was working in The Kingdom in 1980, and still take place with sickening regularity. (Saudi Arabia executed 81 people IN A SINGLE DAY in March, 2022.)

    But by all means folks, turn-off your conscience and hurry over there to stay in yet another over-the-top luxury hotel.

    1. Miguel Guest

      A hotel no doubt built by slaves, as was virtually every recently-built hotel in the region.

    2. Eskimo Guest

      @Super VC10

      America was built by slaves. The only nation in the world to use nuclear weapons. And did it twice.
      The British Empire was built by slaves, heck they even mastered the slave trade. And how many Boers did they kill? Where did the crown jewels that King Charles inherit came from?

      But by all means folks, turn-off your conscience and hurry over to criticize another country.

  31. Gurpreet Singh Guest

    Ben this should be LGBTQIA — leave it to a white gay to exclude people in our community…

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Gurpreet Singh -- That should be targeted at Saudi Arabia, not me. I am reporting that Saudi Arabia is welcoming LGBT travelers, because that's exactly what the country is stating. Saudi Arabia didn't say anything about "QIA" folks. I can't really invite "QIA" people on Saudi Arabia's behalf, no?

      Also, I'm not sure exactly what discrimination asexual people would face in Saudi Arabia related to their identity? There are no laws in the country...

      @ Gurpreet Singh -- That should be targeted at Saudi Arabia, not me. I am reporting that Saudi Arabia is welcoming LGBT travelers, because that's exactly what the country is stating. Saudi Arabia didn't say anything about "QIA" folks. I can't really invite "QIA" people on Saudi Arabia's behalf, no?

      Also, I'm not sure exactly what discrimination asexual people would face in Saudi Arabia related to their identity? There are no laws in the country against being asexual.

    2. Danny Guest

      Here we go with the racist alphabet warriors…

    3. Heathrow_LHR Guest

      "What was racist? Be specific."

      Maybe clean the shit from your eyes, then read it again? It's not hard to see. This jerkoff assumed that because Ben is a "white gay" that he intentionally excluded multiple classifications of people from who-knows-what, considering that it's not even Ben making the invitation.

    4. ImmortalSynn Guest

      "What was racist? Be specific."

      He directly linked his accusation to, and on account of, Lucky being white. How the hell do you not see that when it's directly spelled out right in front of you by the commenter?

      (answer: because you don't wish to, as that'd make you face the fact that even your precious little Alphabet warriors can be just as shitty on race issues as any right-wing Republican)

    5. BenjaminGuttery Diamond

      Did you even read before jumping behind your keyboard to call out a fellow LGBTQQIP2SA+ member Gurpreet? The exact statement he want reporting on was from the website FAQ. So READ.

      Also, YOU left OFF Questioning, Two Spirit, and other people with valid identities on your own comment!

      LOL, I'm a "white gay" too and you can keep trying to divide our community our community with your racist nonsense, it's backfiring all across this society and the world.

    6. Bob Guest

      I am a gay man and def not white.
      Quite frankly, I can't keep up with all the extra letters. And quite frankly the over zealous need to categorize everything is absurd. Its akin to the movement after movies came out with the rating pg-13. Then people wanted pg-12 pg-16, pg-17, nc-17. It's sheer laziness in hoping that we can conduct life based on the bucket we squeeze people into rather than understand 99% of the world lives in the Grey area.

  32. Jaesoon Guest

    Will alcohol be legal next?

    1. ScottS Member

      I wouldn't be surprised if they had something similar to UAE where you can get it at hotels and the airport. I doubt it will be next, but I'm sure it's on their radar. I hung out with a Saudi girl when I was living there (in 2013) and she said he father had cases of Jack Daniels in their basement. Some Saudi's definitely do drink too.

    2. Lukas Diamond

      I'd say most Saudis based on my conversations with others.

    3. ScottS Member

      Most likely, but my interactions with Saudi's outside of work was very limited 10 years ago. So I didn't have a whole lot of information to go off of.

  33. Duck Ling Guest

    I'm a gay, western white male and lived in Saudi for three years around ten years ago.

    The whole 'gay' thing there is truly a mind fu*k. The general consensus with the Saudi's was that it's ok to mess around with other guys (god knows you won't get anywhere near a woman that isn't a relative). BUT it was not ok to say 'I am gay' or something along those lines - anything that...

    I'm a gay, western white male and lived in Saudi for three years around ten years ago.

    The whole 'gay' thing there is truly a mind fu*k. The general consensus with the Saudi's was that it's ok to mess around with other guys (god knows you won't get anywhere near a woman that isn't a relative). BUT it was not ok to say 'I am gay' or something along those lines - anything that alluded to the fact that you would identify yourself as gay and bring shame to your family.

    When I moved to Saudi I honestly thought it would be a very errmmm 'dry' period. It wasn't. I had more men in Jeddah (gyms, supermarkets etc) approach me and blatantly ask me to 'come join them at their house for coffee' than I ever have in London, San Francisco or New York. Saying that, booze and other stuff was also easy to come buy and the police just weren't interested in what went on in the western compounds.

    I obviously made friends with plenty of gay saudi guys and I would ask them 'are you not worried about the police'. NO was always the answer. But what they were most worried about was their family finding out. If they did, in nearly all situations their entire extended family would essentially disown them. And extended family is everything in Saudi. I'm not just talking about your parents being upset and not talking to you for a while I mean your WHOLE family. Siblings, grandparents, cousins the lot. I saw this happened to a couple guys I knew. It was heart breaking for them.

    1. ScottS Member

      I too lived in Saudi around 10 years ago from 2013-14. I can confirm what you said about Western Compounds. What happens on a compound, stays on the compound. You didn't dare leave the compound after drinking, unless you weren't driving. Also, you never left the compound with a female in your car unless you were married. A friend of mine had his girlfriend in the car with him. They got in a wreck (real...

      I too lived in Saudi around 10 years ago from 2013-14. I can confirm what you said about Western Compounds. What happens on a compound, stays on the compound. You didn't dare leave the compound after drinking, unless you weren't driving. Also, you never left the compound with a female in your car unless you were married. A friend of mine had his girlfriend in the car with him. They got in a wreck (real easy to do in Riyadh at the time) and they both got thrown into prison for a few hours. The police had to call their visa sponsors for them to be released. Obviously, his and hers own fault for breaking the rules. Back then, they were definitely cracking down on unmarried couples outside of the compounds. So long as you kept everything "illegal" on the compounds, the police didn't mess with you.

  34. Julia Guest

    “yeah, well, everyone can visit our country, just don’t tell us who you really are”

    Isn't that basically their old policy, just now made official? Like, "You can be gay, just keep it behind closed doors"?

  35. Luc Jones Guest

    Never will the « Bottom line » paragraph have been so appropriate :-)

  36. 9A Guest

    The US State Department has no right judging the human rights of other countries.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      I think that is the primary role of the US State Department.

      That being said, they should criticize human rights of every country, foreign and domestic.

  37. ConcordeBoy Diamond

    I'm of the belief that as The Kingdom further liberalizes on social mores, any remaining laggards in the region will quickly follow suit or try to preemptively 1up them and each other.

    ...and not of any moralistic or altruistic volition, they'll just be doing it to chase the almighty $/€/¥.

  38. Sean M. Diamond

    Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly. It is already a world of different from just 5 years ago and will be unrecognisable by the time Vision 2030 is even halfway implemented. Young Saudis, who have a relatively far more liberal and globalised outlook than the old conservative generations, are becoming more and more influential and powerful. It isn't quite as laissez faire as Dubai yet, but it has gone from being socially equivalent to Dubai in...

    Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly. It is already a world of different from just 5 years ago and will be unrecognisable by the time Vision 2030 is even halfway implemented. Young Saudis, who have a relatively far more liberal and globalised outlook than the old conservative generations, are becoming more and more influential and powerful. It isn't quite as laissez faire as Dubai yet, but it has gone from being socially equivalent to Dubai in the 1970s to Dubai in the 1990s in just the course of a few years.

    1. Julia Guest

      Yes and no. One difference between the two is that the locals in Dubai have always been a minority in relation to expats living there. In Saudi, locals are still the majority. Second, just because lots of Saudis (and Gulf Arabs in general) get their drinking on and sow their oats before marriage (the men, mostly), that doesn't mean they are progressive on queer issues.

    2. pstm91 Diamond

      The reality is that as Saudi opens, the vast majority of tourists will be landing at the airport and heading straight to their resort (and at this point, just about every brand with 2+ properties has announced a new Saudi/Red Sea project for the near future). They won't experience any culture other than meeting a few bellman and drivers along the way, who will of course be super friendly as they work in hospitality. In...

      The reality is that as Saudi opens, the vast majority of tourists will be landing at the airport and heading straight to their resort (and at this point, just about every brand with 2+ properties has announced a new Saudi/Red Sea project for the near future). They won't experience any culture other than meeting a few bellman and drivers along the way, who will of course be super friendly as they work in hospitality. In this regard, it won't matter at all if you're LGBT, a different religion, etc.
      I do agree that as other countries in the area see SA take in these tourism revenues, they'll follow suit.

  39. Steven E Guest

    I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable going there as a gay man , there’s too much history but never say never I guess , there would of course need to be a major draw card as well and to date that doesn’t exist in my opinion

  40. Mark Guest

    I'm a (gay) American who grew up in Saudi Arabia. It sounds awful to say, but as long as you're not "outwardly" gay, nobody really cares. And if you're a Westerner, people will generally be respectful / leave you alone.

    1. Matt Guest

      My wife spent her teenage years as an expat there 30 years ago. With tourist visas now available we were finally able to visit a month ago. She returned to a remarkably different place, though we were still very careful to observe local customs. No pda or even hand holding. She was able to drive now. We didn't stress about her being covered. She tells of shop owners in the mall hiding them when the...

      My wife spent her teenage years as an expat there 30 years ago. With tourist visas now available we were finally able to visit a month ago. She returned to a remarkably different place, though we were still very careful to observe local customs. No pda or even hand holding. She was able to drive now. We didn't stress about her being covered. She tells of shop owners in the mall hiding them when the religious police were around, none of that was seen this trip. Jeddah was a beautiful city with an amazing amount of development, she was stunned to see it all. Dammam wasn't as developed but still growing. Other than being immediately next to a Saudi/Jordanian religious argument that nearly came to blows on a RJ flight from DMM-AMM (yelling, pushing, finger pointing, fainting, all while warily watching the westerners across the aisle) we felt welcomed and kindness. Granted, we had a tie to the Kingdom and are already planning a return, but Saudi didn't seem too far away from more mainstream travelers feeling comfortable there. I'd say their big hurdle is convincing the mainstream people why they should visit.

    2. Matt Guest

      Forgot to mention that the little expat compound she lived on is now housing for the Saudi Navy... They gladly led us through the secure facility so we could see her villa and remember her youth. The Saudi man in charge was happy to even let us take pictures, though he spoke no English he was clearly proud to show off his responsibility.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ Gurpreet Singh -- That should be targeted at Saudi Arabia, not me. I am reporting that Saudi Arabia is welcoming LGBT travelers, because that's exactly what the country is stating. Saudi Arabia didn't say anything about "QIA" folks. I can't really invite "QIA" people on Saudi Arabia's behalf, no? Also, I'm not sure exactly what discrimination asexual people would face in Saudi Arabia related to their identity? There are no laws in the country against being asexual.

8
Duck Ling Guest

I'm a gay, western white male and lived in Saudi for three years around ten years ago. The whole 'gay' thing there is truly a mind fu*k. The general consensus with the Saudi's was that it's ok to mess around with other guys (god knows you won't get anywhere near a woman that isn't a relative). BUT it was not ok to say 'I am gay' or something along those lines - anything that alluded to the fact that you would identify yourself as gay and bring shame to your family. When I moved to Saudi I honestly thought it would be a very errmmm 'dry' period. It wasn't. I had more men in Jeddah (gyms, supermarkets etc) approach me and blatantly ask me to 'come join them at their house for coffee' than I ever have in London, San Francisco or New York. Saying that, booze and other stuff was also easy to come buy and the police just weren't interested in what went on in the western compounds. I obviously made friends with plenty of gay saudi guys and I would ask them 'are you not worried about the police'. NO was always the answer. But what they were most worried about was their family finding out. If they did, in nearly all situations their entire extended family would essentially disown them. And extended family is everything in Saudi. I'm not just talking about your parents being upset and not talking to you for a while I mean your WHOLE family. Siblings, grandparents, cousins the lot. I saw this happened to a couple guys I knew. It was heart breaking for them.

6
Bitter Proffit Guest

As many tourists have found out in the UAE, its never a problem until it is. As long as the law is on the books, its a potential problem.

5
Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
5,163,247 Miles Traveled

32,614,600 Words Written

35,045 Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT