New magazine and hope for LGBT people in Sudan

by Dan Littauer

A new online LGBT magazine in Sudan, north Africa, will offer an opportunity
for the country's gay people to start discussing their lives and hopes for the
future. This is a first for the country, where homosexuality is still
punishable by death.

Rainbow Sudan publishes 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 to criminalise
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 job prospects, ostracisation from family and
community or even murder (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 is a 32-year-old man living in the Sudanese 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

"The internet is my only lifeline, I can talk with people, learn about LGBT
issues and occasionally arrange to meet people. I have to be so careful. If I
were to 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 which are well known, and there are even police and
military men who come and I feel they are like an insurance policy.

"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 feels 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 a 'phenomenon', not a reality. It is considered 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 to 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 the
contempt felt by many LGBT people here, again through education. Finally,
education can definitely help with safer sex issues which are also taboo here."

Isn't that quite a lot to achieve? I ask Mohammad. "Yes!" he answers with a
smile. "We will take it one step at a time."


Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini