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LGBT rights in Bahrain

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Bahrain is known as one of the more tolerant Muslim nations in the Middle East, and has recently undergone a period of political liberalization. However, homosexuality remains a crime, and the government has periodically deported expatriates living in the nation for their sexual orientation.

Criminal CodeEdit

Homosexuality has been considered illegal in Bahrain since 1956 when, as part of the British Empire, it was given the Indian Penal Code. Article 377 of this code made "unnatural sexual behaviour" a crime punishable with imprisonment not to exceed ten years, or deportation for twenty years of a fine. The law remains in effect today, and seems also to apply to cases of adultery [1]. However, the law seems to be rarely enforced.

For non-citizens, the most likely punishment is deportation rather than a fine or imprisonment. For example, it has been reported that in 2002 the government deported 2,000 gay Filipino workers for alleged homosexual activity and prostitution [2].

Public cross-dressing would appear to be illegal, at least if a man dresses up in female attire. There is at least one report of a man being arrested for cross-dressing in public [3] under the broad crime of "immorality". [4].

In response to questions from parliament about lesbianism in schools, the Assistant Under-Secretary for Educational Services Khalid Al Alawi has said that the Education Ministry is not responsible for addressing issues of sexuality, and instead it is the responsibility of parents to take care of their children's emotional development: "Any emotional problems should be dealt with by their parents - it is not up to the school to take actions on this problem. The public shouldn't make a big deal out of this problem because it does not exist." Speaking about the government's attitude, Mr Al Alawi said that "As for the question that has been raised in the Press about the so-called problem of lesbianism, as a ministry we cannot talk about a widespread phenomenon and we can't call them lesbians. The problems that the students are facing are put into the category of educational problems, not immoral acts. If a student's appearance is contrary to custom and the schools values, then the only thing we can say is that those violating the school's rules should be disciplined."[5]

Freedom of SpeechEdit

The subject of homosexuality in Bahrain is rarely discussed in the newspapers, although it is not a forbidden topic. Since the 1990s newspapers have mentioned the issue particularly when talking about events happening outside of Bahrain in the field of entertainment or criminal arrests or the AIDS-HIV pandemic. It has only been within the last few years that the Bahraini press has begun to address sexual orientation, gender identity, and AIDS as they apply to the island.

In 2002 the Arabic language newspaper, Al-Meethaq, created a national controversy when it became the first newspaper to discuss homosexuality [6] in Bahrain.

On 21 December 2005, the Gulf Daily News' British columnist Les Horton wrote a commentary, 'Gay weddings are no threat to family values'. While it is an English language newspaper, its readership includes many Arabic speaking Bahrainis.

The Gulf Daily News has continued to write articles that touch upon these taboo subjects. For example, it has published brief articles on Bahrani female homosexuality in girls' schools and women who claim to have become lesbians based on abusive relationships with men.

LGBT CommunityEdit

The Bahraini gay "scene" is limited to Wendy's Bar (in the Gulf Gate Hotel), most popular on Thursday nights 10pm-2am. Other gay-friendly bars/clubs include, but are not limited to, BJ's, Seven, Z Club, Mansouri Mansion, and Likwid, on either Thursday or Friday nights. Wrangler's (in the Best Western Hotel) is popular among gays on Wednesdays for its free (!) dinner buffet.

The law against homosexuality, while sporadically enforced, prevents any visible gay community from existing. However, among western or European workers in the kingdom, there do exist certain bars that seem to have a gay male clientele.

In 2006 the Gulf Daily News published a story about a Bahraini woman who, having undergone a sex change operation, is going to court in a bid to have her new status as a man recognised in law. The lawyer, Fowzia Mohammed Janahi, had won a landmark case in 2005 where a Bahraini woman, aged 30, had the operation and was legally recognised as a man [7]. As of 2007, the legal case was still going through the Bahraini legal system [8].

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