‘I don’t want to be anonymous’: Doctor becomes ‘first’ Qatari to publicly come out as gay

The moment Nas Mohamed knew for sure he was gay, he panicked.

“I walked into a gay club and knew I was 100% gay,” he says The Independent. “I went home and cried, I thought my life was in crisis. I thought I was going to hell, my life is doomed.

“That was the main thing. And then I thought about the risk of someone finding out. I really feared I would be killed if anyone found out.”

Nas, 35 this month, is from Qatar.

Homosexuality in the Gulf State is illegal. Same-sex relationships are prohibited and carry a penalty of several years in prison. Qatar is one of nearly 70 countries identified by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, which criminalizes consensual same-sex activity.

In addition to illegality, the social pressures on any Qatari suspected of being LGBT+ are many.

Gay Qataris live in the shadows, in constant fear that their secret will become public, be detected, arrested or harassed by the police and security services. If exposed as LGBT+, they face social shame, permanent ostracism from friends and family, serious risks to their mental health, threat of violence or worse.

Despite all this, Nas made the decision to come out in the media, possibly the first Qatari to come out as gay to the general public and not just a few trusted friends.

(AFP via Getty Images)

“I don’t want to be anonymous,” he says over the phone from San Francisco, where he now lives and works as a doctor. He is seeking asylum because, says Nas, he doesn’t feel safe returning to the Gulf.

It’s entirely his decision to come out, something he’s considered for quite some time before taking the plunge now.

Nas understands the personal cost that will almost certainly result from going public. Any chance to reconnect with your distant family will be lost; His family could be publicly shamed, he claims, but would likely distance themselves from him even further. Any chance of returning home to Qatar is unlikely.

Despite this, he insists he is making the right decision.

“I have already lost everything – my citizenship, my family and my financial security in Qatar. In order for us to change things for LGBT+ Qataris, we need more people to come out.

“Referring to us by anonymous faceless names reinforces the view that we are doing something wrong that we need to be ashamed of.

“I would like to share my views with my name, as a doctor and as a Qatari citizen who still has parents and siblings in the country. They need to know that I am one of them and not a ‘western agenda’ as they refer to us,” he says defiantly.

A worker is photographed at Lusail Stadium in Doha, Qatar on March 28, 2022

(AFP via Getty Images)

Among the many accusations leveled against LGBT+ Qataris from the Gulf, there is one that argues that they are “pawns” of the West, trying to force “abominable” external views on an established religious and conservative culture. This is strongly denied, not just by Nas, but by other gay men in Qatar who argue that they want to follow Western culture but only seek acceptance from their own country.

The Gulf and the issue of homosexuality have long been in the spotlight, but have been thrust into the spotlight by the fact that Qatar will host the Football World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event in the world, from six months ago. .

Qatar has come under exceptional criticism, especially for its human rights treatment of migrant workers. That criticism has broadened in recent months to an examination of the country’s law on homosexuality and the treatment of its LGBT+ community. Doha’s attempts to counter accusations that it is a relatively progressive country in the region and that it has adapted and responded to Western calls for change on issues such as workers’ rights, foundered on the issue of sexuality.

The country’s zero-tolerance approach to homosexuality is grounded in religion and culture as much as the law, and seems utterly immobile and resistant to growing calls for change.

Attempts by Gulf tournament organizers to ensure it will host all of its expected 1.5 million visiting fans in November, regardless of their sexuality, have failed to satisfy critics abroad and – crucially – have made Qatari LGBT+ people furious that others could be accommodated for a month before normal restrictions return after the football circus moves on.

Of course, the issue will provide a point of contention up to and throughout the tournament. Protests and gestures are likely from fans and players when the World Cup begins.

But for Nas and those like him in Qatar and the wider Gulf, the struggle will continue for much longer than three weeks in front of the world’s television cameras.

“There are a lot of gay people in Qatar,” says Nas. “I didn’t know how many people were gay in Qatar until I moved to the United States. They felt comfortable coming out to me.”

Nas Mohamed now lives in the US and says he fears returning to Qatar

(Nas Mohamed)

He adds: “But I haven’t met anyone who has come out publicly as gay in Qatar.”

Human rights activist Peter Thatchell calls Nas’ decision to go public “groundbreaking.”

“As far as I know, Nas is the first gay man in Qatar to publicly identify himself and give an interview to the media. He is illuminating the Qatari regime’s homophobia; showing why FIFA should never have given the country the right to host the World Cup,” he says.

“The oppression Nas identifies is the common experience of LGBT+ people living in most Arab and Muslim nations.”

‘I couldn’t conform’

Nas says he grew up “extremely religious.”

“I memorized the Quran by heart, I was very devout and very scholarly.”

It wasn’t until his early teens that he started having “boy crushes”, but this left him confused and unsure of his sexuality.

“I didn’t have the internet, there were no gay public figures, I was very confused, I didn’t know what was going on.”

This confusion is not unique to LGBT+ people in Qatar, but the repressive nature of the country is something more particular.

Nas says he couldn’t trust anyone or date. He speaks of gay conversion therapy centers operating in the country and growing up where a “male, sexist, fair and misogonistic culture” is “celebrated”. It wasn’t until a medical student trip to Las Vegas, of all places, in his mid-twenties and a visit to a gay club that he was sure of his sexuality.

He ended up telling his parents, who initially feared, says Nas, that he would tell them that he planned to marry a non-Qatarian.

Men and women wearing traditional Qatari clothing walk along the Corniche in Doha

(Getty Images)

“I told them I was gay and that I couldn’t come to terms with the way other people live in Qatar. They were very upset. Their initial reaction was to try to find treatment for me,” he says.

Nas left for the US in 2011, initially to do residency, but has worked there since then and has only returned to Qatar once – in 2014 for a weekend – and says he didn’t feel safe.

By coming out now, Nas hopes, he says, to “bring visibility” and end the “cycle of denial,” not just for Qatar’s LGBT+ people, but for everyone living in the country.

“It’s time to give ourselves rights, we need to be recognized and honest about how we are treated. I don’t think anyone can make a difference except Qataris,” he says.

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