I was born and raised in Qatar, and I am now a physician living in San Francisco.
This year of the FIFA World Cup, I am speaking up against homophobia and I think we all should too.
I grew up in a very conservative Muslim society and family. I did not have access to the internet. I did not have access to the Western media and did not have any LGBT visibility around me.
When I was a young teen, I realized that I am different from most people. I did not know how to describe my difference from those around me, and there was no channel to simply discuss what I was experiencing. I thought this would be something that I would address when I am older and prepared to get married.
In Qatar, we typically get married in our late teens or early twenties, mostly in arranged settings. I was very conservative as a teenager and too afraid to step “out of line” in general in Qatar.
Some of my friends have told me stories about online chat rooms and how undercover cops are arresting men trying to meet other men in a romantic setting. I also heard about lashing and prison sentences.
I kept to myself for the most part until I got into medical school. It was during a trip to the United States in 2010 when I really come to terms with the fact that I am gay – that I could choose to not get married to a woman back home and be happy in the USA.
It was a moment of absolute crisis for me. I knew that in Qatar I would not only not be happy if I followed this path, but I would actually be in danger. It was in conflict with my society and religious upbringing. I could not understand how this could be a thing that just happens to me; I assumed it must have been something I chose.
I left Qatar for Connecticut in 2011, to do my residency after medical school, and did not have an intention to go back. In 2015, I moved to San Francisco and filed for political asylum as I was afraid to return to Qatar as I continued to come out as a gay man. I was granted asylum in 2017.
Throughout the last 10 years, I have been caring for the LGBT community in outpatient settings, hearing stories from around the world that ended up in San Francisco.
Between my professional setting and some LGBT activism work, I got to learn a lot more about what happens to other LGBT Qataris. There is an absolute systematic effort to make this issue invisible in Qatari culture. The media is controlled by the government, and any LGBT content is taken away. Schools do not discuss it.
Being an LGBT person is a criminal offense in the legal system in Qatar, as is sex between two men. There are state-sponsored conversion-therapy practices, and LGBT-affirming psychotherapy is not offered.
Access to sensitive sexual-health support is risky.
There are also systematic efforts by the law enforcement to both find and jail LGBT people. All of these stories are untold, due to the severe repercussions of speaking up.
For an LGBT person to speak up from Qatar, they need to be ready to lose everything that they have there, including their relationship with their family and friends. I had already gone through that, coming out on BBC English and Arabic this year to bring visibility to our issues that are kept in the shadows.
I am the very first LGBT Qatari I know of to come out publicly.
Qatar is preparing to host the FIFA World Cup this year. Many concerns about human rights violations are surfacing.
By coming out and being out, I am hoping to shed light and bring support to the LGBT community in Qatar.
The reputation and image of Qatar is currently being painted by FIFA, and by David Beckham as the event’s official face, as welcoming.
Yet Qatari officials continue to persecute the local LGBT community and tell the foreign press that “LGBT fans are welcome.” Yet we are not welcome in our home country.
Visibility of the local LGBT community in Qatar, and the exposure of their treatment, are absolutely essential in helping us continue to be granted asylum when our lives are threatened.
Visibility is also an essential part of advancing human rights over time. I am doing my part by speaking up, and I have started a petition to protest with about 50,000 supporters so far.
I am asking individuals and organizations to speak up and say something this year. Silence is not only not helpful but is actually damaging to us. Amplify my voice with yours and help us say “love is not a crime.”