In Jordan, Eradicating 'every trace of male homosexuals'

The Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad was the only one to report on a recent crackdown of what it said were gay male prostitutes operating in the capital. The nature of Al Ghad's reporting, and the other media's reluctance to talk about it, reveal deeply rooted anti-gay sentiments in Jordanian society.

AMMAN, November 4, 2008 (MENASSAT) – On October 27, Jordanians woke up to rather unusual news that stirred a debate usually not discussed in conservative Jordanian society.

Apparently, the authorities had launched a campaign against "gay prostitutes" who are offering their services at a meeting point near a hospital in West Amman.
Al Ghad Daily ran a detailed report by its crime editor quoting unnamed security sources as saying that "the campaign will continue until we eradicate any trace of male homosexuals in the society." The quote was later attributed to Amman's military governor, Saad Manasir.

The report also said male homosexuals were "spreading vice and moral decay in society and were looking for prostitution." According to the source, the number of homosexuals "continues to increase, and they now constitute a phenomenon."

He also confirmed the arrest of four men who were taken to Al Juwaideh prison in Amman. Sources confirmed they cannot be released on bail and will remain in custody until they provide guarantees that they will refrain from homosexual acts.

A non-news item

Al Ghad Daily was the only paper to carry the news, although several news websites copied the news and published it.

The news item has struck a negative chord with the Jordanian public, and in a twist, the buzz on the streets has been a general disdain for the Al Ghad article, which painted male homosexuals as criminals in this case. Interestingly, Al Ghad's article was the "most read, commented on and sent item in the paper that day."

One senior media analyst said the way Al Ghad published the article was very insulting. The paper had mentioned in its lead that the persons arrested were "sissies” and belonged to the "third gender."

"The newspaper should be more progressive, it shouldn't necessarily condone homosexuality as correct, but branding them as sissies is wrong and sends a very backward message about our media," said the analyst, an editor at a Jordanian weekly who preferred to remain anonymous.

Public opinion

Many reader comments about the news item on Al Ghad's website came out in support of the people arrested. One reader, who identified himself as Omasky Bukhariev, said, "I know that usually when a writer writes an article he needs to do research. So this pathetic loser should get a life... There's a difference between gay people, male prostitutes, she-males and transgenders..."

Another reader, who identified himself only as "a very angry Jordanian", questioned the legality of action against the homosexuals.

"I want to know what crime these people committed? If this is true then Jordan has just broken a whole lot of human rights. There is nothing in our criminal codes that says being gay is against the law."

That is not entirely correct: Jordanian law bans homosexuality and any man caught having sex with another man faces up to four years in jail. But rights activists say the law is rarely enforced these days.

Other perspectives

From a social perspective, psychiatrist Dr. Mohamed Habashneh said, "Total rejection [of gays] would only lead to negative results, especially in terms of the number of individuals willing to reveal their sexual status (gays or lesbians) to the community."

He added, "Male homosexuality is no longer regarded as a disease in the West, but conservative communities in the Arab World continue to treat them as such."
Human rights activist Henzad Altall said, “It is wrong to put gays in prison with other criminals. They must be placed in special correctional centers, to be treated and brought back to the society," she said in remarks published by the Sejil Weekly. "They are abnormal and need special treatment so that they can improve their situation and return to the community correctly."

Surprisingly, Altali reflected the comments of many interviewed for this article, rights activists included, who continue to see homosexuality as a disease that can be treated.

Meanwhile, no legislation exists to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Jordan, and there are no known government-recognized LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual, Transgender) rights organizations.