On November 8, Khalid Salman, a 2022 FIFA Qatar World Cup Ambassador, described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” in an interview with ZDF, a TV channel in Germany. He also remarked that being gay is “haram,” which is Arabic for “forbidden.”
Salman’s suggestions are harmful and wrong. The Qatari government should reject this prejudice but has yet to do so. False information can be harmful to lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, including residents of Qatar, who already face discrimination, violence, and state-sponsored conversion practices. Comments like these only fuel existing bias, undermine basic human rights, and further exclude LGBT people from the public sphere.
In October, Human Rights Watch documented arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment in detention of LGBT Qataris by the Preventive Security Department. As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored “behavioral healthcare” center. Despite sustained pressure, Qatari authorities have refused to repeal laws criminalizing same-sex relations.
It is hard to access reliable and accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity in much of the Middle East and North Africa region due to censorship and restrictions on civil society. In Qatar and around the world, LGBT people experience stigma and discrimination which negatively impact their mental health. The United Nations Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity recently highlighted that LGBT persons across Africa, Europe, and Asia are at higher risk for suicide, often correlated with having survived physical or sexual violence. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health also outlined how mental health diagnoses have been misused to pathologize LGBT persons, compounding stigma and discrimination.
There are just a few days until the World Cup kickoff, but that’s plenty of time for the Qatari government to end ill-treatment of LGBT people, including by halting any government-sponsored programs aimed at conversion practices. Qatari authorities should publicly condemn violence against LGBT people and formally recognize that having same-sex sexual attraction is not a mental health condition.