Visit Saudi? No thanks.

I’m not normally one to engage in the practice of criticising other bloggers, I like to think that I have a pretty laissez-faire attitude to most things.

However Ben’s recently article about laws affecting the LGBT+ community in the middle east, really annoyed me.  His advice, “Pretend to be straight, and you’ll be fine”.

To me, that was pretty mind-blowing.  Here we have an openly gay man not only advocating travel to countries where you can be put to death but saying it’s all fine really if you just pretend to be straight.

This, coupled with articles advocating tourism to Saudi Arabia and travel on their national airline Saudia for me crosses a line.

I’ve spent a lot of time advocating for LGBT+ equality.  Back when I was 16 I took part in Stonewall’s campaign to equalise the age of consent in the UK which was ultimately successful.  When I was a volunteer Special Constable, I’ve taken part in many pride parades for the Police.  In my professional career, I’ve chaired two employer’s LGBT+ employee network groups.

Why?  Because equality matters.  People should be able to be themselves.  Not only that, within the gay community we can be pretty good at denigrating ourselves as well.  #Masc4masc?  Piss off.  Slut or PrEP shaming – absolutely not.

So where I see gay bloggers openly advocating fellow gay travellers to spend their money in countries that are utterly opposed to human rights, I get a little annoyed.

It is therefore a legitimate question to ask me why I flew Qatar Airways and Etihad.  It’s a very good point and one that I’m still quite conflicted about.

When I flew Qatar Airways on the Q-Suites with a very good friend of mine (not a boyfriend) I did a little poll on Twitter to see if they would let two men share a Q-Suite double bed.  They did without batting an eyelid.

I went to Abu Dhabi and reviewed Etihad to visit a gay friend who lives there.  I noted in my article at the time that Grindr was blocked but Scruff worked (I even ended up hooking up).

So perhaps I am a hypocrite?  After all I’ve also publicised visiting Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and flying Etihad and Qatar Airways.

However, as those airlines will be the first to point out, they’re very much global carriers with cabin crew from pretty much every country on earth.  I think Saudi Arabia and Saudia are a very different kettle of fish.  They recently denied boarding to a man wearing shorts.  Yes, shorts.

Leaving aside the issue of crimes against fashion for the moment (this is a gay blog after all), it’s fairly mind-blowing that an airline like that, let alone a country like that should be a legitimate tourist destination for any LGBT+ traveller.  Not least advocated for by a blogger from the gay community themselves.

Earlier in my professional career I worked for a global consulting firm – at one point I was earmarked for a role in Saudi.  HR stepped in and refused to send me for my own personal safety explaining that if it affected any of my performance goals for the year, that they would exempt me as employee well-being was too important.

Stonewall have produced an excellent guide around global mobility for LGBT+ staff, and indeed I’m very proud that another former employer are predominately featured in it.

So rather than say, yes, go visit and go back in the closet and you’ll be fine, perhaps it would be far more responsible to highlight the inequality and some of the organisations that are trying to help people rather than just ignore the “moral” issues because it raises some awkward questions?  It may be the easy thing to do, but is it the right thing?

2 comments

  1. thank you for posting this! I find many luxury travel bloggers, despite being gay, refuse to consider what they are endorsing and indirectly financing when visiting Saudi Arabia or flying on board the state’s airline. Being accustomed to the finer things seem to have insulated them from the brutal realities that their peers face. It’s even sadder when such writers attempt to justify themselves with a quick n vague morally dubious blog entry. BTW, I appreciate your critique of lucky’s post, & am glad I discovered your blog in the process!

  2. You present “Pretend to be straight, and you’ll be fine” as a quote from Ben’s article. This is incorrect. This quote is not contained in the article.

    I find your article simplistic, and without any memory of a time when in Britain homosexual acts were prosecutable. Would you have fled your own country, rejected the support of foreigners or slammed your closet door closed ?

    Ben’s piece also lacks sophisticated argument, but I find your self defensive article contributes little to the debate.

    Travel to countries which do not share our privileged western human rights sensibilities contains inherent contradictions – as does travel to counties where corruption is endemic, or democracy is largely absent, or where women do not have equal rights. They provide a moral dilemma which travellers should confront, rather than judge by elimination.

    Despite those observations, thanks for your contribution to the debate.

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