Stefan Arestis | Sep 18, 2018 | 4
Gay life in the UAE: is Dubai safe for gay travellers?
Dubai is regarded as the Vegas of the Middle East. Just like Las Vegas it’s a new, modern city built in the middle of a desert. Unlike Las Vegas however, you risk getting into quite a bit of trouble if you openly express your sexuality in public…
Dubai is one of the 7 “Emirates” of the United Arab Emirates, a country ruled by a monarchy with Sharia Law in place. The other 6 Emirates are Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.
We explore whether Dubai is safe for gay travellers to visit, particularly in light of the anti-gay laws in place.
Is it legal to be gay in Dubai?
Short answer, no. Sadly, in Dubai, good old fashioned Sharia Law rules the school. If you’re caught having consensual gay sex, you face a short prison sentence and deportation.
In reality however, the Sharia police don’t come knocking on your door spying on your every move. The previous arrests of LGBTQ tourists happened as a result of public occurrences, like a Lebanese/Bulgarian lesbian couple kissing on a public beach, or a Pakistani/Filipino gay couple having oral sex in a car. In both situations the couples were arrested, imprisoned for a few months, then deported. One famous trans celebrity, Gigi Gorgeous, was denied entry to Dubai in August 2016 when the immigration staff realised she is trans:
When we went to Dubai, we were visiting our French friend who is gay, and happily living/working there. Whilst we felt we had to go back in the closet in public, we still had a fun time discovering the underground gay scene of Dubai.
Is there a gay scene in Dubai?
As it’s illegal to be gay here, there is no official gay scene in Dubai or LGBTQ organisation. However, thanks to the large expat population and the 20,000+ Emirates cabin crew who are based here, Dubai is seen as a sort of gay mecca by Arab men from surrounding countries. This is because there are a number of underground unannounced gay events taking place each week.
One of the most popular “gay” clubs in Dubai at the moment is the “Barcode” party, which takes place each Saturday at a different location, usually in one of the international hotels. Another gay friendly club in Dubai to check out is Fantasia. To avoid attracting negative attention, these events are announced last minute via word of mouth or the gay apps like Grindr, similar to the gay scene of Delhi, India.
Our advice is to use Grindr to connect with locals and expats and find out which gay events in Dubai maybe taking place when you’re there. Note that Grindr is banned in Dubai, as are any blogs/websites that depict “immoral” things(!). You can however get around this by investing in a good VPN service. We recommend: ExpressVPN, which we used in Dubai without any problems.
Finally as a general rule, the bars of the large international hotel chains are the ones which are more likely to be open minded. One of our favourites is the Level 43 Sky Lounge at the Sheraton, which not only has delicious cocktails, the views across the city here are stunning.
Gay friendly hotels to stay in Dubai
As being gay is illegal in Dubai, hotels will require two men sharing a room to have an extra mattress added, or will only allow you to have a room with twin beds. However, the larger international brands are more likely to allow gay couples to share a double bed, in particular the following:
- The Sofitel Dubai: lush hotel located near the famous Jumeirah beach.
- The Hilton Dubai Jumeirah: North American chain who are used to hosting gay travellers.
- Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort: we love the gorgeous gay friendly rooftop bar here.
Our advice is to email/call ahead and ask if they are ok to host a gay couple and allow you to share a double bed. Otherwise, we advise you err on the side of caution and settle with two single beds, particularly if not staying at one of the international branded hotels.
In terms of best location, the main things you’ll want to experience in Dubai are the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa, 830m/2,723ft), the huge shopping malls and the Palm Islands. So any hotel near these would be the ideal location for your stay.
So…is Dubai safe for gay travellers and should you go?
Let’s call a spade a spade here. It’s illegal to be gay here, and any public displays of affection between same sex couples, even accidental ones, risk getting you into trouble. As a general rule, we don’t avoid visiting a destination just because it has anti-gay laws as we believe boycotting such places is counter-productive. We wrote about this at length in our article about what it’s like travelling in Asia as a gay couple, and advice for gay travellers to Iran.
Having said that, thousands of LGBTQ travellers visit Dubai every day, whilst others reside here without any problems at all. Obviously this is not in any way like San Francisco or Madrid, but if you don’t flaunt your sexuality in public and take care with you who you hang out with, and where, you’ll be absolutely fine. It goes without saying you should be astute and aware at all times, and stay in the closet in public for your safety!
With all this in mind, we think that Dubai is safe for gay travellers, but obviously with basic common sense being applied at all times.
Travel recommendations for Dubai
A VPN is your friend: we cannot stress the importance of using a VPN for your phone/laptop in Dubai as anything LGBTQ related is otherwise blocked, particularly the gay dating apps. We used ExpressVPN which we highly recommend.
Travel insurance: Whether you go for shopping, hiking or just lay on Jumeirah Beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.
Flights: To fly to Dubai, we recommend Skyscanner. Their website is very easy to use and they always offer the best prices. You can even search for the cheapest flights for any given month.
Hotels: When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use Booking.com to find the best deals and to book accommodation online. But as mentioned above, call/email ahead to check they’re ok with two men sharing a bed.