LGBT rights in the United Arab Emirates

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LGBT rights in United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Illegal: Islamic Sharia Law is applied
Prison time; to small prison sentences, fines, chemical castrations and deportation for foreigners.[1]
Gender identity/expression Sex reassignment surgery is illegal
Discrimination protections None
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships

The United Arab Emirates includes the Emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, Fujairah and Sharjah. Sexual relations outside a heterosexual marriage is a crime. Punishments range from jail time, fines, and deportation. Adultery and fornication are also crimes, and a person convicted of homosexuality may also face charges of adultery if they have a spouse while having sexual relations with a person of the same sex.

Despite these legalities, there is a flourishing underground gay scene in the UAE, primarily bolstered by expatriates. The country is known as a regional center for LGBT culture in the Middle East.[2]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Article 354 of the Federal Penal Code states, "Whoever commits rape on a female or sodomy with a male shall be punished by death." While English translations of the Arabic text are in some dispute, it is generally felt that this is a prohibition against rape, and possibly consensual sodomy. The Federal Penal Code does not replace the legal system of each emirate, unless it is contrary to the federal law, and thus Sharia law remains in place. Hence a person could be charged on this federal penal code, or under a local (emirate) penal code. Despite the penal code's mention of a death penalty, executions for same-sex sexual conduct have not been implemented in the country.[3]

In 2013, it was announced that all the Gulf Cooperative Countries had agreed to establish some form of, yet unknown, testing in order to ban and deport gay foreigners.[4]

Abu Dhabi[edit]

Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code makes sodomy punishable with imprisonment of up to 14 years. Several news reports have revealed how the law is typically enforced. Cross-dressing would likewise be illegal.

In 2005, twenty-six young men were arrested at an Abu Dhabi hotel after police discovered the men engaging in cross-dressing and homosexual practices.[5] In discussing the raid, Mohammed bin Nukhaira Al Dhahiri, Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Auqaf stated, “There will be no room for homosexual and queer acts in the UAE. Our society does not accept queer behaviour, either in word or in action”.[5] Initial reports suggested that some of these men were ordered to be given experimental hormone treatments, although the government subsequently backed off from these statements.[5] The men were all given a five-year prison sentence.[5]


Article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai imposes imprisonment of up to 10 years on consensual sodomy. The most common depiction in the local media of LGBT people involves foreigners, disease, and sex crimes such as rape.[citation needed]

One such case involved the kidnapping and rape of a sixteen-year-old French Swiss boy by a group of men.[6] Initially, the police treated the victim as a suspect and the fear of being charged under Article 177 prompted the boy and his family to leave the country.[6] Eventually no formal charges were brought against the teenager who returned to testify against his rapists. The story generated international media attention with government representatives defending the criminal laws against homosexuality as, "This is a conservative society. Homosexuality, conducted homosexuality is an illegal act. And we are not ashamed of that." The boy's mother had launched an international campaign to boycott Dubai for the treatment of her son, but ended the campaign when the Government agreed to certain demands.[7] The boy was also awarded AED15 million (US $4 million) in civil compensation.[8]

In 2008, two lesbian tourists were given a one-month jail sentence and then deported for engaging in public displays of affection while visiting a beach.[9] The trial, reportedly the first of its kind, prompted the police to create a special task force to combat homosexuality and other "indecent acts" from taking place on the beaches.[10]

The legal and social sanctions against LGBT people mean that no formal LGBT organizations or nightclubs exist in Dubai. One nightclub called the Diamond Club sponsored a special night for the LGBT community, featuring a British cross-dressing DJ, only to be shut down by the Government.[11]

In 2011, two men were caught having sex in a car and were sentenced to a year each in prison. Both men were deported following their prison terms.[12]

In 2012, police arrested two Indian men for having consensual sex in a public toilet at a bus station. Both were jailed for six months each and were deported following their prison terms.[13] In the same year, a 28-year-old British man who drunkenly had sex with another man in public were both sentenced to three years in jail followed by deportation.[14] On 21 March 2012, police raided and broke up a gay party consisting of 30 men.[15] On 7 June 2012, a Belgian man admitted to police that he was in a homosexual relationship with a Filipino. He was arrested and jailed for a year to be followed by deportation.[16]

In 2014, Karen Mke and Kamilla Satto, two transgender women from Brazil, were arrested at a hotel nightclub in Dubai for "imitating women." The women were not allowed to leave Dubai once their passports were taken, and faced criminal charges.[17]

On 9 August 2016, Canadian-American model Gigi Gorgeous, who is transgender, had her passport taken and was detained by officials at Dubai International Airport, due to authorities not recognizing her gender as legitimate. She was released after being detained for over five hours.[18]

Gender identity/expression[edit]

In September 2016, the Government passed Federal Decree No 4, a series of changes to reduce doctors’ criminal liability. The new law allows doctors to perform sex reassignment surgery but only on people whose gender is unclear and whose physical features do not match the physiological, biological and genetic characteristics.[19][20][21] In late September, a trans man petitioned the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance for permission to have sex reassignment surgery. His case was heard on 28 September.[22]

Living conditions[edit]

LGBT flag map of the United Arab Emirates

The U.S. Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Report found that,

Both civil law and Sharia criminalize homosexual activity. Under Sharia[,] the death penalty is the punishment for individuals who engage in consensual homosexual activity. There were no prosecutions for homosexual activity during ... [2011]. At times[,] the government subjected persons to psychological treatment and counseling for homosexual activity. Cross-dressing is a punishable offense. The government deported cross-dressing foreign residents and referred citizens to public prosecutors.[23]

Internet censorship[edit]

The Government in the United Arab Emirates has restricted access to various websites and monitors chat rooms, instant messages and blogs. There were only few reports of prosecutions and punishments but many people on the internet have been censored their conversations and identity in gay chat rooms. The country’s only service provider of internet has a proxy server which blocks any website that goes against the country’s moral values. Sites regarding dating or marriage, LGBT issues, the Baha’I faith, Israel or sites related to unblocking the censorship are all inaccessible. Reports even suggest that any site with the word gay or sex is blocked.[24]

Public opinion[edit]

In May 2015, PlanetRomeo, a LGBT social network, published its first Gay Happiness Index (GHI). Gay men from over 120 countries were asked about how they feel about society’s view on homosexuality, how do they experience the way they are treated by other people and how satisfied are they with their lives. The UAE was ranked 85th with a GHI score of 37.[25]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Deportation, chemical castrations, fines or prison time)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only 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
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No/Yes (Since 2016)
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A Guide To Moving To The UAE – Laws & Regulations
  2. ^ Ewart, Paul (28 November 2016). "Aussie expat reveals what it's like to be gay in Dubai". Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  3. ^ "State Sponsored Homophobia 2016: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition" (PDF). International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. 17 May 2016. p. 37. Retrieved 19 May 2016. ILGA is informed that executions for same-sex sexual conduct (generally referring to hadd punishments) have not been implemented in either Qatar or UAE. 
  4. ^ "Gulf Cooperation Countries to test, detect then ban gays from entering their countries". Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  5. ^ a b c d "". Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  6. ^ a b "'They Destroyed Me': French Teen's Rape Case Exposes Dubai's Dark Side - ABC News". 2009-02-19. Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Fabrizio, Antonio. "Men sentenced for Dubai rape of 15-year-old boy". Pink News. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  9. ^ "Lesbian Couple Jailed for Kissing on Dubai Beach". Archived from the original on 16 January 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2009. 
  10. ^ "Dubai police target indecent acts on beaches". Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  11. ^ "Dubai closes club after gay night". BBC News. 1 April 2001. 
  12. ^ "Car sex earns men one-year sentences | The National". 2011-06-23. Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  13. ^ "Two men jailed for consensual sex". Archived from the original on 10 April 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  14. ^ Dubai: British man jailed for three years for public gay sex Archived 3 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Pink News
  15. ^ Littauer, Dan (21 March 2012). "Dubai Police Chief Denies Reports Of Gay Arrests". Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  16. ^ "Man In Dubai Gets 1 Year In Prison For Gay Relationship / Queerty". Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  17. ^ "Brazil transgender women accosted, detained in Dubai for 'imitating women'". 
  18. ^ Director, Cavan Sieczkowski Deputy; News; Analytics (10 August 2016). "YouTube Star Was Allegedly Detained In Dubai Airport Because She's Trans". 
  19. ^ Sex-change surgery is now legal in the UAE Archived 19 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Sex reassignment surgery is now legal in the United Arab Emirates Archived 7 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ New UAE law does not legalise sex change Archived 20 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ Trans man becomes first person to seek gender surgery in United Arab Emirates Archived 20 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Pink News
  23. ^ 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: United Arab Emirates Archived 26 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, p.23
  24. ^ Internet Censorship, Homosexuality in the UAE
  25. ^ The Gay Happiness Index. The very first worldwide country ranking, based on the input of 115,000 gay men Archived 12 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Planet Romeo

External links[edit]