Interview: Gays and the Libyan revolution, before and after (part two)
There is hope for the future among Libyans after the revolution, including LGBT people, but a recognition that progress towards a freer society may be slow.
In a previous interview we spoke with Khaleed, a 31-year-old gay activist from the east of Libya about his experiences under the Gadaffi regime. Now, in this second part, we interview him about his life in the post-revolutionary Libya.
Following the removal of Colonel Gaddafi’s dictatorship, Khaleed, like many Libyans, is full of hope and concern for their future. Their country, society and cultures are now going to start to forge a new identity which was so forcefully bound up with the Gaddafi family the ruled Libya with an iron fist for over 40 years.
Khaleed is clear he is ‘more hopeful now’. He has good reasons to be, Libyans know they have great resources as the world’s eighth-largest oil reserves and hope the damage from the bloody seven months civil war can be fixed quickly. Everyone hopes that its resources can be exploited and lead to a rapid economic development.
It is clear that this is no easy journey, last year in early November many of the local militia leaders who helped topple Colonel Gaddafi (killed 20 October 2011) have not heeded the pledge they made earlier to give up their weapons. They said that they intended to preserve their autonomy and influence political decisions as ‘guardians of the revolution’ and sources indicate there are over a quarter of a million of such heavily armed militiamen.
The issue of the militias is one of the most urgent facing Libya’s new provisional government, the Transitional National Council. And Khaleed agrees this is the ‘biggest issue facing us’. The second is building civil society, law and order and stabilising the economy.
Khaleed lives in the east of Libya, away from the capital Tripoli, in an area that was dominated by the resistance from an early stage on and therefore relatively stable as well as shielded from the civil war. Elsewhere however the death toll and violence was horrific, there were even reports of gang rape by Gaddafi’s men of both men and women. During the fighting I lost touch with Khaleed for over six months, as the internet and phone lines to Libya were cut off, I was extremely worried during this time and felt so relieved to hear he was alive and well in September 2011.
During the revolution, Khaleed tells me, the media published several scandalous stories concerning Gaddafi’s family. Firstly, that the late leader himself had an insatiable sexual appetite and for both boys and girls, using Viagra to keep him going. Secondly, that in Al-Saadi’s (one of his sons) captured villa, a gay porn video was found. These were used as weapons to further delegitimise the old regime, but also installed fear in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Libyans of rampant homophobia, something luckily that did not transpire.
So what is the situation for LGBT people? Khaleed says: ‘After the revolution started, the situation changed, at least for now. More LGBT people started to try to meet each other online because of their lack of knowledge of cruising/meeting places or because these remain dangerous. The biggest fear for gay Libyans is social scandals and/or being subject to local gossips and jokes for being gay.
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‘The thing I am concerned about is comments Libya’s transitional leader said in October last year about Sharia law being the main inspiration for the new constitution of Libya. Nothing has happened yet to make things worse and I hoped it won’t, but we must now work to lift the anti-gay laws perpetuated by Gadaffi.’
The second thing Khaleed feels is troubling is the tone of political discussion in the country can sometimes be coloured by homophobia: ‘There are some disputes here between those who favour a secular and liberal Libya and Islamists and traditionalists.
‘When there is talk about a secular and liberal democratic state in Libya the Islamists use fear tactics: “Oh look they want to allow gay marriage in Libya!” This is a huge taboo in my country and I hope political debate becomes sensible and less homophobic.
‘Now that the dictatorship of Gaddafi had fallen, it is imperative for the future government to abolish the laws that violate human rights including those laws that incriminate homosexuality.’
But Khaleed is realistic about what can be achieved: ‘Gay Libyans, and all LGBT people in Libya I think, do not believe their dream of an open and free homosexual life in Libya can be realised in the near future.
‘We don’t dream of having pride events or showing our affection to each other in public places or coming out to our families. This will require massive social change and a stable civil society which we are only beginning to build. We are not asking for the moon: all we need and want for now is respect of our privacy, and to have laws that do not incriminate us for our sexual orientation.’