What It's Like To Be Queer In Dubai

October 28, 2021

Sadly, being LGBTQ+ is still very dangerous in many places around the world. Even in countries where it is not criminalized, many people still live in fear from the possible repercussion of coming out. Living in a heteronormative world has the consequence of homophobia still being a massive issue everywhere. Even in the most progressive places, there will always be someone who is against the LGBTQ+ community for whatever reason they may have.

Being part of the LGBQ+ community is still illegal in more than 70 countries with some of them still punishing “gay behavior” with the death penalty. Last year, I moved to one of those countries for a job. Being queer in Dubai is certainly not always easy. While I have lived in countries where being queer in any shape or form is illegal and imprisonment for any behavior deemed “inappropriate” could technically lead to imprisonment or fines, I haven’t lived in a country that sees homosexuality as punishable by death under the sharia law or sees flogging and torture as a justifiable form of punishment. (Note: the death penalty has never been applied in the UAE for anyone arrested for homosexuality).

Queer in Dubai

Privately LGBTQ+

Known as a party city full of glamour, fantastic brunches and mega events, Dubai is filled with people that are part of the LGBTQ+ community despite the harsh laws against them. I have rarely lived in a place where I have met more gay people than I have here. I actually think that I know more gays, lesbians and all the other letters of the community here than I know heterosexual Cis-people. While you would expect a low-laying community that tries to not get a lot of attention here, it’s quite the opposite. Go to any rooftop bar or party and you surely will meet queer people and within the bar spaces it’s often not very hidden in terms of subtle behavior.

There have been past events that were somewhat catered to LGBTQ+ people, hidden behind some made-up event name, but those are not a frequent occurrence. Private events on the other hand are a big thing and I know people who are at different queer parties almost every weekend. Most of the people at these events are from abroad; many are tourists but probably there are just as many permanent residents of the country. Sometimes you might even meet a local LGBTQ+ member, even though that is extremely rare at least as far as I know.

Public queer affection

As a rule-of-thumb: As long as you are careful and use your brain, you won’t have any issues being LGBTQ+ in Dubai. What’s important is that you never show public affection anywhere. This rule applies to straight couples as well—smooching in public is a big no-no in the UAE. But recently the rules have been eased a bit and you can see many couples holding hands without any issues. Keep in mind though that any eased rules do not apply to the LGBTQ+ community.

Holding hands with your partner while strolling down the beach in public is definitely not an option. You might get lucky and there won’t be anyone stopping you but I would not risk it. Apparently, there is even an undercover unit within the Dubai police with the sole purpose of combating homosexual activity, formed after two lesbian were arrested for showing public affection in Dubai back in 2008. I have seen gay couples holding hands outside, but only in the Dubai Marina region, which is an area where mostly expats live. And even there, I would highly suggest not testing your luck.

Tinder and Co.

If you are looking to online-date in the UAE and put your preference to the same gender, the apps will give you a warning that you are in a country where this is illegal and you should be careful who you message what or who you meet up with. If the profiles are not verified, you have no idea who you might be meeting up with, so always make sure you know what you are doing and don’t take any unnecessary risks. For specific queer dating apps you will need to use a VPN to even use them in the first place because most LGBTQ+ content/websites etc. are blocked in the UAE.

That said, I personally have not encountered any incidents but I have heard of people who have, so always be cautious. Online dating can be scary as it is already—add in the fact of your sexuality not being accepted in the country you live in and you definitely should be careful.

Final thought

Generally, I would say you do not have to worry if you are queer and are planning on visiting or even living in Dubai. You will most certainly meet many like-minded people all over the city. You just have to be a bit more careful and take more precautions than you might have had to do in your home country. Be smart and rational and you will be fine with being queer in Dubai. But also keep in mind that queer people have been arrested here and have been sentenced to jail time. As most of them were nationals of other countries they were often released after a couple of months but then deported without the possibility to ever return. So, if you plan to visit Dubai with your partner or even by yourself with the intention of dating here, keep these things in mind.

Also by Rebecca: As A Bi Woman, Here Are Bisexual Myths I’d Like To Debunk—Once And For All

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Rebecca Willems
Rebecca is a passionate vegan member of the LGBTQ+ community, trying to live a more zero-waste life as well. During her undergraduate and graduate studies she put a lot of focus on sustainability, LGBTQ+ rights and gender issues across the globe. Having lived on 5 continents in many different cultures and being an avid traveler, she loves to learn about new cultures, learn languages, and try all the amazing food across the world.

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