When it comes to traveling as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to do your research beforehand to ensure that the destination you're planning on visiting is safe and welcoming.
Dubai, located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a very popular and trendy travel destination with its iconic landmarks and luxurious hotels that resembles a futuristic Las Vegas resort. But what about its stance on LGBTQ+ rights?
The difference between Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE
Dubai is known for its more relaxed attitude when compared to other cities in the United Arab Emirates, such as Abu Dhabi. This new touristy city is striving to foster an image of being socially progressive in order to attract as many visitors from the west as possible. However let's not be fooled, it is still operating under the archaic anti LGBT laws of the UAE.
Dubai's Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws
Although Dubai has recently taken steps to become more progressive, loosening laws on alcohol, marriage, and sexual harassment in order to put growing western travelers at ease, it is still part of the UAE as a country.
But the fact remains that homosexuality is illegal in the UAE, and those found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts can face up to 10 years in prison.
The UAE's Penal Code, which includes Sharia law, is used to prosecute homosexual behavior in the country. Article 354 of the Penal Code prohibits “indecent acts” and those who are found guilty of it can be punished with imprisonment and/or deportation. Article 356 further states that a person can be sentenced to death for engaging in homosexual acts if they are Muslim. The law is applied strictly and even holding hands in public can result in arrest.
So for LGBTQ+ individuals living in Dubai, the reality is harsh: homosexuality is illegal, and they have no legal rights. This means that public displays of affection between same-sex partners will not be tolerated and can lead to dangerous consequences.
Incidents of Arrest and Harassment
In the past years, there have been several incidents of gay people being arrested and harassed in Dubai.
In 2008, a British couple was sentenced to three months in prison for engaging in homosexual acts in public. In 2017, a gay Scottish man was sentenced to three months in prison for touching a man's hip in a bar. Although, the ruler of the Dubai Emirate (Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) eventually intervened and forced these charges to be dropped.
These incidents show that even innocent actions can be interpreted as homosexuality and result in imprisonment.
Additionally, there have been reports of police officers using dating apps to lure gay men into traps and then arresting them. The fear of being arrested or harassed is a constant reality for gay people in Dubai.
Lack of LGBTQ+ Rights
In addition to the anti-LGBTQ+ laws, there is a lack of protection for the LGBTQ+ community in Dubai. There are no anti-discrimination laws in place, and same-sex marriage is not recognized. This means that gay people have no legal recourse if they face discrimination or violence.
Furthermore, transgender people face additional challenges in Dubai. They are not legally recognized, and it's nearly impossible for them to change their gender on official documents. This can cause problems when trying to access healthcare, education, or employment opportunities.
Dangerous Social Attitudes
Dubai's society also has a dangerous attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Homosexuality is seen as a taboo subject, and many people hold homophobic views. Gay people are often forced to hide their sexuality or face ostracism from their families and communities.
This can lead to a lack of support networks for gay people, which can be especially difficult for those who are coming out or struggling with their sexuality. Discrimination and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community are not uncommon in Dubai, and the lack of legal protections exacerbates the problem.
So Is Dubai Safe for Gay Travelers?
Let's be realistic and look past the glitz and glamour displayed on social media by often paid and straight influencers: Dubai is one of the worst destinations to visit for gay people.
The anti-LGBTQ+ laws, incidents of arrest and harassment, lack of LGBTQ+ rights, and dangerous social attitudes make it an unsafe and unwelcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community.
It is important to exercise discretion when it comes to public displays of affection. Kissing and other overt displays of same sex affection may be seen as inappropriate and offensive.
Using Grindr in Dubai: Are Gay Apps Allowed?
Technically, gay apps in the UAE are not legal to use, but many LGBT people still do.
Gay men do interact on dating apps in Dubai, typically via a VPN connection in order to access most gay dating apps in the UAE. This is because the government blocks gay apps from operating from a local IP address.
Using gay apps like Scruff or Grindr in Dubai is done at your own risk. It’s not uncommon to use these apps. In fact, there are many profiles. You must be vigilant with your use, however. If you do decide to meet someone on a gay application, make sure you’ve completely vetted them. Always meet in a public place, too.
Never disclose your address or give specific details about your location until you feel you have fully vetted the individual. Also, keep in mind that there are many escorts trolling Grindr in Dubai. Don’t mistake conversations with these profiles as authentic.
Gay-Friendly Hotels and Resorts
Despite the conservative culture, Dubai has a number of "gay-friendly" hotels and resorts. These establishments offer a welcoming and safe environment for LGBTQ+ travellers. Some of the most popular gay-friendly hotels in Dubai include:
- The Address Downtown Dubai
- Raffles Dubai
- The Ritz-Carlton Dubai
- Or any high-end international hotel chain
It is important to note that not all hotels and resorts in Dubai are explicitly gay-friendly. However, many establishments in Dubai are known for their discreet and respectful approach to all guests, regardless of sexual orientation. But remember the golden rule to be discreet in public.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Dubai has a vibrant nightlife scene, with many clubs and bars catering to a diverse range of clientele. While the majority of these establishments are straight-oriented, there are a number of gay-friendly bars and clubs in Dubai.
Some of the most popular gay bars and clubs in Dubai include:
- Soho Garden
It is important to note that many gay bars and clubs operate under the radar. It is important to exercise caution and discretion when visiting these establishments.
In light of this, should travelers boycott the destination? While boycotting countries with anti-gay laws is often suggested, we believe it can be counter-productive. Visiting homophobic places can offer support to the local LGBTQ+ community, despite a government stance that may not be accepting.
Local populations are also often more open and welcoming, and by visiting, tourists can help advocate for LGBTQ rights in the area by showing locals that we are indeed like anyone else and regular people.
Thousands of LGBTQ travellers visit Dubai every day, with many also residing in the city without incident. While the city may not be as LGBTQ-friendly as any other capital from the west, visitors just need to be aware of their surroundings and stay in the closet in public for their safety.
By exercising discretion, LGBTQ+ travelers can enjoy a safe and enjoyable trip to Dubai.