Homosexuality has recently resurfaced as a topic of public debate in Saudi Arabia, following two events: reports about a wedding party for a gay couple in the Mecca region that was raided by local police, and a report in the Saudi daily 'Okaz about American actor Timothée Chalamet, who recently portrayed a gay youth in an acclaimed Hollywood film.
It should be noted that the Saudi press almost completely ignored the reports of the gay wedding, and a Saudi website even removed a report it had posted about it. 'Okaz, too, removed the report about Chalamet from its website after drawing intense criticism for publishing it. However, many Saudis responded to the events on social media, where most of the responses expressed disapproval of homosexuality, describing it as inimical to the Saudi lifestyle. However, other responses indicated that homosexuality exists and is even prevalent in the kingdom, while some even defended LGBT rights.
It should be noted that this isn't the first time that reports about homosexual events held in the kingdom have been published, and in the past, too, these events triggered intense reactions on social media and were dealt with harshly by the regime, due to its conservative and critical stance toward the issue. In January 2016, the independent Saudi website Sabq.org reported on the arrest of young people in Riyadh who had held a wedding party for a homosexual couple. The party was filmed and the video was shared on social media.On February 26, 2017, a report was published about the arrest of a group of Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia who held a drag party.
This report reviews the reactions to the two recent events, in the Saudi press and among Saudi social media users:
Videos Show Gay Wedding Held In Mecca Region; Saudi Daily 'Okaz Removes Its Report About It
On January 3, 2018, Arab news sites reported that videos were circulating on social media of a wedding of two gay men that had taken place at a roadside inn in the 'Ardiyat governorate south of Mecca. According to the reports, the Mecca region police raided the event and arrested the participants.
As opposed to the wide publicity of the event on social media and in the non-Saudi press, the Saudi print media barely referred to it. The only paper that reported about it was the daily Al-Madina, which also quoted an "expert on social and moral affairs" as saying that the phenomenon of gay marriage reflected moral corruption in general and sexual perversion in particular, and that the fight against it must begin in the family. The Saudi news website Al-marsd.com reported on the wedding on January 3, 2018, and on the following day it published the reaction of the 'Ardiyat governor, who called on Saudis to honor the kingdom's religious and moral values. Both reports were later removed from the site.
From a video of the gay wedding (Youtube.com, January 2, 2018)
Saudis On Twitter Condemn Homosexuality, But Recognize Its Existence In Saudi Arabia
On social media, the reports of the wedding sparked a heated debate and widespread condemnation. Posting under hashtags like #Gay Wedding in Mecca and #Gay Marriage, many users expressed disapproval that a gay wedding had been held in the region of Mecca, where Islam's holiest site is located. Oppositionist Saudi websites likewise circulated the videos of the wedding, expressing disapproval of it and of the social reforms being enacted by Saudi Crown Muhammad Bin Salman.
Twitter user Masha'il wrote: "May Allah, the angels and all people curse [the homosexuals]. And this [wedding took place] in Mecca, on the purest soil! Allah, have mercy on us."
The oppositionist "Towards Freedom" Twitter page posted: "A wedding party for two gay men [was held] at a roadside inn in the 'Ardiyat governorate, in the Mecca region! This is Muhammad Bin Salman's 'new Saudi Arabia.'"
Other posts recognized that homosexuality is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Twitter user Khaled wrote: "Yes, there are many of them, especially in the honorable city of Mecca. This is saddening, [and stems from] the absence of supervisors, consciousness-raising and social ostracizing [of gays]"
Twitter user Noora responded to a tweet which claimed that the people in the video were not Saudis and that foreign countries were sending people to sow corruption in the kingdom. Rejecting this claim, she wrote: "There is homosexuality all over Saudi Arabia, especially in the schools. It is prevalent in cities and among nomads and expats. Do not play the victim by saying 'what are they sending us from abroad?'"
Twitter user Bakhrush wrote that the celebrators in the video are Saudi, and that homosexual events are not rare in Saudi Arabia: "They are not foreigners, but locals. The [area] south of Al-Qunfuda and Al-Quoz [in the Mecca region] is full of such examples, and falsely claiming that they are foreigners [only] obscures the roots of the problem. [Homosexuals] hold weekly parties [there, a phenomenon that] began surfacing five years ago. We know these [people] and are aware of their nature and of the places [they frequent]." In another tweet, Bakhrush wrote that other videos of gay events show children and elderly people participating, which indicates that these events are regarded as natural."
'Okaz Report On Actor Who Portrayed Gay Man In Hollywood Movie Sparks Harsh Criticism Of The Daily, Debate On Twitter
On January 6, two days after the Al-Marsd.com website removed its report on the gay wedding, the Saudi daily 'Okaz featured an item on American actor Timothée Chalamet, who portrays a gay man in the Hollywood film Call Me by Your Name. The report noted that Vulture magazine had named Chalamet one of the best actors of 2017 for his role in this movie. This positive article on an actor playing a gay man sparked harsh criticism against the daily, which removed the report from its website the following day.
The January 6 'Okaz report on Chalamet, headlined "'Homosexual' Among 10 Best Actors Of 2017"
The hashtag #Okaz Promotes Perversion was widespread on social media, and nearly all of the tweets harshly condemned the publication of the report, attacked the newspaper, and criticized the Saudi "liberals" who, they said, were undermining the values of the kingdom.
For example, Twitter user Bint Sa'ud tweeted: "News items like this that deal with deviation or 'homosexuality' are liable to influence the mentality of people with no self-awareness, and also the mentality of young people. They might think that this is permitted because a Saudi newspaper reported on it! If the author of this article, or the newspaper, is not punished, expect the worst."
Twitter user Muhammad Al-Yahya tweeted: "Our media has become an example of sleaze and deterioration, from the MBC and Rotana [media networks] and the 'Okaz and Al-Watan [dailies], to the Al-Jazirah and Al-Riyadh [dailies]! Is [the conduct of] these media compatible with the law of this blessed land and with the morality of its leaders and residents?! Who will save our media from this low point and turn it into an honorable representation of [Saudi Arabia – ] the land of the [divine] missions, [with] noble leaders and a noble people?!"
However, unlike in the case of the wedding, in this case there were also those who rejected the negative attitude towards homosexuality, claiming, for example, that the phenomenon of child marriage in Saudi Arabia was worse than homosexuality, and others tweeted in support of LGBT rights.
For example, Twitter user Qandisha tweeted: "I wish we could see the flags of homosexuality [i.e. rainbow LGBT flags] in the streets of Saudi Arabia."
Twitter user AladyGagaheart tweeted: "[You] are angry because a newspaper reported on adult homosexuals who love each other. I have not seen you angry when someone marries an underage girl, [or] when a husband acts violently towards his wife."
User Eman Al-Mutairi likewise condemned the anger in Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis homosexuality as opposed to the indifference towards marriages of underage girls, tweeting: "#Okaz Promotes Perversion – Perversion is a 50-year-old man marrying a nine-year-old girl!"
User Zaman tweeted: "Okaz, may Allah help you against the homophobic Saudis. They are the most miserable people, with no life, and half of them are unemployed. That is, don't expect anything from them – tomorrow they will launch a popular hashtag banning you because you wrote [the word] 'gay.' This is pathetic. They are trying to create [increase] their own value by attacking others, whether they are celebrities or newspapers."
 Sabq.org, January 26, 2016.
 Arabi21.com, February 26, 2017.
 Eremnews.com, January 3, 2018; alaraby.co.uk, January 5, 2018.
 Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), January 4, 2018.
 Al-marsd.com, January 3, 2018; January 4, 2018.
 Twitter.com/okichn66, January 3, 2018.
 Twitter.com/hureyaksa, January 3, 2018.
 Twitter.com/loo2013ool, January 3, 2018.
 Twitter.com/LifelessNoor, January 3, 2018.
 Twitter.com/saa2043, January 3, 2018.
 Twitter.com/_saudiwoman, January 7, 2018.
 Twitter.com/alyahyamo7ammad, January 7, 2018.
 Twitter.com/qan_tho, January 7, 2018.
 Twitter.com/AladyGagaheart, January 7, 2017.
 Twitter.com/eman_m89, January 7, 2018.
 Twitter.com/LordJackson_fcb, January 7, 2018.