We recently saw that Dubai is due to hold a conference on LGBTQ+ rights and to say we were shocked would be an understatement.
We haven’t yet travelled to Dubai as a gay couple, partly because we are apprehensive to…
To investigate further we connected with Liam, a gay guy who lived in Dubai for most of his life to learn more about the reality of being gay in Dubai and find out what advice he had for gay travellers thinking about going.
We always believe it’s important to give people a voice and to share stories of genuinely living in a country as an LGBTQ+ person.
Read our interview with Liam below to learn more about gay life and gay travel in Dubai:
Gay Life in Dubai & Advice for Gay Travel
Sion: Hi Liam, please provide some background on yourself and your time living in Dubai to get us started.
Liam: Hi, my name is Liam and I was born in 1993 in the UK however in the early 90’s my family started working in the Middle East. In 1999 they decided to move to Dubai and have been there ever since.
I lived in Dubai from age 5 to 18 when I moved to Leeds for University and since then normally visit Dubai 2-3 times a year.
Growing up in Dubai was great, we were given such a good way of life and so much freedom because of how safe the country was.
It was amazing for nightlife, outdoor experiences and sports. I wouldn’t change growing up in that region for the world.
Being Gay in Dubai
Sion: And what about being gay in Dubai when you were younger, was this ever talked about?
Liam: When I was younger it was difficult to think about being gay in Dubai. You did not see any gay representation at all and it was not talked about – you were put into the category of being straight no matter what.
I only knew of one gay guy in Dubai who worked with my Mum. He was in his 40’s and he had to be super discreet with his relationships– this is still the case for people today.
Unfortunately, its their rules and their religion and that’s what you have to work with.
Local attitudes and laws for Gay people in Dubai
Sion: So what are the local attitudes and laws towards gay people? Is there a huge difference between being a gay expat in Dubai vs a tourist vs a gay local in Dubai (someone whose family has lived there for many generations).
Liam: In terms of local laws (Sharia Law from the Quran), religion and law are essentially one of the same.
Homosexuality is unfortunately still not legal across the entire United Arab Emirates (UAE) and there are serious consequences if caught.
Specifically, in Dubai homosexuality is punishable by prison/or a fine and then subsequently you will be deported.
In terms of being openly gay in Dubai it can be dangerous if you are not careful.
Now in terms of local attitudes… Dubai is a very multi-cultural city, it’s the ‘centre of the earth’ and the airport acts as a hub to the rest of the world.
This brings people from all over the world all of which have different beliefs, cultures and religions.
My belief is that local attitudes are mostly positive towards the LGBTQ community, however it is something that you should be discreet about whilst you are there, at least to protect yourself from locals who might not be used to seeing LGBTQ behaviours.
For the majority of the time, local attitudes towards gay local expats living in Dubai and gay tourists are the same.
However, looking at a gay expat vs someone who has lived there for generations you will see a massive difference.
For a local whose family has lived in Dubai for generations, being gay has to be hidden and has to be secret, especially in strict Muslim families: being gay is totally forbidden.
Changing attitudes towards Gay People in Dubai
Sion: How have you seen attitudes towards gay people in Dubai change over the years?
Liam: I would say that it has definitely become a bit more relaxed over the years.
I know quite a few gay people who live and work in Dubai. Some own businesses which are thriving.
I think for now it’s about being discreet and respecting what their laws are.
Slowly but surely change will come especially when the younger generation of the royal families come in. They will have seen and experienced much more of the world than their families.
The Gay Scene in Dubai: Gay Bars?
Sion: How about the gay scene in Dubai, what could a gay traveller expect?
Liam: There are places that are essentially ‘gay bars’ in Dubai (and I use the term ‘gay bars’ very loosely), however these are not labelled as such.
These mainly come about when someone who owns the ‘gay bar’ holds influence with the local authorities and so can operate in this (discreet) way. You need to go to understand it – everyone that comes must do their due diligence.
Based on my experience (always check!) these bars, clubs, hotels and events in Dubai are where I think police are expected to turn a blind eye.
For ‘’Gay Bars’ ‘in Dubai:
Again to reiterate, not ‘gay bars as such but are popular with the LGBTQ+ crowd:
- Barbary Cocktail Club
- Gold on 27 (Burj Khalifa)
- Level 43 Sky Lounge
For ‘’Gay Clubs’’ & Events in Dubai
These aren’t specifically gay nights however these tend to attract a queer crowd:
‘’Gay Friendly’’ Hotels in Dubai
You can find these sorts of places through google etc.
These will not come up as legally, officially or outwardly facing as gay bars, clubs or events (because fundamentally they are not) but they are popular with the LGBTQ+ crowd.
These change often, they can be popular until reported and then everything can move. Find people that have visited recently and see what their experiences are.
Homophobia in Dubai?
Sion: Could you talk a bit about any positive or negative experiences you have had in Dubai as a gay man?
Liam: I can put my hands up and say I have never had a negative experience in Dubai.
I have been with partners from the UK there and had no problems. I have met other gay people in Dubai and not had any problems (whilst living and visiting).
Sion: Glad to hear that has been your experience, why do you think that is?
Liam: I think it’s definitely about how you present yourself outwardly there.
That’s not just coming from an LGBTQ angle, that’s just generally how life is there.
It’s all about what you wear and where you are. I know that sounds pretentious but it’s the truth.
I don’t think you go to Dubai to be modest about where/who you are. However, there is a certain respect level.
You never know who is looking, so there is an element of being discreet. I am lucky that I have a network there but I imagine for someone living alone it could be a lonely place.
Advice for Gay Travellers in Dubai
Sion: what advice you’d give gay travellers thinking about Dubai – to go or not to go and why.
Liam: I would avoid all public displays of behaviour (this is forbidden straight, gay, lesbian – UAE IS A MUSLIM COUNTRY) so it’s not a rule just for LGBTQ people.
Unless staying in a hotel you know is LGBTQ+ friendly I would book a hotel with two double beds.
Delete gay dating apps / naughty images on your phone when coming through airports. You can redownload them when you land however be careful also on dating apps (with a VPN etc).
Be aware of what you have posted on your social media profiles before you fly. I would advise making your channels private before you arrive.
Remember where you are and be aware of your behaviour – it is time to be discreet, it may not be right but it’s necessary. Not meant to sound scary, it’s just the reality of it.
Dubai is an amazing city full of events, nightlife, restaurants and there is so much to do. Enjoy yourself!
Is Dubai changing for the LGBTQ+ community?
I think change is going to come when there is a change in the royal family (who make the laws).
When the younger generation come into power, I have a firm belief that they would have seen the world with more modern eyes and they will start to calm the laws.
I’ve seen recently they are hosting an international conference on gender identity and LGBT Rights in May this year. When I heard about this, I couldn’t believe it because in the 20+ years I have been going to Dubai I have never heard of movement like this. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Final thoughts on Gay Travel in Dubai…
Thank you so much to Liam for taking the time to provide these valuable insights, personally we have found them very interesting and helpful.
Like all our interview posts, we must stress this is one persons experience – other people will have different experiences and we can not encourage you enough to continue your research and be cautious when visiting countries like Dubai where the law is not on your side as an LGBTQ+ person.
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