Notorious for its adherence to Wahhabism, a puritanical strain of Islam, and as the birthplace of most of the 9/11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country that holds sharia (Islamic law) as its sole legal code.
That means smoking, drinking, going to discos, and mixing with unrelated persons of the opposite sex are all “haram” (forbidden).
Religious police (“mutaween”) are on constant patrol, enforcing the laws.
Sodomy is punishable by death. However, paradoxically, the strict laws limiting the mixing of the sexes mean that it is in many ways easier to be gay in Saudi Arabia than to be straight. As long as gays and lesbians maintain the appearances of conforming to Wahhabist rules, they can do what they want in private.
Visitors to Jeddah and Riyadh can find thriving communities of homosexuals – who meet in schools, cafés, on the streets, and on the Internet.
“You can be cruised anywhere in Saudi Arabia, any time of the day. They’re quite shameless about it,” Radwan, a 42-year-old gay Saudi American who grew up in various Western cities and now lives in Jeddah, told The Atlantic magazine.
Talal, a Syrian who moved to Riyadh in 2000, told the magazine that the Saudi capital is a “gay heaven.”
However, what surprises Westerners is that many Saudi men who have sex with other men do not consider themselves to be gay.
The sight of men holding hands is commonplace in Saudi Arabia and many other Arab countries, and is not seen as a suspicious act.
Homosexuality is outlawed by the Afghan constitution, but Shariah law is more likely to be enforced by vigilante groups than by the authorities.
But like Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is widespread – namely relations between adult men and young dancing boys, known as “bacha bazi”.
The practice of wealthy men forcing boys to dress up as women and dance at gatherings goes back to ancient times – but has seen a sharp revival in post-Taliban Afghanistan, according to human rights groups.
Boys who become bachas are seen as property, and those perceived as being particularly beautiful can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars. The men who control them sometimes rent them out as dancers at male-only parties, and some are prostituted.
Despite the negative social attitudes and legal prohibitions, there is an institutionalized form of bisexuality within Afghan culture.
This occurs when boys are kidnapped to act as sexual slaves for adult men, typically in a militia, or when an adult man buys sexual favors from young boys with money or gifts.
These activities are tolerated within Afghan culture because they are not perceived as being an expression of a LGBT-identity, but rather an expression of male power and dominance; as the boy in these situations is forced to assume the “female” role in the relationship.
Use of the death penalty remains persistently high in Yemen — the Middle Eastern country was ranked in 2012 by Amnesty International as one of the eight worst offenders for capital punishment in the world, with at least 28 cases that year.
While sodomy carries the death penalty by stoning in Yemen, reports suggest the extreme punishment has not been used for it in recent years, according to Death Penalty Worldwide.
However, it’s extremely rare for a Yemeni to come out as gay, even though a thriving underground LGBT community exists.
Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, homosexuality has been outlawed – and lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have been punished by floggings and death sentences.
Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli, an influential Iranian cleric, said in a speech last April that homosexuals were inferior to dogs and pigs and blamed them for spread of Aids.
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Nigeria. The maximum punishment in the twelve northern states that have adopted Sharia law is death by stoning. That law applies to all Muslims and to those who have voluntarily consented to application of the Shari’a courts.
“The Deadly Seven”―Countries With Death Penalty For Homosexuality
Seven nations still carry out executions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Currently, the nations that prescribe capital punishment for homosexuals are: Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen.
South Sudan, the world’s newest country, may become the eighth nation to legally condone the execution of gays; and, if religious extremists have their way, Uganda could become the ninth.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) released the fourth edition of its massive “State Sponsored Homophobia” report in 2010.
The most significant change in that edition: One-sixth of the world’s gays and lesbians were emancipated when India’s Delhi High Court legalized gay sex last the previous July.
Compared to the previous report, where they listed the 77 countries prosecuting people on ground of their sexual orientation, this year you will find ’only’ 76 in the same list, including the infamous 5 which put people to death for their sexual orientation: Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen [plus some parts of Nigeria and Somalia]
ILGA said that 76 nations criminalize “consensual sexual acts between persons of the same sex in private over the age of consent.” They are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, São Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
In addition, gay sex is illegal in the Cook Islands (a self-governing democracy in free association with New Zealand), the Gaza Strip in Palestine, and Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey.
“Naming and shaming homophobic countries is essential but it is also important to recognize countries where progress is being made,” said ILGA Co-Secretary General Renato Sabbadini.