AS I type this welcome column, it’s been almost a week since the iconic Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade took place — and I’m still reminiscing.
I was privileged to be one of the 10,000 people to have marched in the parade. It was my third consecutive year marching, and certainly the best one yet. I just want to go back and do it all over again.
Unfortunately though, the parade can be viewed as a unique experience in another way, in that millions of LGBTI people around the world do not have the freedom to express themselves freely as we do here in Australia.
For this year’s Mardi Gras, I was thinking of my LGBTI peers across the Arab world and diaspora.
Now, I acknowledge this may be biased, simply because I am the son of Palestinian and Lebanese immigrants. I should also highlight that it’s not like I never think of my LGBTI Arab peers. But with the horrific anti-gay atrocities committed by ISIS in recent months, they have been propelled to the forefront of my thoughts.
The vast majority of Middle Eastern and North African regimes already impose laws that make homosexuality explicitly or implicitly illegal. In addition, LGBTI people in these regimes already experience rampant state-sanctioned discrimination, violence and persecution, or even the death sentence just for being gay. The rise of ISIS adds another chilling dimension to all of this.
On a side note, Lebanon (and maybe even Jordan) is perhaps the most progressive Arab country in terms of LGBTI rights and visibility — but it’s still far, far from perfect.
Meanwhile, millions in the global Arab diaspora (like me) still face cultural homophobia from their families and communities — regardless of which country they’re in, and regardless if they are Muslim, Christian or even atheist.
Marching in this year’s Mardi Gras made realise how much I yearned for the day when all of my LGBTI Arab peers can be embraced by our families, friends and our culture without fear of reprisal for being who we are.
This year’s Mardi Gras also made me realise how far I have personally come to be able to be both gay and Arab at the same time — and be f**king capital-P Proud of both, too.
Elias Jahshan is the editor of the Star Observer. He is also a board member for the Arab Council Australia, a not-for-profit that, among other things, actively seeks to combat homophobia within the Arab-Australian community. Follow him on Twitter: @Elias_Jahshan
**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.