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'Simply act straight': UoA's Qatar Campus and its attitude towards LGBTQ+ students

70% of students surveyed believe LGBTQ students can’t safely express their identities on campus.

By Nour Elshenawy

University of Aberdeen

Note: With the University of Aberdeen operating a campus in Qatar since 2017 (in partnership with AFG College), The Gaudie wanted to explore how Qatar, the host country for the World Cup, treats the LGBTQ+ community and what the University does to protect those students. This is the second article in a two part series on this topic.

The Gaudie surveyed students at the University of Aberdeen in Qatar and interviewed students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community there to get a better insight on how LGBTQ+ students are treated in the Qatari environment.

Survey Results:

80% of the respondents stated that they respect individuals of any race, gender, and background, with many justifying their answer by appealing to religion.

Explanations included; 'The religion of Islam has taught us that we should love and respect everyone even if we have differences and disagree on specific aspects,' and 'I don’t necessarily support but I also don’t have an issue with them, I treat them like I would any other stranger,' as well as 'I feel like with newer generations, Arabs have come to a better and more open minded understanding and acceptance of members from the LGBTQ+.'

The other 20% of respondents stated that they feel uncomfortable with the presence of members of the LGBTQ+ community simply because that is what they have been taught their whole life.

In Qatar, being gay is often seen as a mental illness, therefore, members of the LGBTQ community are often treated as outsiders. It’s also interesting to point out that of the 80% of students that said they were fine with the LGBTQ+ students, only 15% were male.

70% of the respondents also stated that LGBTQ+ students are not openly out on campus as they feel it is unsafe. When asked how LGBTQ+ students are supposed to hide their identity, respondents said: 'They are asked to respect the country’s values and morals,' 'simply act straight,' and 'they are asked to man up.'

70% of the respondents also stated that LGBTQ+ students are not openly out on campus as they feel it is unsafe.

However the 30% that responded that LGBTQ+ students were open around campus stated that 'there are rainbow bumpers and flags everywhere,' and 'its not discussed on campus but gay students do walk freely without disturbance.'

An interesting component discovered while researching for this story is that when the topic of the LGBTQ+ community is raised in Qatar, it’s always in regard to gay men. That’s what sparked the second question to students, 'Why is the spotlight mostly on gay men?'

Answers included: 'There is a way bigger concern towards men being homosexual than there is towards woman. This is mainly because in Arab culture men are looked at as sources of power. They can’t cry, they can’t be feminine, they must play the role of the breadwinner all the time.'

Another respondent answered: 'Men get made fun of for being feminine let alone engaging in sexual acts with a member of the same sex.' One person even said: 'When woman are gay it doesn’t look ugly, the way it looks when men do it.'

The University Responds:

When asked by The Gaudie to provide information on how UoA ensures the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ students in Qatar, the University did not directly address several of our questions.

When asked for specific examples of steps UoA has taken to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ students, Debbie Dyker, UoA Director of People told The Gaudie: 'The University is fully committed to equality for all its staff and students and creating an inclusive culture which celebrates diversity. While respectful of the laws of Qatar, students in Doha are offered all of the same support and policies as those in Scotland- including in relation to equality, diversity, and inclusion- to ensure they are fully supported. With our partners at AFG College, we have developed a campus in which all can be comfortable in their learning irrespective of background or sexuality.'

Dyker did not go into further detail on what she meant by the phrase 'respectful of the laws of Qatar,' and any effects those laws might have on LGBTQ+ student safety and support. Qatari law bans all forms of extramarital sex, including same-sex relationships. Violators face up to seven years in prison. Additionally, Qatar authorities have been known to censor media reports about 'sexual orientation and gender identity,' per NGO Human Rights Watch.

AUSA declined to comment for this story.

Dyker did not go into further detail on what she meant by the phrase 'respectful of the laws of Qatar,' and any effects those laws might have on LGBTQ+ student safety and support.

A report by Human Rights Watch, released in October 2022, alleged that a number of LGBTQ Qataris have been arrested over their sexuality, and have faced abuse and 'ill treatment' by members of the Qatari Preventive Security Department.

Experiences of LGBTQ+ Students:

Only one student who was a member of the LGBTQ+ community was comfortable enough to talk about their experience.

The student explained to The Gaudie that the University never talks about LGBTQ+ issues and when they do, it’s never direct. They said that the University requires everyone to accept people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, races etc. However, the University has never spoken specifically about students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Nevertheless, the student walks around the campus with no one bothering them but also no one speaking to them. The student told The Gaudie, 'It’s like I'm invisible, I come into uni, go into classes talking to no one, and leave uni talking to no one, but I guess that [is] better than getting bullied or feeling unsafe.'


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