Gays and lesbians in the Emirates have welcomed Madonna’s performance there, where she displayed strong messages of support for LGBT rights.
The global pop star played stadium gigs in Abu Dhabi on 3 and 4 June as part of her MDNA album world tour.
Around 25,000 attend the Madonna’s first ever performance in the Arab world at the Yas Island Stadium, at Abu Dhabi, the federal capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where gay sex is still criminalized.
Her performance, including 22 songs and a laser show, included multiple ‘strong and clear messages about LGBT rights’, reports ‘Shamil’, member of the UAE LGBT group and Gulf region editor of GayMiddleEast.com.
Shamil said excitedly: ‘She didn’t hold back at all!’
She opened the performance provocatively, with religious chanting during which a huge incense pot vacillated above her fans. During her song ‘Gang Bang’ she projected a bad girl image provocatively dressed, drinking and sporting an ‘AK47’ while ‘shooting’ a man in a motel.
Shamil said: ‘One of the strongest visuals for LGBT rights and against homophobic bullying was during Nobody Knows Me where the interlude video highlighted the plight of young people who are driven to commit suicide because they are victims of homophobic bullying.’
Another clear message of support were projected during Express Yourself which included a tribute to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way with images projected including men kissing men, women kissing women and a straight embrace. It also featured J Howard Miller’s famous ‘We can do it’ American propaganda poster depicting a woman with her sleeve rolled up, popular with lesbians.
The Emirates audience was also treated to topless male dancers in high heels during Girls Gone Wild, a striking contrast to the UAE’s usual insistence on strictly traditional gender roles.
During Erotica, Madonna stripped down to her underwear, pointed to her genitalia and said, ‘This thing is hot!’, inviting the crowds to ‘act dangerously’ while flirting with girl band dancers while the male dancers dressed up as women in corsets, recounted Shamil.
‘Vogue was just spectacular with the male dancers in particular strutting their stuff’, reported Shamil. ‘Perhaps Madonna is so far the only artist who portrayed and supported LGBT rights in the UAE. Last year I attended Scissor Sisters concert and they didn’t or couldn’t do anything.’
Homosexuality is punished with up to 14 years jail in Abu-Dhabi, and article 354 of the Federal Penal Code may even prescribe the death sentence for ‘consensual sodomy’.
Public displays of affection, gay or straight, are illegal and can carry harsh sentences including several months in jail, fines and deportation for non-Emirati residents. Several recent cases have, however, demonstrated that it is not always easy for LGBT people to find ‘private’ places for consensual displays of same-sex affection.
‘Adilah’, an Emirati lesbian member of the UAE LGBT told me: ‘Madonna’s concert was the first time I was in an environment in the UAE that had this much of a feel for unity, love, respect, admiration, adoration for LGBT people. In public!
‘Performance wise Madonna’s showcase had messages that aren’t new to her gay or gay friendly fans. We all know how she feels about us but anyone who ever had a doubt or felt gays and lesbians are lesser forms of life definitely now knows more about our place in the world.
‘And how could they not? I mean, there was a gay/lesbian group standing, jumping, and smiling every six inches. And so many of them were Emiratis too!
‘We were stood next to a gorgeous group of boys in Balmain tops with studded shoulder pads and Jeffery Campbell heels! It was just so great to be amongst all our gay friends, in one place, being ourselves, and knowing every time Madonna flashed a gay sign everyone cheered.’
‘Nasira’, another lesbian member of the group stated: ‘Whilst the concert was predominantly about music and advertising for her new album, I left the show with the sense and overwhelming feeling that I had just witnessed, if not been a part of, something more extraordinary.
‘There aren’t many times as an LGBT person living in the Middle East that we are able to see ourselves, on such a large platform as that night, represented, included, respected and most of all accepted in such a public way.
‘The message was simple, that we are all capable of some truly terrible and terrifying acts of violence and love, but moreover that we are all capable of loving one another in a variety of different but beautiful ways.
‘Whatever else is said about that night, there is simply no way to negate the simple fact that as a human being, rather than a musical legend, Madonna should be revered. To be so confident and unwavering in ones support for the rights of all people should be something to which we all aspire.
‘In this part of the world, it is not often that such a bright and hopeful light is shon upon LGBT issues and for that, I don’t think I am alone when I say that I walked out of that concert a more hopeful and proud person that one day we won’t have to celebrate the lives of our lost LGBT children, that instead we can enjoy each other, gay or straight, living freely as we were born to do so.’
‘Abdulla’, the founder and chair of the UAE LGBT group was equally inspired.
He said: ‘She is an inspiration I honestly applaud her for sending a direct and clear message about her support for LGBT rights, and tackling issues that other musicians would not usually speak about in a conservative country.
‘She is not a sell-out, she bends to no one and still tells it as it is. She gives hope to her fans and many Emiratis who are LGBT; her concert has definitely energized our campaign to advocate and push for equality and not to give up.’