LGBT rights in Bahrain

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Map of Bahrain.svg
StatusLegal since 1976
Gender identityLegal since 2014
Discrimination protections
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people living in Bahrain may face discrimination not faced by non-LGBT persons. The country legalized homosexuality in 1976.[1] Law enforcement agents and the courts have the authority to issue fines and/or jail time for any activities in violation of laws such as under-age same-sex acts, as only adults aged twenty-one and above are legally allowed to engage in homosexuality.[2][3]

Penal Code[edit]

Bahrain was given its first criminal ban on homosexuality, defined as by the United Kingdom, which imposed a similar law throughout each of its colonies.

A new Penal Code was enacted in March 1976, repealing the Penal Code of the Persian Gulf that was imposed by the United Kingdom.[1] The new penal code does not prohibit private, non-commercial acts of homosexuality between consenting adults in private. Although "adults" for the purposes of this law are at least 21 years old. There are several other parts of the penal code that can be used against LGBT people.

Related penal code concerns[edit]

Article 324 of the penal code prohibits enticing another person to commit prostitution or any other act that may be considered immoral. This particular law has increasingly been used to crack down on men who wear women's clothing, as well as gay and bisexual men.[4] There have been recent[when?] reports of a possible comprehensive crackdown against same-sex sexual acts and cross-dressing in Bahrain.

Article 328 of the penal code prohibits anyone operating or being employed at a business where prostitution or any sort of immorality is taking place or being promoted.

Article 329 of the penal code prohibits people from public solicitation involving prostitution or any sort of immoral activity. This applies even if sexual behavior is going to occur in a private place.

Article 330 of the penal code states that anyone who is charged with an act of prostitution or immorality is to be taken to a hospital and tested for sexually transmitted diseases. If they have such diseases, the law stipulates that they be relocated to a medical facility for treatment.

Article 334 of the penal code prohibits the practice of "honor killings", where the person being killed, for bringing dishonor to the family, was guilty of adultery.

Article 350 of the penal code prohibits any sort of public indecency, with an additional ban on any person from committing an indecent act with a woman, even if the act is in private and with her consent.

Article 354 of the penal code prohibits cursing or using words or signs on a street or other public place for the purposes of indulging in immoral behavior.

Article 355 of the penal code prohibits owning, importing, or exporting any form of artwork, publication, film or other media that violates public morality.

For Bahraini Muslims, marriage is defined and otherwise regulated by The National Personal Status Law (2017), which does not recognize same-sex marriages. [1].

Government Statements[edit]

The Al-Menbar Islamic Society is one of the more successful political factions within the Parliament. As a lawful Islamist political group it has pushed for more conservative social policies, including a crackdown on LGBT people.

In response to questions from parliament about lesbianism in schools, the Assistant Under-Secretary for Educational Services Khalid Al Alawi has said that the Education Ministry is not responsible for addressing issues of sexuality, and instead it is the responsibility of parents to take care of their children's emotional development: "Any emotional problems should be dealt with by their parents – it is not up to the school to take actions on this problem. The public shouldn't make a big deal out of this problem because it does not exist." Speaking about the government's attitude, Mr Al Alawi said that "As for the question that has been raised in the Press about the so-called problem of lesbianism, as a ministry we cannot talk about a widespread phenomenon and we can't call them lesbians. The problems that the students are facing are put into the category of educational problems, not immoral acts. If a student's appearance is contrary to custom and the schools values, then the only thing we can say is that those violating the school's rules should be disciplined."[5]

In 2008, a harsher crackdown on same-sex sexual acts was called for by members of the Al Menbar parliamentary bloc. The government is being asked to conduct an official study into the problem of same-sex sexual acts and how to best combat them. The initial response from the government was as follows;

  • The Interior Minister says that "suspected" (effeminate) homosexuals are banned from entering Bahrain by checks at the airport.[6]
  • The Interior Minister says that many male homosexuals choose a profession in hairdressing salons and beauty and massage spas, which the Minister says are often inspected.[6]

The government crackdown against cross-dressing appears to have begun a year later. In 2009, two Asian foreigners were sentenced to six months in jail, with hard labor, and later deportation for offering to have sex with undercover police offices in exchange for money at a Male Barbershop [14 January 2009 – Bahraini Newspaper, *Alwaqht,*]

In February 2009, a thirty-nine-year-old man was sentenced to a month in jail for wearing women's clothing in public, namely an abaya and purse. [13 February 2009 – PinkNews]

In 2011, police raided a party that was described in the press as a same-sex wedding ceremony.[2]

Other pending bills would expressly ban LGBT foreigners from entering the kingdom or receiving residency permits as well as plans to instruct children's teachers in apparent warning signs of homosexuality or cross-dressing, so that the children can be punished.[7]

Some of the more lawful liberal and leftist political groups within Bahrain have expressed opposition to introducing Sharia law into the Bahraini penal code, but none of them have expressed support for LGBT rights.

False Accusations[edit]

Sometimes false accusations of homosexuality, or anti-gay innuendos, are levied against critics of the Bahraini government in an effort to discredit political or sectarian dissent. In a society where being gay is widely perceived as a vice or bad habit, accusing people of being gay, even in jest, can be an effective means of bullying reformers.

Human rights advocate Nabeel Rajab has been subjected to such accusations by people on social media. Similar insults have been launched at Sheikh Ali Salman, with some Twitter users referring to his Shia political party as "“Al Wefag.” [3]

Similarly, false accusations were circulated about the 2011 pro-democracy protesters gathered in Pearl Square. Participants of the protests were accused of engaging in all sorts of sexual immorality in an effort to discredit the protester's demands. [4]

Freedom of speech[edit]

The press in Bahrain has, since the 1990s, generally been allowed to discuss the subject of homosexuality, without being punished by the government. Initially, the discussion was focused on people and events happening outside of Bahrain, especially in the field of entertainment or the AIDS-HIV pandemic. In the early part of the twenty-first century, the Bahraini press has begun to address sexual orientation, gender identity, and the AIDS-HIV pandemic as they apply to the island.

In 2001 the Arabic language newspaper, Al-Meethaq, created a national controversy when it became the first newspaper to discuss homosexuality in Bahrain.[8]

On 21 December 2005, the Bahrain-based newspaper, Gulf Daily News' British columnist Les Horton wrote a commentary, 'Gay weddings are no threat to family values'. This is probably the first time that a column expressing support for LGBT rights was published in a Bahrani newspaper, albeit an English language publication.

The Gulf Daily News has continued to write articles that touch upon homosexuality and gender identity. For example, it has published several articles on Bahraini female homosexuality in girls' high schools and Bahraini women who claim to have become lesbians based on abusive relationships with men.

Public opinion[edit]

According to the World Values Survey in 2011, 42% of Bahraini people believed that "homosexuality is never justified," which was lower than the world average of 48% who agreed with that statement. It was also more accepting than any other Arab countries surveyed. The same survey found that 18% of Bahraini people "would not like to have homosexuals as neighbors" which was among the lowest percentage in the world.[9]

LGBT community[edit]

Bahrain's population is a culturally diverse mixture of citizens, and a foreign workers from many different countries. This impacts how the LGBT community tends to function within the island.

LGBT foreign workers tend to socialize with other foreign workers that share the same language, if not nationality. As non-citizens, they cannot really influence Bahrani policy and generally feel the need to be publicly discrete about their sexual or gender identity, to be able to continue working on the island.

Among Bahariani citizens, how open they can be about their sexual orientation or gender identity has a lot to do with how traditionalist or modern their family is.

Among the more traditionalist families, being LGBT is shameful and something that needs to be "cured" through medical therapy, an arranged marriage or physical violence. More modern families can be more tolerant, but also concerned about their son or daughter facing harassment or discrimination.

Transgender concerns[edit]

In 2006 the Gulf Daily News published a story about a Bahraini person assigned female at birth who, having undergone a sex change operation, was going to court in a bid to have his status as a man recognised in law. The lawyer had won a landmark case in 2005 where a Bahraini person assigned female at birth, aged 30, had the operation and was legally recognized as a man. The legal case was going through the Bahraini legal system until 2008 when the court granted the motion to allow the transsexual to change his legal documents and be recognized in his gender.[10]

As of 2014 Bahrain allows sex change surgeries.[11] A Bahraini lawyer named Fowzia Mohammed Janahi works for transsexual clients, trying to be recognised legally.

Human rights reports[edit]

2017 United States Department of State report[edit]

In 2017, the United States Department of State reported the following, concerning the status of LGBT rights in Bahrain:

  • Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
    "The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual activity between consenting persons who are at least age 21, but discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred. On rare occasions, courts approved the issuance of new legal documents for those who have undergone gender reassignment surgeries. On November 23, the courts denied a citizen who underwent gender reassignment surgery the right to change his name and identity documents to match his sex; the case was still pending final appeal before the Court of Cassation as at year’s end."[12]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1976)
Equal age of consent Yes (21 years for heterosexual and homosexual couples)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSM allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "2013 State Sponsored Homophobia Report" (PDF). International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. p. 20. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  2. ^ "Age of consent". Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  3. ^ Lake, Adam (23 April 2008). "Government of Bahrain seeks to punish 'homosexual children'". Pink News. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  4. ^ "Bahrain jails young man for crossdressing in public". BNO News. 5 April 2012. Archived from the original on 18 January 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  5. ^ "Gulf Daily News". Gulf Daily News. 9 March 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  6. ^ a b "Local News » Gays to face new clamp". Gulf Daily News. 14 February 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  7. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Bahrain". 28 February 2005. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  9. ^ World Values Survey wave 6 (2010-2014)
  10. ^ "Gulf Daily News". Gulf Daily News. 9 March 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  11. ^ Courtney Trenwith (2 January 2014). "Bahrain gives nod for sex changes - Culture & Society -". Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  12. ^ BAHRAIN 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

External links[edit]