September 19, 2019

What It's Like to Be Gay in Gaza

“The meeting was fixed for nightfall at one of Gaza City’s beachfront restaurants. The place is almost empty. Sami (not his real name) sits at a table, looking hesitant. He only starts speaking after the waiter has left us. “I had to get married so as not to damage my family’s reputation,” the 40-year-old Gazan whispers. “My mother put pressure on me, told me she wanted to have grandchildren. Before I married my first wife I told her, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’ She started laughing. I insisted. So she looked me right in the eye and ordered me never to say that again. After the divorce, I told her everything again. ‘Show people you’re straight,’ she replied. I thought: I’ll do my best.”

Sami first knew he was gay at the age of 7. He has lived a clandestine life ever since, using Viagra when he needs to pretend to be straight. Married twice already, he often dreams of what life could be like outside the coastal enclave.

To be gay in the “world’s largest open-air prison” has been a constant struggle, he says. Whereas LGBTQ Palestinians living in Israel or the West Bank have the opportunity to leave their conservative towns and villages to find relatively safe spaces in Haifa, Tel Aviv-Jaffa or even Ramallah, Gazans are trapped in what he calls a “homophobic society.””

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