The Proud Maroons are the LGBTQ soccer supporters’ group its home country never wanted.
Leading up to the World Cup, Dr. Nasser Mohamed, who wrote an essay on Outsports sounding the alarm about LGBTQ oppression in Qatar, was determined to elevate the invisible experiences of LGBTQ people in the gulf state. Furious with lip service from Qatari officials about protecting LGBTQ visitors during the 28-day tournament, Mohamed decided to highlight their hypocrisy.
The Proud Maroons are comprised of LGBTQ Qataris, but there’s a catch: no LGBTQ person living in Qatar can actually join. Being out is far too dangerous.
“I’m really highlighting the hypocrisy of ‘gay fans are welcome’ by creating an LGBTQ football supporter group for their own national team, the Maroons, to say, ‘This is an LGBTQ supporters group that cannot have LGBTQ supporters from its own nation join in, because they would be persecuted,” said Mohamed this week on my podcast, The Sports Kiki.
Four days in, it’s apparent promises from Qatari officials about visitors being able to wear rainbow colors to World Cup games and present themselves authentically were complete lies. On Monday, authorities detained and harassed American journalist Grant Wahl for entering one of the stadiums sporting a T-shirt with a rainbow soccer ball.
While Wahl was eventually released and allowed to cover the game, LGBTQ Qataris probably wouldn't be so lucky. Most of the media coverage about the safety of LGBTQ people during the World Cup has been centered around how tourists will be treated.
Mohamed says the focus should be on the LGBTQ people in Qatar who aren’t able to leave when the World Cup ends.
“The main thing people were worried about were the LGBTQ visitors. They were not paying attention to the LGBTQ community in Qatar,” said Mohamed. “Our voice was being buried, and that was very frustrating for us.”
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of exposing the dire situation for LGBTQ people in Qatar, and many Middle Eastern nations, is the lack of a public record. When Mohamed applied for asylum in the U.S., he had to prove he would face persecution if he returned home.
That required coming out as gay, which for Mohamed, meant potentially cutting ties with his family forever.
“I needed to prove I was an LGBTQ person, and that was a process. I was ready to just show them my Grindr,” he said.
When Mohamed told his mother, she wanted to know if he was sick, and hasn’t spoken to him since. Mohamed is no longer in contact with any of his family members.
“If I had a relationship with my family, I wouldn’t be able to come out publicly,” he said. “I would worry about their safety.”
Since publicly coming out in a May BBC interview, Mohamed says he’s been in surreptitious contact with hundreds of LGBTQ Qataris. “To hear how everybody is trying to navigate, is just so insane,” he said.
Living in San Francisco, Mohamed, who practices medicine, says a disproportionate number of his patients are LGBTQ. He’s been in the U.S. since the early 2010s, completing his residency in Connecticut and a fellowship in Pittsburgh before moving out to the Bay Area.
Now, Mohamed lives in the center of one of the world’s most vibrant LGBTQ communities, and he’s using his status to help. He started a non-profit, the Alwan Foundation, to advocate for LGBTQ people in the Middle East.
The Proud Maroons are an extension of Mohamed’s work to raise awareness. Every day on Instagram throughout the World Cup, he’s sharing dispatches from LGBTQ Qataris who cannot be Proud Maroons.
Mohamed is trying to ensure that Qatari authorities can’t whitewash their brutal treatment of LGBTQ with opulent stadiums and venues. The best way for the rest of us to help is to pay attention.
“The protest would be to ask the rest of the LGBTQ community to join and be proud Proud Maroons for us on our behalf, and show we are one community, and that human rights are global,” he said.