New magazine and hope for gays in Sudan

Rainbow Sudan shines a light on gay and lesbian life in a country where
homosexuality is still punishable by death


A new online lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender magazine in Sudan, north
Africa, is a first for the country where homosexuality is still punished by
death and an opportunity for gay people to start discussing their lives and
hopes for the future.

Rainbow Sudan published articles discussing topics including being gay in
Sudan, the history of homosexuality in the country, Islam and sexuality, being
lesbian and Muslim, poetry and more.

Sudan is one of the strictest countries in the world which criminalize
homosexuality. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal and, according to Article
148, capital punishment applies to a man or woman engaging in such acts.

Punishments also include lashes and imprisonment.

Even without that, being out can have serious social and economic consequences
- it typically means a loss of jobs prospects, ostracisation from family and
community, even murder by so called 'honour killings'.

We spoke to Rainbow Sudan editor Mohammad and other Sudanese gays and lesbians
about the magazine and their life in Sudan.

Mohammad himself is a 32-year-old man, living in the capital Khartoum. He is
energetic, comfortable about his sexuality, full of charm and wit. He also has
a scholarly side; he loves poetry, history and sociology.

He told us that 'to understand the gay community in Sudan you have to
understand the religious factor here… it is a big taboo and regarded one of the
biggest sins possible.'

Ibrahim, also 32 years old and a well-respected public figure, explained what
that taboo means in practice.

'If you are outed in Sudan the consequences are very serious: social rejection
and even punishment according to the Sudanese law,' he said. 'The internet is
my only life-line, I can talk with people, learn about LGBT issues and
occasionally arrange to meet people. I have to be so careful, I if would be
caught, exposed or worse, arrested, it would ruin me completely.'

Mazen is 28 and manages to live his life but has to be careful: 'There are
places to meet in Khartoum [Sudan's capital] which are well known and there are
even police and military men who come and I feel they are like an insurance

'Everyone is very discreet and respectful, we don't want trouble, it's hard
enough as it is to lead a double life.'

But not everyone has things so well ordered. Mohamed, 46 and married for 12
years has three sons.

'My life is a living hell,' he confessed. 'I can occasionally go out at night
for meets but am totally controlled by my extended family.'

Mohamed has a boyfriend from one of the Gulf States but thinks that his
sexuality 'is an illness and a disease.' He went to therapy to try and cure
himself, but it just made him feel worse. He also is scared about his safety
'because people here in Sudan can get punished for much less - a woman can get
lashes simply for wearing trousers!'

Soso, a 35-year-old lesbian hairdresser, said: 'Despite all the difficulties,
a Sudanese LGBT community exists, but society at large is not open to this
idea, they see homosexuality as the work of the devil. But I am ok with who I
am and know I won't change.'

Editor Mohammad stresses such voices show how 'Sudanese society considers
homosexuality as "phenomenon" not a reality. It is considered as a sin and
psychological behaviour which is sick, and this view is often shared by LGBT
people themselves here.

'We need to discuss what does it mean or us to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender in Sudan? We need to debate and discuss Islamic religious judgments
and punishment which threatens us. We can aim to educate about these issues and
encourage dialogue.

'We also need to deal with the issue of negative self-esteem, even contempt by
many LGBT people here, again through education. Finally education can
definitely help safer sex issues which are also a taboo here.'

Isn't that quite a lot to achieve? 'Yes!' he answered with a smile, 'we can
take it one step at a time.'

(Names have been changed to protect our sources' identities.)


Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini