In July 2017, a member of the Jordan Parliament, Dima Tahboub, requested that the Jordanian Media Commission open an inquiry into the online magazine, My.Kali. The queer-inclusive magazine was first published in 2007 and has been an important medium for fighting systemic homophobia in the Middle East. The most recent inquest concluded that My.Kali was indeed in violation of the Press and Publication law, which holds that media outlets must obtain a license from the Commission in order to operate. As My.Kali has been censored in Jordan since July 2016, the Commission’s most recent instructions to block access to the website have no new practical implications for readers. However, the ministerial response to Tahboub’s inquiry has incited mass intolerance towards the already marginalized LGBT community in Jordan.
The originally private contents of the inquiry were appropriated to the public domain following a statement from the Interior Minister Ghaleb al-Zu’bi. Al-Zu’bi wrote, “Jordan has not and will never endorse any charter or protocol acknowledging homosexuals – known as the LGBT community – or granting them any rights as it is considered a deviation from Islamic law and Jordanian constitution.” This disdain for the LGBT community was corroborated by the Justice minister, Dr. Awad Al-Mashagbeh, who stated that LGBT people’s “sexual deviance violates… the state’s general system and decency.” While Jordan decriminalized same-sex behaviour in 1951, explicit homophobia from government ministers suggests that marginalization of the LGBT community prevails.
In 2013, a Pew Research poll found that 97% of the Jordanian population believed that homophobic activity should not be accepted – one of the highest rates of intolerance in the world. However, several Islamic teachers and Imams argue that there is no basis for homophobia in Islamic theology. In an interview, the Islamic scholar Ziauddin Sardar declared, “there is absolutely no evidence that the Prophet punished anyone for homosexuality…the demonization of homosexuality in Muslim history is based largely on fabricated traditions and the unreconstituted prejudice harboured by most Muslim societies.” Similarly, an anonymous interviewee undercut Ahboub’s inquest, stating, “the most talented and fun homosexuals I met in my life are Jordanians.”
While the LGBT community of Jordan faces a number of hurdles to social acceptance, their legal status is ambiguous and inconsistent. The decriminalization of homosexuality in Jordan is somewhat unique within the Middle East (alongside Bahrain and Iraq) and predated that of many other countries. However, there is still no anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT individuals. It follows that Jordan is yet to legally recognize the same-sex union, permit adoption by same-sex couples, or allow LGBT individuals to serve in the military. Meanwhile, the Jordan government continues to exploit vague provisions within public expression and association laws to arbitrarily limit homosexual activity.
The continued suppression of the gay community within Jordan suggests that more action needs to be taken against homophobia on the global stage. While Jordan is a signatory to a number of declarations protecting the rights of minorities, many of these focus on religious and ethnic minorities and don’t extend the discourse around minority rights to sexual minorities. In 2016, the UNHCR allocated resources to research the root factors belying discrimination of people based on gender or sexual identity. However, the appointment of this independent monitor remains the most explicit confirmation from the UN that gay rights are a subject for legislation and supervision under the same umbrella as human rights. The Jordanian government needs to be made more accountable for its ongoing marginalization of the LGBT community and its lax efforts in positively legislating to protect homosexual individuals.