Both British and American embassies in the United Arab Emirates are receiving backlash online from conservative Emiratis after raising the rainbow Pride flag alongside their own national flags in celebration of Pride Month in June.
The UAE still criminalises same-sex relationships. This is despite the country being considerably more liberal than neighbours like Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose strict adherence to the Sharia law allows the death penalty for same-sex marriages.
So on Monday, when the British and American embassies in the UAE publicly displayed support for LGBTQI+ communities by flying the Pride flag, it ignited controversy on Twitter.
Pride In Diversity
The U.K. embassy tweeted a photo of the Pride flag raised next to the Union Jack at their Abu Dhabi and Dubai premises with the following caption: “June is PrideMonth and around the world we celebrate the equality and visibility of LGBT+ people. Today, we are flying the rainbow flag to affirm our pride in the UK’s diversity and our values of equality, inclusion and freedom.”
Conservative commentators and social media users were quick to criticise the move as “disrespectful”, “in bad taste” and unnecessary “antagonisation”. Some, noted that the U.K would not be so forgiving if a similar controversial display occurred the other way around.
This is not acceptable
We consider this as an insult and disrespect
— محمد جاسم الريس (@Mohd_AlRais) June 28, 2021
The post from the U.S embassy in Abu Dhabi paid tribute to Stonewall. “On the anniversary of Stonewall, a milestone in the American civil rights movement, the U.S. Mission shows its support for the dignity and equality of all people.”
More western cultural imperialism.
— khalid A AlHashimi (@kalhashimi92) June 29, 2021
Amidst the voices of dissent, some expats congratulated the move.
— Agent SSS (@sehris) June 29, 2021
This is the first time the rainbow Pride flag has been raised by a foreign mission in the UAE and is part of a larger push to see LGBTQI+ rights supported in the region.
The month of June is recognized as (LGBTI) Pride Month. The United States respects the dignity & equality of LGBTI people & celebrates their contributions to the society. We remain committed to supporting civil rights of minorities, including LGBTI persons. #Pride2021 #PrideMonth pic.twitter.com/qgKPQAPaOY
— U.S. Embassy Kabul (@USEmbassyKabul) June 2, 2021
These demonstrations of support from American embassies signal the promise Joe Biden made to prioritise human rights and support LGBTQI+ rights in his presidency.
While many view this as the U.K and the U.S supporting LGBTQI+ communities abroad, political scientist, Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, told The Independent that these demonstrations may be part of the UAE government canvassing opinions on the subject. If this is the case, Abdulla believes we can expect the government is considering decriminalising same-sex relationships.
Pride Flags At Vatican
UAE was not the only conservative region where the embassies raised rainbow flags . The Pride flag adorned the facade of the U.S embassy to the Holy See in the Vatican for the duration of Pride month. And, on June 25, Australian ambassador to Russia, Graeme Meehan, joined ambassadors from New Zealand, Canada, the U.S, the U.K and Iceland in signing an open letter in support of Pride and LGBTQI+ rights.
Месяц гордости – возможность напомнить, что миллионы людей из сообщества ЛГБТИ+ сталкиваются с дискриминацией. Главы дипмиссий 🇦🇺🇨🇦🇮🇸🇳🇿🇬🇧🇺🇸 в совместном заявлении поддерживают активистов ЛГБТИ+ и напоминают, что права человека всеобщи вне зависимости от сексуальной ориентации. pic.twitter.com/ZcguMZ1WKu
— Graeme Meehan (@PosolAustralia) June 25, 2021
The letter stated, “[We] celebrate Pride Month by affirming the inherent human rights of each individual… including members of the LGBTI+ community. Human rights are universal and everyone, including LGBTI+ persons, are entitled to their full enjoyment.” Last year, the embassies had similarly issued a joint statement on LGBTQI+ rights.