The study results from "a collaborative partnership" between ACON, the Council, the Beit el Hob community group and a Steering Committee of representatives from Arab and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender communities. It involved a "largely qualitative methodology" in an online survey of the experiences and opinions of people from Arabic‐speaking backgrounds, complemented by two focus groups with 7 same‐sex attracted (SSA) men and 5 SSA women; a focus group with 11 community and welfare workers, and one‐on‐one interviews with 9 community and religious leaders and 6 family members from three families.
The research will attract interest regarding the analysis and the methodology, with ACON for example noting that
37 valid responses were received to the online survey of SSA people from Arabic‐speaking backgrounds. Of the sample, 26 respondents identified as male and 11 as female, just under 2/3rds were Australian‐born, and 60% identified as Christian and 30% identified as Muslim. The majority of survey respondents were from Lebanese background, under the age of 34 and located in South West and Inner West Sydney.Not quite an exhaustive study, albeit the small population size might be an indication of attitudes regarding LGBTIQ affinity and probing by sociologists.
ACON indicates that
Almost all participants perceived that hostile attitudes existed towards gays and lesbians in Arab communities. There was a strong division between participants who saw homophobia as the problem and those – mainly some community and religious leaders – who saw homosexuality as the problem.
Participants who saw homophobia as a problem said reasons underlying hostile attitudes included:
o the interconnection between religious and cultural values;
o the centrality of heterosexual relations for life progression;
o patriarchal structures and rigidly defined gender roles; and
o a lack of understand or education about sexuality in general.
These participants said such attitudes persisted because of:
o socio‐economic and cultural marginalisation
o the unchallenged (views of elders being passed down to younger generations – it was disrespectful to challenge the views of elders
o the importance of maintaining personal and familial reputation or ‘honour’ – this made it harder to challenge homophobia or claim an SSA identity because it was perceived as bringing shame on the family; and
o religious values and cultural mores which mutually reinforced each other.
A few community and religious leaders suggested that hostile attitudes towards homosexuality were positive virtues, although none supported actual physical violence being used against SSA people. They variously saw (or said others in Arab communities saw) homosexuality as contrary to cultural and religious values, a Western import, non‐existent or less prevalent in Arab communities, disgusting, contagious, a sickness, curable, a choice, unnatural, immoral, a risk to children and/or leading to AIDS.No surprises there for readers of works such as Joseph Massad's occidentalist Desiring Arabs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2007) - centred on the notion that promotion of LGBTIQ rights is a conspiracy headed by a Homintern of orientalists and colonialists that “produces homosexuals, as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist” - and the more persuasive Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press 2006) by Brian Whittaker.
ACON goes on to comment that -
Participant responses revealed a complex and nuanced interaction between religious values and homophobic beliefs. In some cases, religious values and beliefs were used to justify homophobic attitudes, whilst in other cases religious values helped analyse or challenge the non‐acceptance of homosexuality, or specific homophobia‐related attitudes and hatred.Key findings about SSA experience were -
More than a third of the SSA survey respondents reported threats of violence or intimidation and one quarter reported physical violence from people within Arab communities. Seven out of 32 reported being taken to a doctor or religious leader to be cured.
SSA survey respondents were more likely to disclose their sexuality to gay and lesbian friends from Arab‐speaking backgrounds, non‐Arab friends and work colleagues. Fathers and religious leaders were least likely to be told.
Key reasons given for the non‐disclosure of sexuality were fears of a negative reaction, a sense of duty and commitment to family members to not bring shame upon the family (honour), a sense of being unready, or a desire to keep with cultural norms of sexuality as ‘private’. A desire for openness, self‐affirmation and self‐determination were the main reasons given for disclosure.
Supportive family members who knew about their relative’s sexuality spoke of a tension resulting from the need to simultaneously support their SSA relatives and defend them from homophobia, whilst concealing their relatives’ sexuality from other family members, and maintaining family honour. Some family members felt very alone.
Some SSA participants spoke of isolated instances of quiet support from religious leaders. However, 6 of the 9 community and religious leaders interviewed held views ranging from moderate compassion (yet disapproval) to outright hostility towards lesbians and gay men.
Out of 31 responses, 14 SSA survey respondents did not believe that gay, lesbian and queer organisations adequately addressed issues concerning Arab gays and lesbians, and a further 16 said they only ‘partly’ did so.