British gay couple ‘detained in Dubai airport while staff laughed about their sexuality’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A British gay couple have complained about rude treatment in an airport in Dubai – where local gay men risk the death penalty or life in prison.

‎Lee Charlton‎, 42, had been travelling with his partner Jason and son Kieran from Manchester in the UK to Durban, South Africa – with a short stop-over in Dubai.

Homosexuality is strictly illegal in the United Arab Emirates, with local gay men risking anything from a fine to life in prison or the death penalty.

Mr Charlton, who appears to have been unaware of the country’s stringent anti-gay laws, complained on the Emirates Facebook page that Emirates handling staff at Dubai International Airport pulled his family aside for “checks” when he informed them they were gay parents.

He alleged: “We handed all our documents to the lady behind the desk who gave us a quizzical look as we are gay parents. She asked me if Kieran was my brother, to which I replied ‘no, my son’.

“She then looked at Jason my partner and asked the same question with a look of surprise on her face. She then said she could not issue our tickets and shouted her manager over.”

Mr Charton claimed: “I asked if it was because we are gay and I was laughed at. I have never felt so embarrassed.”

The pair were allegedly “asked us to wait in a room” while the airport investigated their clearance to travel, and nearly missed their connecting flight – though they were eventually cleared for onward travel.

Mr Charlton said he was “amazed at the small mindedness of your [Emirates] handling team in Dubai”, and insisted: “You really need to give culture training to your teams as Dubai is one of the biggest airports in the world and gay people who have adopted will become more frequent”.

A spokesperson for Emirates told PinkNews: “’At Emirates we do our best to provide our passengers with the very best customer service and travel advice and we’re sorry to hear about Mr Charlton’s complaint.

“Since 1st June 2015, according to South African regulations, anyone travelling to the country with a minor under 18 needs to prove parenthood or guardianship – while adults travelling alone with their children need to show that they have the consent of their non-travelling partner.

“Like all airlines, we must comply with the laws of every country in which we operate and this is a shared responsibility with passengers, who are required to hold valid travel documents for all countries on their itinerary.

“We note that the Charlton family continued on Emirates flight EK 775 to Durban, as booked. We regret any inconvenience caused, however, compliance with international laws concerning child protection will not be compromised.”

PinkNews has asked the spokesperson to clarify why their statement does not address any of Mr Charlton’s concerns about tackling homophobia among Emirates staff, and why it makes no mention of diversity.

The airline is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group, which is wholly owned by the government of Dubai’s Investment Corporation of Dubai.

Mr Charton told the Independent: “The whole thing has really left a sour taste in my mouth and I’d think twice about visiting Dubai again in the future.”

A British man was jailed in Dubai in 2012 on gay sex charges.