Breaking free: Young gay man flees Saudi Arabia for acceptance and safety

A young gay man bravely came out last year, but when his family could not accept him, the 20 year old had no choice but to leave Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative country, to find freedom and safety.

Turki (name changed for security reasons) recalls the harsh treatment he faced from his family after coming out as gay in Saudi Arabia. He was confined to a room, barred from attending his university classes and subjected to physical abuse from his father and brothers. Turki said…

“When my mother learned of my sexual orientation, she said to me, ‘You are not my son.'”

Despite the introduction of several social reforms under the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, such as the marginalisation of the Religious Police, and the introduction of cinemas and all-night desert raves, LGBTQIA2S+ rights are still taboo in the Islamic kingdom.

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Turki’s only option was to leave Saudi Arabia after saving enough money for an international flight. He said…

“I left in the night and travelled to London for good.”

Sexual minorities still struggle to be accepted in the Gulf Kingdom. The laws on homosexuality are unclear and potentially punishable by death, making it nearly impossible for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals to feel welcome. While the US State Department report on human rights in Saudi Arabia mentioned no known prosecutions under these laws in 2021, public displays of homosexuality or cross-dressing are still targeted by authorities.

In response to the transgender woman who died by suicide after returning to the kingdom, Yasmine Farouk of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that anything related to LGBTQIA2S+ rights is “very, very sensitive.” Men who are gay like Turki and other LGBTQIA2S+ exiles see little hope for change in their home country, effectively forcing them to leave the only life they know behind.

One exile shared their harrowing experience, saying that “exposing our affairs in Saudi Arabia meant death.” Despite newfound freedom and the ability to openly express their sexuality in a new country, many still take precautions to remain anonymous for their safety.

Ultimately, for gay individuals like Turki and others in Saudi Arabia, finding acceptance and living a life without fear meant leaving everything behind to start anew in a more tolerant society.

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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