Formula One race car driver Lewis Hamilton, took a public stand for  LGBTQI rights in Qatar. Hamilton wore a helmet embossed with the Progress  Pride Flag, during a practice session on November 19 at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix in Doha. And then again, when he won the final race on Sunday. 

The motto “Still I Rise” usually appears on the back of Hamilton’s helmets,  but his new helmet read: “We Stand Together.” 

Speaking to the press at a Formula One press conference on Thursday,  Hamilton (36) said, “Equal rights is a serious issue. I do think as these sports go to these places, they’re duty-bound to raise  awareness for these issues and these places need scrutiny and needs the  media to speak to speak about these things.” 

“I just feel that if we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the  profile of the situation,” Hamilton said. 

 Homosexuality Illegal In Qatar  

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and gay men can face up to three years of  imprisonment along with fines. Muslim gay men can face the death penalty under Sharia law, although such a sentence has not been imposed. 

Campaigning for LGBTQI civil rights is also illegal and currently there is no  legal status for same-sex relationships. There are also no protections for the  LGBTQI community against discrimination in housing and employment  and military service is not permitted.  

Amnesty International, has called Qatar’s human rights record “troubling,”  and in a press release said, “drivers and their teams should be prepared to  speak out about human rights in Qatar in the lead-up to the race, doing their  bit to break the spell of sportwashing and image-management”. 

On its website, Formula One includes a Statement of Commitment to  Respect for Human Rights saying, “Formula 1 companies are committed to  respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally.” 

Sunday’s Grand Prix event was the first Grand Prix to be held in Qatar  after the country signed a ten year contract with Formula One. 

 Hamilton Receives Praise for Activism 

British racing driver and co-founder of Racing Pride, Richard Morris tweeted,  “This is what we mean when we talk about using your platform for good and  carrying your values with you. The symbolism of this, in one of the world’s  most dangerous regions for #LGBTQ+ people, is enormously powerful. I  can’t even express my admiration for Lewis today.” 

Morris told the PA news agency that Hamilton’s advocacy “fills me with  hope.” 

”It is an incredible act of allyship from Lewis to show solidarity with the  LGBTQ+ community in the context of Formula One visiting a region in which  LGBTQ+ people face discrimination and challenges to their human rights. It is a demonstration of the capacity the sport has to use its platform  positively to promote values of inclusion around the world.” 

Racing Pride tweeted, “We applaud @LewisHamilton for adding the rainbow  flag to his helmet for this weekend’s #QatarGP. It is a magnificent and  powerful gesture of solidarity with our #LGBTQ+ community around the  world and is very much appreciated. Thank you, Lewis.” 

Barbara Simon from GLAAD, in a statement, said, “Lewis Hamilton’s  decision to wear the Progress Pride flag and speak up for LGBTQ equality  sends an important message of support exactly where it is needed… Hamilton is using the world stage to say LGBTQ people belong…Allies like  Hamilton help drive the conversation forward toward full LGBTQ acceptance,  in sports and all areas of life.” 

Hamilton Praised for Using Progress Pride Flag  

British intersex activist Valentino Vecchietti, who designed the most recent  intersex-inclusive incarnation of the Progress Pride Flag, told CNN that Hamilton using the new flag “means everything,” 

“I can’t express what an amazing, massive, massive thing Lewis Hamilton  has done. And I feel emotional talking about it, because we are so hidden  and stigmatized as a population,” Vecchietti said. 

Originally designed in 2018 by Daniel Quasar, the Progress Pride Flag added a chevron of black, brown, light blue, pink, and white stripes to the original  design of the Rainbow Flag. The black and brown stripes represent  marginalized LGBTQIA+ communities of colour, while the pink, light blue and white, stripes are those also used on the Transgender Pride Flag.

Hamilton’s History of Activism  

With a record 101 wins, Hamilton is the most successful racing driver of all  time. He is also a vocal advocate for human rights, including LGBTQI  rights. 

Hamilton spoke out in July over Hungary’s repressive anti-LGBTQI laws,  calling the Hungarian government “cowardly,” prior to his appearance at the  Hungarian Grand Prix. 

“To all in this beautiful country Hungary. Ahead of the Grand Prix this  weekend, I want to share my support for those affected by the government’s  anti-LGBTQ+ law,” wrote Hamilton in an Instagram story. 

”It is unacceptable, cowardly and misguiding for those in power to suggest  such a law. Everyone deserves to have the freedom to be themselves, no  matter who they love or how they identify.” 

“I urge the people of Hungary to vote in the upcoming referendum to protect  the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, they need our support more than  ever.” 

Before the first race of the 2020 season, Hamilton took a knee wearing a  Black Lives Matter T-shirt and after he won the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix, Hamilton opened his overalls on the podium showing a T-shirt which read  “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” 

In an interview with Wired, Hamilton said, “That was my drive, and that really  became my drive through the whole year – encouraging people out there to  use their voice to speak out. That became a new motivation for me – all of a  sudden I had this different energy. I was racing for something and somebody  else.” 

Changing Attitudes in Middle East  

Stefano Domenicali, Formula One’s chief executive said he believes holding  Formula One events in Qatar and Saudi Arabia will improve human rights in  those countries. Formula One’s contracts with the two countries can be  terminated if human rights don’t improve.  

“Such an important change cannot happen overnight. It is a cultural change  that will take time,” Domenicali told BBC Sports. ”I believe the spotlight we are bringing will be beneficial for the will and the wishes of change that these  countries are showing.” 

“I don’t believe that shutting countries off and saying we don’t want to be  there will help the situation to improve. Actually, it will be the opposite. It  doesn’t mean everything is perfect, but for sure what we are doing and what  we are signing off is headed in the right direction,” Domenicali said. 

 Fear Over Qatari Laws Worry Professional Athletes  

Josh Cavallo. Image: Twitter

Concern has been mounting over world class sporting events being held in  Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which impose harsh laws on homosexuality. 

Out Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo, recently revealed that he would  be fearful of competing in Qatar during the upcoming FIFA World Cup,  scheduled for 2022.  

Speaking with the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast, Cavallo said, “I read  something along the lines of that [they] give the death penalty for gay people  in Qatar, so it’s something I’m very scared [of] and wouldn’t really want to go  to Qatar for that.” 

“At the end of the day the World Cup is in Qatar and one of the greatest  achievements as a professional footballer is to play for your country, and to  know that this is in a country that doesn’t support gay people and puts us at  risk of our own life, that does scare me and makes me re-evaluate – is my life  more important than doing something really good in my career?” 

Nasser Al Khater, the chief executive of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organizing  committee, told CNN, “We are not putting any restrictions on any nationality  or anybody with respect to their gender, race, orientation, religion to attend  this World Cup.”

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