- The Magazine
The U.S. and United Kingdom embassies in the United Arab Emirates have offered a defiant show of support for LGBTQ people by flying Pride flags.
In addition to sending a strong pro-LGBTQ signal in a country where it’s illegal to be gay, the embassies made history by being the first in the UAE to fly Pride flags from their buildings.
Both embassies shared images of their flags on Twitter on June 28, the 52nd anniversary of the landmark Stonewall riots, which many consider the birth place of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
“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 U.S. Embassy wrote.
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. pic.twitter.com/vuc9RDzDs8
— US Mission to UAE (@USAinUAE) June 28, 2021
In its own tweet, the British Embassy wrote, “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.”
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. #Pride2021 pic.twitter.com/dv3Lgl1SIV
— UKinUAE 🇬🇧🇦🇪 (@ukinuae) June 28, 2021
While the move to raise Pride flags at both embassies was historic, it was also met with intense backlash from conservative in the Emirates.
It was branded an “insult,” a “disrespect,” and “not acceptable” on Twitter.
“You are free to [support] any cause or value in your country,” one person tweeted. “We ask you to respect our beliefs, values, customs and traditions.”
“Very disrespectful from the British Embassy to the UAE & its people,” Dubai’s former finance director Nasser Al-Shaikh tweeted in response to the British Embassy’s tweet. “Looks like someone there is still living the long gone UK imperial days.”
One senior Emirati official, speaking anonymously to CNBC, called the decision to raise the flags “so strange.”
“The flag-flying. Why rub it in our faces? Why choose us to do this to?” they asked.
While the UAE criminalizes same-sex relationships and follows Sharia law, which mandates the death penalty for same-sex acts, the punishment hasn’t been enforced by modern courts. Other forms of punishment can include prison, flogging, fines, and deportation.
However, the Independent reports a government source who claims that homosexuality could be decriminalized in the UAE before the end of the year.
Political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla told the Independent that the British Embassy was understood to have sought permission to raise its Pride flag.
“They did inform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. They said: ‘Look, we’re doing this because we have a stand on LGBT rights’. I think the answer was: ‘It’s better for you not to do it, but then this is your sovereign right’. So they did not get a green light, but I think they got a yellow light.”
Abdulla added that 60% of the population “don’t give a damn about it, whether the British put up the flag or not.” and said those complaining are a “vocal minority.”
“This is a country that is very revolutionary compared to its surroundings. The things that the UAE has been doing are pioneering and are decisions not to the liking of many countries around us,” Abdulla said.
“The world is changing, and the emirates of today are not the emirates of yesterday. The UAE must adapt to the transformations.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken lifted a Trump-era ban on Pride flags being flown from embassy flagpoles.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has instructed diplomatic outposts that they are free to fly rainbow flags from their flagpoles once more, after former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo banned the practice.
The Trump administration’s move — which required flags to be flown or hung elsewhere on embassy or consulate grounds — was heavily criticized, given it came during LGBTQ Pride Month.
On June 28, State Department recognized its own historic moment after flying the Pride flag from department headquarters for the first time.
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