British and American embassies in homophobic UAE boldly fly Pride flags
British and American embassies in the United Arab Emirates raised the LGBT+ Pride flag in a historic regional first.
On Monday (28 June) the two embassies tweeted their support for LGBT+ rights as they raised the Pride flag alongside their national flags at their Abu Dhabi residence in the UAE.
It marked the first time any diplomatic mission has flown a Pride flag in the religiously conservative Arab Gulf, where homosexuality is punishable with prison time, chemical castration, public flogging, or even death.
“On the anniversary of Stonewall, a milestone in the American civil rights movement, the US Mission shows its support for the dignity and equality of all people,” the US embassy tweeted.
“June is Pride Month and around the world we celebrate the equality and visibility of LGBT+ people,” the UK embassy wrote. “Today, we are flying the rainbow flag to affirm our pride in the UK’s diversity and our values of equality, inclusion and freedom.”
June is #PrideMonth and around the world we celebrate the equality and visibility of #LGBT+ people. Today, we are flying the rainbow flag to affirm our pride in the UK’s diversity and our values of equality, inclusion and freedom. #Pride2021 pic.twitter.com/dv3Lgl1SIV
— UKinUAE 🇬🇧🇦🇪 (@ukinuae) June 28, 2021
On the anniversary of Stonewall, a milestone in the American civil rights movement, the U.S. Mission shows its support for the dignity and equality of all people. pic.twitter.com/vuc9RDzDs8
— US Mission to UAE (@USAinUAE) June 28, 2021
The move attracted swift backlash from Conservative Emiratis, who were appalled by the visible display of support for LGBT+ people.
Hundreds of comments decried the embassies as “unacceptable,” “disrespectful” or “insulting,” while some suggested their behaviour was “racist”. Many more urged the embassies to remove the flags immediately.
“Very disrespectful from the British Embassy to the UAE and its people. Looks like someone there is still living the long gone UK imperial days,” tweeted Nasser Al-Shaikh, the former director of Dubai’s finance department.
One comment likened the move to a British consulate in the UK “raising a flag of a swastika”. The few who spoke out in favour of the embassy primarily appeared to be Western expats.
No comment has been made by the UAE in an official capacity, although one senior Emirati official speaking anonymously to CNBC labelled the act “so strange”.
“The flag-flying. Why rub it in our faces? Why choose us to do this to?” they said, questioning why there weren’t similar statements made by the embassies in every other Muslim country.
Could the UAE be about to decriminalise homosexuality?
Despite the overwhelming opposition online, some Emirati analysts predict the move could precede a decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UAE.
One anonymous government source reported by the Independent expected homosexuality to be decriminalised before the end of the year, potentially before Expo2020 Dubai in October.
He said the government often “drip feeds” potential law changes on social media or in the public domain before they come into effect to gauge the opinion of locals.
He judged it unlikely that prominent embassies who are “well aware of local laws” would risk falling out of favour with the Emirati government over such a bold move, suggesting they received official clearance to fly the flags.
This idea was supported by Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who told the Independent he understood the UK embassy had indeed sought permission to hoist the flag.
“They did inform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. They said: ‘Look, we’re doing this because we have a stand on LGBT rights’. I think the answer was: ‘It’s better for you not to do it, but then this is your sovereign right’. So they did not get a green light, but I think they got a yellow light.”
Abdulla believes legalising homosexuality “might now be in the pipeline,” saying “sixty per cent of the people don’t give a damn” about the embassies flying Pride flags.
“This is a country that is very revolutionary compared to its surroundings. The things that the UAE has been doing are pioneering and are decisions not to the liking of many countries around us,” he said.
“The world is changing, and the Emirates of today are not the Emirates of yesterday. The UAE must adapt to the transformations.”
PinkNews has reached out to the UK embassy in the UAE for comment.