Emirates has done a damn good job selling itself as a luxury airline, and some of our gay brothers are a sucker for luxury.
I’ve quietly observed friends on Facebook over the past few years waxing lyrical about their Emirates experience, posting photos from the plane, indulging themselves in business class even for short trips to Australia.
Guys, I say this with the greatest of love: you’re bloody idiots.
There are companies the world over that pee themselves to get hold of the lucrative pink dollar, but there are few who show such contempt in return for their customers.
Emirates is a subsidiary of a group of companies which is wholly owned by the government of Dubai, also held up as a wonderland luxury destination in the Middle East. There’s only one problem: homosexuality is illegal there.
Have a read through the website of Detained in Dubai, a non-profit organization set up “to assist people who have become victims of injustice in the United Arab Emirates.”
“Although one should never have to hide who they are, it’s the only way to travel safely in the UAE if you are gay. With harsh and discriminatory laws condemning homosexuality and promoting homophobia in the name of religion, one must consider the risks quite carefully.”
Canadian couple Rocky Sharma and Stephen McLeod found out about the risks in 2008, and they were just passing through:
“They were detained for carrying prescription drugs, Celebrex for arthritis, which is banned in the UAE. The couple, Rocky Sharma and Stephen McLeod have been together for almost 20 years and only stopped in Dubai for a day in transit before returning to Toronto from their vacation in India.
The couple was given little information regarding their detention as security officials spoke little English. They were not given the opportunity to contact a lawyer or consular officials. Instead, Sharma was able to contact friends on his Blackberry, which he had with him upon arrest. His friends gave him the emergency contract number for the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi, which he called before his phone was confiscated.
They were taken to the detention centre and forced to provide urine samples for drug testing. They survived an unhygienic prison cell with 8 other prisoners for 10 days before they were sent to separate prisons; their only means of communication was through the Canadian consular office.”
But it’s not just white tourists that get targeted. In the UAE, they’re just as kindly to local gay folk. In 2005, a mass arrest of gay men made world headlines. Eleven men received five-year prison sentences, along with an extra year for “obscenity”. They were flogged, and forced to undergo homone treatment.
On Friday, as newspapers reported the arrests, the minister of justice and Islamic affairs, Mohammed bin Nukhaira Al Dhahiri, called on parents to be vigilant for “deviant” behavior in their children.
“It’s not about freedom of opinion, it’s about respecting religion which forbids this type of behavior,” he said.
It’s possible that the sentences in the above case were more lenient with the world’s eyes being upon the Muslim state. Here’s what we know about what the law books say:
“Reports claim that punishment for homosexuality can range from 10 years in prison, fines, deportation and even the death penalty. The UAE Federal Penal Code, Article 354 states “whoever commits rape on a female or sodomy with a male shall be punishable by death”.
Article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai has consensual sodomy as being punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Both penal codes are extremely hard to locate in English and translations vary. What appears to be true is that male rape is not recognized. Instead, consensual homosexual activity is criminalized.”
Yes, male rape is not recognized as a crime, which means that rape victims do not come forward lest they be arrested for homosexuality, as happened with Alexandre Kafkaesque, a 15-year-old French boy with a horribly ironic surname who was raped at knifepoint by two locals in 2004.
“Kafkaesque claims he was discouraged by the police from pressing charges and even faced the possibility of being charged with criminal homosexual activity himself. Officials even allegedly hid the fact that one of the attackers tested positive for HIV while in prison years earlier.”
As recently as two days ago, reports have emerged from Dubai that 30 gay men have been arrested by government forces at a private party. The unconfirmed reports have emerged via UAE LGBT, an underground group in the state, as nothing has made it to the official press. It is believed that some of the men are from prominent Emirati families. From a UAE LGBT spokeswoman:
‘This was a private party, one amongst hundreds if not thousands taking place in the UAE on a Friday night. The boys risk huge consequences and discriminations in their future careers if their names get out, not to mention the lives of some of them are at risk if their families are conservatives, as it may lead to so called “honour killings”.’
But by all means, continue to fly the friendly skies, if your conscience can manage it. San Francisco, arguably the world’s gayest city, had a few sleepless nights when Emirates started flying there in 2008.
Eager for the airline’s business, the city of San Francisco let them in, despite reports in the Wall Street Journal that its employment practices would violate numerous city human rights laws:
“A recent Wall Street Journal piece on the airline says that “tough rules are enforced, including some that would be deemed discriminatory in the West, such as weight requirements and a no-pregnancy policy for unwed women.”
Further, the paper says: “Openly gay male attendants need not apply. Premarital sex and homosexuality are both illegal in Dubai.””
Of course, Emirates representatives ticked all the right boxes and made all the right noises when the red carpet was being rolled out for them:
“Larry Brinkin, the compliance officer for the city Human Rights Commission, says airline reps, under penalty of perjury, checked off all the boxes on a city form saying they don’t discriminate based on “race, sexual orientation or religion.”
They also submitted documentation showing they comply with the city’s decade-old ordinance guaranteeing benefits to both gays and unmarried couples who register as domestic partners.
“They say they don’t discriminate, and we don’t know otherwise,” Brinkin said.”
However, as the San Francisco Chronicle noted, city law only applies to how companies operate within the country. Flight attendants who arrive from Dubai will not be protected by America’s higher-grade civil rights laws.
And New Zealand is not immune – our yachting team has been happy to whore itself out to the airline, even granting naming rights to it. I wonder if there are any gay men in Team New Zealand?
So do have a think the next time you whip out your credit card for an overseas trip.
Emirates and the government that controls it are happy to take your gay dollars, but they’re also happy to chuck you in prison if you set foot on their soil, condone the rape of teenagers, and pay lip service to local human rights laws so they can get a foothold into regions of the world like ours where gay men are actually treated like human beings.
Are you a gay man who works for Emirates? Please share your thoughts below.