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.

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.” 

The tweet was characterised by one responder as another example of “western cultural imperialism”. Although the US embassy’s post did not gather the same level of criticism as the tweet from the British embassy.

Amidst the voices of dissent, some expats congratulated the move.

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.

Earlier in June, the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan tweeted an image of the pride flag as an early celebration of Pride month as permitted by secretary-of-state Antony Blinken.

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.

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.



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