In a perplexing move, Egypt has told the United Nations Human Rights Council that queer people do not exist.
Representatives of the country made the statement earlier this month in response to a new push from the UN to end discrimination against LGBTQ people worldwide. Egypt rejected the new guidelines for protecting sexual orientation and gender identity saying the nation “does not recognize the terms mentioned in this recommendation.”
Activists wasted no time in condemning the rhetoric. “This outrageous statement from Egyptian officials comes at a time when the COVID-19 health crisis is threatening already vulnerable groups, including LGBT people detained in Egypt’s prisons on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Rasha Younes, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch.
Egypt punishes homosexual behavior under public decency laws. Those convicted of infractions are often given harsh sentences by Egyptian courts. The nation began a harsh crackdown on queer people following a 2017 incident where a group of young people waved Pride flags at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. The incident led to the arrests of 84 people, many of whom were subjected to rectal exams as part of their interrogations. Several Egyptian television hosts also leaked the names of several of the young people who waved the Pride flag at the concert.
As a result, Rainbow Railroad, an underground network aimed at helping queer people find refuge in more tolerant nations, has begun aiding queer Egyptians in escaping the nation.