Sports bringing LGBT visibility to Arabia

From Mark Segal of Philadelphia Gay News: Some very exciting news is happening in the sports world that is changing the worldview on LGBT rights equality and changing culture. Specifically, it's happening on the racing track.

The most recent Inaugural Formula One Grand Prix took place on Sunday, December 5 in Saudi Arabia. Yep, you read that correctly. Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries in the world on LGBT issues. The country is so strict that just a few years ago they have literally killed LGBT people solely because they are LGBT. They are so strict that they won't show big budget hollywood films that have LGBT characters, even if those roles are minor and don't factor into the plot. The Hollywood Reporter recently confirmed that Steven Spielberg's musical adaptation will not screen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman or Kuwait. The article said that the decision to ban West Side Story was due to trans character Anybodys, played by nonbinary actor Iris Menas.

So along comes the opportunity for Saudi Arabia to host a Formula One Grand Prix. Of course they jumped on it, because the country wants to make inroads with the west, but never did they expect that one of the top Formula One drivers and the only black Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton had called out the country on their repressive and despotic human rights treatment of LGBT people.

And, Hamilton did so in the most remarkable way. He wore a rainbow helmet, showing an inclusive rainbow flag for solidarity, and when asked about it, he spoke out strongly.

As Pink News reported, "Hamilton condemned Saudi Arabia's anti-LGBT+ laws and said he wore Pride colors on his helmet to "spark the conversation" on LGBT+ rights in homophobic countries.

And then he won the race, and in his victory press conference when asked about his helmet he stated "I believe everyone should have equal rights, freedom of speech, freedom of movement… And there's places where that's not allowed… Places such as here where the LGBT community, there's prison time, the death penalty and restrictions for people being themselves. And I don't believe in that."

It seems this is a continuing campaign for Hamilton since it was the second race that he had used that helmet. The first time was Last November in, drum roll please, the country Qatar, another place on the Arabian peninsula with strict laws against our community. And Qatar will soon find itself in a similar situation.

The World Cup soccer finals, the world's largest sports event, is coming up in 2022 and will be played for the first time in Qatar. Myriad fans will go to the country, and some of them will be LGBT people. The country had to promise that they would take no action against any LGBT participants, but it remains to be seen what will actually happen. But it will be interesting if any players or staff speak out while they are in Qatar next year. In a country where you can't even bring up the subject of LGBT rights in polite society without being questioned by police, that is the beginning of change.

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