Coming out as gay can be difficult. Being the only person from your country to do so is in another category altogether. Because repression in the World Cup-hosting Gulf State of Qatar is so pervasive, 35-year-old primary-care physician Nasser Mohamed is, officially, the country’s only LGBTQ+ citizen. And as that semi-parliamentary monarchy gears up to host the biggest soccer tournament on Earth later this month, Mohamed is on a quest to show the world just how intensely homophobic Qatar is.
“There are no Country Reports on what actually happens to us in Qatar,” the SF-based Nasser told The Standard on National Coming Out Day last month. “Prior to me coming out, the only public narrative was ‘Oh, gay people are welcome. You just need to respect our customs and traditions.’ There was always that big qualifier.”
Mohamed came to the United States for his medical residency at 24 and moved to San Francisco in 2015. He was granted political asylum within a few years and recently applied for U.S. citizenship. Since an appearance on BBC Arabic several years ago—as public as a coming-out can get, really—Instagram has been his primary megaphone. He uses it to maintain contacts with isolated LGBTQ+ people in the country where the world’s attention will soon be fixed.
The World Cup is typically held over the summer, but average high temperatures in Qatar’s capital, Doha, exceed 100 degrees five months out of the year. So 2022’s tournament has been condensed to a four-week period in November and December. On the day it begins (Sunday, Nov. 20), Mohamed will hold a protest at Lookout, a Castro queer bar, to draw attention to the plight of LGBTQ+ Qataris—and to what he sees as the regime’s attempt to use the the beautiful game to launder its international reputation.
“It’s insane to me the extent that the government goes to oppress and persecute the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar,” he said. “And also how little of that has actually left Qatar as public knowledge. People outside don’t know how awful it really is. It’s shocking.”
While homosexuality is not a capital crime, gay people are subject to torture and life imprisonment. The BBC was merely the first of many international media outlets to cover Mohamed’s fight, but that report alone spurred an extensive social media backlash against him in the Middle East, as thousands of users reported his account for spreading hate speech. Consequently, Mohamed has been effectively cut off from his family. He said that any further contact he has with them might jeopardize their safety.
At this point, FIFA, soccer’s global regulatory body, will not be dissuaded from holding the World Cup in Qatar. (They were not receptive to accusations of labor abuses in stadium construction, either.) So Mohamed’s goal is to make sure that the momentum doesn’t fizzle after the final match.
As he works to build the Gulf region’s first LGBTQ+ nonprofit, Mohamed says he’s been in touch with several out professional athletes, with mixed results. Soccer legend David Beckham has endured sharp blowback for accepting more than $100 million to serve as Qatar’s ambassador to the world of sports, and Mohamed demanded answers.
“David Beckham has described himself as a ‘gay icon,’” he said. “I wrote an open letter to him, and he blocked me on Instagram. Gay people are are being broken and tortured, and they’re covering this up to make the regime look better in the eyes of the world.”
Photos by Benjamin Fanjoy/ The Standard.
Enduring the backlash as the first and, so far, only Qatari citizen to publicly come out as gay.
The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs and David Beckham.
Instagram: His sole megaphone in his home country is threatened by Qatari officials.
Qatari. Dr. Mohamed moved to the United States in 2011 and to San Francisco in 2015. He was granted asylum in 2017 and applied for U.S. citizenship over the summer.
To prevent the government of Qatar from using the World Cup to showcase itself as a nation that respects human rights.