An interesting aspect of journalism and blogging is the filter through which the information is processed. Journalists have the ability to impact opinions about and perceptions of certain issues. Coming from a solid journalist, this can provide us vital insight into oppositional ideologies and viewpoints. This can become dangerous—particularly in instances of unintentional misreporting, reactionary reporting, and reporting that attempts to portray opinion as fact. Such is the case with the recent reporting about Kuwait’s proposed legislation to “screen out gays using gaydar.”
Misinterpreting Yousef Mindkar
Though much of the reporting was done with good intentions, a lot of journalism relating to Kuwait director of public health Yousef Mindkar’s proposal to screen individuals using “gaydar” is reactionary reporting and misconstrues the proposed legislation. By reporting before checking on the facts, popular publications like The Daily Mail, Huffington Post, and International Business Times have unintentionally misinformed the public about the basic “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of the situation.
Most importantly, slightly-off translations and misunderstandings of Kuwaiti cultural norms have led to misreporting who the legislation will affect.
Up in arms (reasonably so) about recent human rights violations in Russia, Western reporters have been quick to react to the news coming out of Kuwait. Titles like “Kuwait plans checkpoint to block gay people at airports” have been used. Claims that the tests will “‘detect’ gays traveling to those nations in order to deny them entry,” are running rampant, and many have demanded a preemptive boycott of the 2022 World Cup, asserting the new law “will mean that gay players and spectators will be banned from attending.”
In reality, the legislation arising out of Kuwait will only affect individuals who are what Mindkar characterized as al-mithliyeen, or “third-sex”. “Third-sex” is a derogatory term used to refer to those who do not conform to gender norms. This legislation may end up encompassing all gender non-conforming individuals, but typically “third-sex” refers to transgender individuals, in both English and Arabic. A Human Rights Watch report explains a 2007 amendment that furthered the persecution of “third-sex” Kuwaitis: “A previously generic public decency law now stipulated that anyone ‘imitating the opposite sex in any way’ would face one year in prison, a 1,000 Kuwaiti dinar fine (approximately $3,600 in U.S. currency), or both. The amendment did not criminalize any specific behavior or act, but rather physical appearance, the acceptable parameters of which were to be arbitrarily defined by individual police.”
While this legislation may indeed end up affecting all sexual minorities, reporting that the legislation targets “gays” is inaccurate, and neglects to assert that transgender individuals will probably be the most directly affected. It is also inaccurate that this will affect “gays” of the world, the screening is for expatriates looking to work in the Gulf Cooperation Countries once again. So the international banning of gays is highly unlikely, unless the legislation drastically changed. To be sure of either of these issues, we will probably have to wait until November.
Regardless, the use of “gay” in attempt to qualify gender-nonconforming people or the LGBTQ community as a whole points towards a larger issue that faces both the Eastern and Western LGBTQ communities: a hyper-focus on the stereotypical gay men, and a lack of focus on other identities such as lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, queers etc. Too often, the transgender community does not get the attention it needs from media, activists, and politicians alike.
Right Wing Responses
The response from the far-Right also brings forth the natural conflict of interest inherent to that ideology. Many of these right-wing groups are both anti-Islam and anti-LGBTQ. It is intriguing to see how they react when one group they target goes after another group they target. There is not enough of a Right wing reaction to Mindkar’s proposal to be sure which side conservatives will fall on, but it is important to keep watch for it. For now, looking at the way the Right has responded to this conflict of interest in the past and near-past will have to suffice.
Based on the Right’s enthusiastic exportation of homophobia to Africa and rhetoric like Family Research Council’s Peter Spriggs’ 2010 statement that he would ”prefer to export homosexuals from the United States … because we believe that homosexuality is destructive to society”, one of my gut reactions while reading about Mindkar’s proposal was “when the far-Right reacts, they will love this.”
Recently, the World Congress of Families, which promotes anti-gay and anti-choice legislation abroad, issued a press release in support of Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban. Five other conservative U.S. based groups also signed the statement, in which signatories not only support the Russian law but condemn the international outrage surrounding the issue. U.S. signatories who are historically anti-Islam have had to put this agenda aside in order to support the anti-LGBTQ agenda, as numerous UK-based Islamic groups also signed.
Conversely, the Right can be (occasionally) quick to condemn the torture and murder of LGBTQ individuals in the Middle East, using this violation of human rights to point out flaws in this particular society. Pamela Geller, editor and publisher of AtlasShrugs.com, even went as far as to write an article titled “Pro-Gay Equals Anti-Sharia”. This presents a good place to debase extremist right-wing arguments. Anti-LGBTQ groups so often use their religion to validate their persecution of sexual minorities. Individuals like Mindkar are coming at the issue from the same religious angle that deems non-normative sexual behavior and identities as sinful, they just use a different religion. It’s decently simple logic: if a (Evangelical) = b (anti-LGBTQ) and c (Muslim) = b (anti-LGBTQ), then a (Evangelical) = c (Muslim).” Leading to the question: How are what these two groups doing any different?
While the issue is, of course, much more complex, the equation reinforces the idea that the social activism is a very symbiotic issue—whether this relationship is inverse or direct, when one minority is affected, the other is affected. It is important to note that anti-Islam groups may try to pit LGBTQ people against Muslims, and vice versa. And while I think it is a given that anyone who is violently persecuted for their inherent identity needs protection, the fact that the suffering of persecuted communities is linked makes it even more imperative to approach social justice issues holistically. It also makes it imperative for disenfranchised groups to recognize one another’s suffering rather than lashing out at each other.