Across vast Muslim world, LGBTQ people remain marginalized

Dec 5, 2022, 3:03 PM | Updated: Dec 6, 2022, 5:50 am
Shinta Ratri, founder of Al Fatah Islamic school for transgender women, speaks during an interview ...

Shinta Ratri, founder of Al Fatah Islamic school for transgender women, speaks during an interview in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. The school whose students are transgender women is a rare oasis of LGBTQ acceptance – not only in Indonesia, but across the far-flung Muslim world. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

              FILE - Protesters clash with Turkish police during the LGBTQ Pride March in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, July 5, 2022. Police in Turkey's capital broke up the march and detained dozens of people. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has shown increasing intolerance toward any expression of LGBTQ rights, banning Pride marches and suppressing the display of rainbow symbols. (AP Photo/Ali Unal, File)
            
              FILE - Protestors kiss while holding placards reading "Shoot out queer hate" and "Rights not greed" during a rally to raise awareness of the human rights situation of LGBTQ people in Qatar and FIFA's responsibility, in front of the FIFA Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. An ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar has described homosexuality as a "damage in the mind" in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF only two weeks before the opening of the soccer tournament in the Gulf state. (Michael Buholzer/Keystone via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Police officers surround the cell in a courtroom as some of 26 men, who were arrested in a televised raid last month by police looking for gays at a Cairo public bathhouse, celebrate after an Egyptian court acquitted them in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. The trial, which had caused an uproar among activists and rights groups, captured public attention after a pro-government TV network aired scenes of half-naked men being pulled from the bathhouse by police. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
            
              FILE - A group of activists from the LGBTQ community, background, argue with opponents of their rally in which they are calling on the government for more rights in the country gripped by economic and financial crisis, during ongoing protests in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
            
              FILE - A Shariah Law official uses a rattan cane to whip one of two men convicted of gay sex in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. Two men in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province were caned 77 times each after neighbors reported them to the Shariah Police for having sex. (AP Photo/Riska Munawarah, File)
            
              A trans woman chants the call for prayer before an early evening prayer at Al-Fatah Islamic school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. On the outskirts of the Indonesian city that's home to many universities, the small boarding school is on a mission that seems out of place in a nation with more Muslim citizens than any other. Its students are transgender women. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Trans women attend a Quran reading class at Al Fatah Islamic school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. The school whose students are transgender women is a rare oasis of LGBTQ acceptance – not only in Indonesia, but across the far-flung Muslim world. Many Muslim nations criminalize gay sex. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Nur, right, a trans woman, takes a cigarette break as other attend a Quran reading class at Al-Fatah Islamic school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. On the outskirts of the Indonesian city that's home to many universities, the small boarding school is on a mission that seems out of place in a nation with more Muslim citizens than any other. Its students are transgender women. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Trans women and activists perform an early evening prayer at Al-Fatah Islamic school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. On the outskirts of the Indonesian city that's home to many universities, the small boarding school is on a mission that seems out of place in a nation with more Muslim citizens than any other. Its students are transgender women. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Trans women attend a Quran reading class at Al Fatah Islamic school for transgender women, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. Compared to many Muslim nations, Indonesia is relatively tolerant. Scores of LGBTQ organizations operate openly, advocating for equal rights, offering counseling, liaising with religious leaders. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              A trans woman learns to read Arabic during a class at Al Fatah Islamic school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. The school whose students are transgender women is a rare oasis of LGBTQ acceptance – not only in Indonesia, but across the far-flung Muslim world. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Y.S. Al Buchory, a trans woman, smokes a cigarette during an interview, with Arabic calligraphy that reads "Allah" above an entrance at Al Fatah Islamic school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. Buchory, 55, struggled for years to cope with lack of acceptance by people around her, but now feels at home at the school. “Like a rainbow, if there are red, yellow, green colors combined, it becomes more beautiful, rather than only black and white,” she says. “We must be able to respect each other, tolerate, not interfere with each other.” (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Trans women and activists perform an early evening prayer at Al-Fatah Islamic school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. On the outskirts of the Indonesian city that's home to many universities, the small boarding school is on a mission that seems out of place in a nation with more Muslim citizens than any other. Its students are transgender women. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Shinta Ratri, center, founder of Al-Fatah Islamic school, reads the Quran with other trans women in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. The school whose students are transgender women is a rare oasis of LGBTQ acceptance – not only in Indonesia, but across the far-flung Muslim world. Many Muslim nations criminalize gay sex. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              Shinta Ratri, founder of Al Fatah Islamic school for transgender women, speaks during an interview in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. The school whose students are transgender women is a rare oasis of LGBTQ acceptance – not only in Indonesia, but across the far-flung Muslim world. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
            
              People hold up pictures of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — On the outskirts of Yogyakarta, an Indonesian city that’s home to many universities, is a small boarding school with a mission that seems out of place in a nation with more Muslim citizens than any other. Its students are transgender women.

It is a rare oasis of LGBTQ acceptance – not only in Indonesia, but across the far-flung Muslim world. Many Muslim nations criminalize gay sex — including World Cup host Qatar. LGBTQ people routinely are rejected by their families, denounced by Islamic authorities, hounded by security forces, and limited to clandestine social lives. Appeals for change from LGBTQ-friendly nations are routinely dismissed as unwarranted outside interference.

Yogyakarta’s Al-Fatah Islamic school was founded 14 years ago by Shinta Ratri, a trans woman who struggled with self-doubts in her youth, wondering if her gender transition was sinful.

She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, then devoted herself to enabling other trans women to study Islam. Initially, there were 20 students at the school, and now about 60 – many of them middle-aged.

Among them is Y.S. Al Buchory, 55, who struggled for years to cope with lack of acceptance by people around her, but now feels at home at the school and hopes tolerance spreads through her country.

“Like a rainbow, if there are red, yellow, green colors combined, it becomes more beautiful, rather than only black and white,” she said. “We must be able to respect each other, tolerate, not interfere with each other.”

Compared to many Muslim nations, Indonesia is relatively tolerant. Scores of LGBTQ organizations operate openly, advocating for equal rights, offering counseling, liaising with religious leaders. Only one conservative province, Aceh — which practices Sharia law — explicitly criminalizes same-sex relations.

In Aceh, two men were publicly caned last year – 77 strokes each — after neighbors reported them to religious police for having sex. Earlier this year, Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, in a speech to Muslim teachers, said LGBTQ people were engaged in “deviant behavior” that should be outlawed.

“Parliament must be demanded to make this law,” said Ma’ruf Amin, a Muslim cleric. “Ask them to ban LGBT.”

That attitude was reinforced last week, when the United States canceled a trip to Indonesia by a special envoy on LGBTQ rights after the country’s most influential Islamic group objected.

“We cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture,” said Anwar Abbas, vice chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council.

Dédé Oetomo, founder of the LGBTQ-rights organization GAYa NUSANTARA, said acceptance of his community varies from one region of Indonesia to another. He cited a few examples of public support – such as a trans woman chosen as leader of a village council – yet said there is little hope of meaningful government support.

“We still cannot imagine if there would be a law for the protection against discrimination,” Oetomo said.

That’s the norm throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds – either government neglect or outright hostility toward LGBTQ people, said Rasha Younes, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch who investigates anti-LGBTQ abuses in the Middle East and North Africa.

In a few countries, LGBTQ-friendly cafes have surfaced and activists have been able to organize – offering social services and, if possible, campaigning for reforms, Younes said.

“But the results are as weak as ever,” Younes said, noting that anti-LGBTQ laws remain in place and activists often face crackdowns by security forces.

“There is some solidarity and changing social attitudes,” she said. “But the onus is on the government. LGBTQ people will continue to live on the margins unless the governments repeal these laws.”

In many cases, the religious underpinnings of anti-LGBTQ attitudes are coupled with resentment of outside pressure from nations that have embraced LGBTQ inclusion. More than a dozen Muslim nations recently barred Disney’s latest animated film “Lightyear” from playing at cinemas due to inclusion of a brief kiss between a lesbian couple. In Qatar, authorities have urged visiting World Cup fans to respect the local culture — in which LGBTQ activism is taboo.

In some countries, apparent advances for LGBTQ people have been followed by pushbacks. Lebanon is an example. Over recent years, its LGBTQ community was widely seen as the most vibrant and visible in the Arab world, with advocacy for greater rights by some groups, and gay bars hosting events such as drag shows.

Yet many in the community have been reeling from a wave of hostility this year that included an Interior Ministry ban on events described as aiming to promote “sexual perversion.”

Online, some people have railed against Pride events, at times citing religious beliefs, both Muslim and Christian, to denounce LGBTQ activism. Someone posted an image of a knife slicing through a rainbow flag.

At one point, security force members showed up at the Beirut office of the LGBTQ-rights organization Helem, executive director Tarek Zeidan said.

Some LGBTQ activists called for a protest, distributing an invitation that said, “We will continue to love and to live as we wish.” But the demonstration was postponed, with organizers citing safety concerns.

The crackdown has rattled LGBTQ people already straining due to Lebanon’s economic crises, which activists say have disproportionately fueled unemployment and homelessness in vulnerable groups.

In November, activist groups reported with relief that the Interior Ministry’s ban on LGBTQ events had been suspended.

“We are on the battlefield and part of the conversation,” said Zeidan. “In Lebanon, the conversation is fiercely being debated. In other parts of the region, the conversation has been completely quenched.”

Sahar Mandour?, Amnesty International’s researcher on Lebanon, elaborated.

“There is a space. We have organizations. Nightlife exists,” Mandour? said. “But it’s always under negotiation, where and when. There’s no protection, but there’s existence.”

In Turkey, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has shown increasing intolerance toward any expression of LGBTQ rights, banning Pride marches and suppressing the display of rainbow symbols.

It’s a marked change for Erdogan, who, before taking power in 2003, said mistreatment of gay people was inhumane and called for legal protections.

A Pride march in Istanbul, which had been held since 2003 while attracting huge crowds, has been canceled since 2014. In contrast, the government recently allowed a large anti-LGBTQ rally to proceed without police interference.

The ruling party is expected to propose constitutional amendments that would protect family values from what Erdogan describes as “perverted currents.” Activists fear the amendments would curb LGBTQ rights and discourage same-sex relationships.

Among Arab nations, most explicitly outlaw gay sex, including Qatar. It has faced intense international scrutiny and criticism before and during the World Cup over rights issues, including questions on whether LGBTQ visitors would feel safe and welcome.

Other Arab countries, such as Egypt, prosecute LGBTQ people under charges of immorality or debauchery. The situation is similar in Iraq; Human Rights Watch says lack of an explicit ban on gay sex there has not protected LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination, nor from occasional charges of immorality or public indecency.

A transgender Iraqi woman who identifies as Kween B, told The Associated Press her life felt precarious, like standing in the midst of a busy highway.

“You could get smashed any second,” said Kween, who lives in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.

In her case, that has meant getting bullied as a child and suppressing her feminine identity while in high school and university. Now, at 33, she believes she would be rejected, or even physically harmed, if she came out to her family. But in recent years, she has increasingly pushed the boundaries, donning a rainbow wristband in public or wearing makeup for a party.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch alleged that armed groups in Iraq abduct, rape, torture and kill LGBTQ people with impunity and that the police arrest and also carry out violence against them.

Iraqi officials deny any attacks by security forces on gay people; one commander affiliated with an umbrella group of militias rejected the accusation and said violence suffered by gays was likely from their families.

For Kween, her apartment is her safe space. A few years ago, she started hosting gatherings that, at first, included a few close LGBTQ friends but has since grown. At such gatherings, she can fully express herself, donning a wig and a dress.

“We’ve got to be who we are,” she said. “If we don’t do the fight ourselves, nobody is going to do it for us.”

Looking ahead, leading LGBTQ-rights advocates salute the courage of activists trying to operate publicly in countries such as Lebanon and Tunisia. But they are not optimistic about major LGBTQ advances any time soon in most of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

“In many countries, where civil society is not allowed, where there’s complete lack of rights and free association, activism cannot be viewed in the public realm,” Younes said. “People cannot protest or express support online for LGBTQ rights, so there’s total repression of LGBTQ rights.”

Kevin Schumacher, whose current work focuses on advancing women’s rights in Afghanistan, spent seven years as Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ-rights organization.

He’s skeptical that the LGBTQ cause can rise to the forefront in the region’s numerous authoritarian-ruled countries where women and political dissidents, as well as LGBTQ people, often are repressed. He sees the current widespread anti-government protests in Iran – where homosexual acts can be punished by death – as a possible model for how change could come about.

“You can’t just talk about LGBTQ rights if the straight people are oppressed, if the women have no rights,” he said. “The discourse should be about bodily autonomy — the right over your body and decisions over your sexual rights, not specific to men, women, gay, straight.”

___

Fam reported from Cairo, Crary from New York. Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer reac...
Associated Press

Man rescued by Coast Guard wanted in ‘Goonies’ fish incident

A man who was saved by a Coast Guard rescue swimmer at the mouth of the Columbia River as a massive wave rolled the yacht he was piloting Friday was wanted for a bizarre incident in which police said he left a dead fish at the Astoria, Oregon, home featured in the classic 1985 film, "The Goonies."
21 hours ago
FILE - An Amazon company logo on the company's building in Schoenefeld near Berlin, Germany, March ...
Associated Press

Amazon violated labor law with delivery app

A Spanish court has ruled that Amazon broke labor laws by forcing more than 2,000 delivery drivers to use an app that the company controlled for scheduling work and payments and requiring them to use their own cars and cellphones on the job.
21 hours ago
Machine operators clean solar panels at the Premier Energies Solar on the outskirts of Hyderabad, I...
Associated Press

India’s G-20 energy meet to balance renewables, fossil fuels

BENGALURU, India (AP) — Over 500 energy industry heavyweights and 30,000 participants will descend on the southern Indian city of Bengaluru on Monday to discuss the future of renewables and fossil fuels at India Energy Week — the first big ticket event of the country’s presidency of the Group of 20 leading economies. Speakers, including […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Saturday’s Scores

GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL= Bellarmine Prep 54, Olympia 43 Chiawana 76, Hermiston, Ore. 41 Hazen 40, Liberty 36 Kamiakin 77, Pasco 17 Orcas Island 67, Concrete 13 South Kitsap 39, Bethel 37 ___ Some high school basketball scores provided by Scorestream.com, https://scorestream.com/ Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Saturday’s Scores

BOYS PREP BASKETBALL= Adna 66, Raymond 47 Goldendale 56, Kittitas 33 Issaquah 65, Newport-Bellevue 46 Klahowya 79, North Mason 50 Lummi 65, Lopez 25 Mount Vernon Christian 81, Shoreline Christian 33 Neah Bay 91, Taholah 36 Orcas Island 82, Fellowship Christian 36 Puyallup 63, Emerald Ridge 52 Woodinville 73, North Creek 49 ___ Some high […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Crash averted at Austin airport; FAA, NTSB to investigate

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A FedEx cargo airplane attempting to land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Saturday morning had to change course after a second plane was cleared to depart from the same runway, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. “The pilot of the FedEx airplane discontinued the landing and initiated a climb out,” the […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Across vast Muslim world, LGBTQ people remain marginalized