UN rapporteur: Egypt’s LGBT+ face horrific discrimination in housing

Egypt – Image: Lonely Planet

Gay Egyptians face “horrific” discrimination and harassment when looking for somewhere to live, a UN special rapporteur said, urging the government to give LGBT+ people better protection.

At the end of a visit to Egypt this week, Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said LGBT+ people were being evicted, denied housing, and harassed because of their sexual orientation.

“I cannot turn a blind eye to this. It felt so urgent to me, and I am in a privileged position to talk about a very taboo subject,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Homosexuality is not explicitly criminalised in Egypt, but LGBT+ people have long been targeted under laws on debauchery.

“Landlords are refusing to rent to someone who is LGBT. The treatment isn’t just suspicious looks – LGBT (people) are being verbally harassed, physically assaulted,” said Farha.

“A home is supposed to be a respite from the world. You are supposed to be able to go to your home and be safe, and that is not there (in Egypt),” she said in a phone interview.

Farha is the first independent rapporteur appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to visit Egypt since 2010, the year before an uprising toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

After speaking to members of the LGBT+ community in Egypt, Farha said people were “suppressing their identity” for their own safety by not wearing clothing or make-up identifying them as LGBT+, and some had even stopped hormone therapy.

LGBT people face persecution in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where some risk fines, jail, and even death. Social exclusion and abuse are common.

Last year, dozens of people were detained, after fans attending a rock concert in Egypt’s capital raised a rainbow flag, in a rare show of public support for LGBT+ rights in the conservative Muslim country.

Farha said there was no law that explicitly protects LGBT+ people against forced eviction, harassment and really “invasive and horrific exposure to discrimination”, which she said the government needed to address as an urgent priority.

“I can certainly expect the rights of LGBT (people) to be protected – and in particular the right to housing, because they cannot live without adequate, secure, dignified housing,” she said.

Government officials and officials from the National Council for Human Rights were not available for immediate comment on Friday, which is not a working day in Egypt.

Lobna Darwish of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights echoed Farha’s concerns, saying LGBT+ people face discrimination and harassment by neighbours or landlords.

“They’re denied equal opportunity in rent if their appearance isn’t strictly conforming with gender norms,” she said.

Farha said globally LGBT+ people were one of the fastest rising homeless populations.

-Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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