Saudi Arabia now claims to ‘welcome’ LGBTQ+ tourists – despite its appalling, bloody history

Saudi Arabia flag

Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death, now claims to welcome LGBTQ+ visitors, despite the country’s horrific track record on LGBTQ+ rights and treatment of queer residents. 

The kingdom’s tourist website, visitsaudi.com, has updated its official advice to LGBTQ+ travellers as of Monday (1 May).

The website’s help section now lists the question “Are LGBT visitors welcome in Saudi Arabia?” The response reads: “We don’t ask anyone to disclose personal details and never have. Everyone is welcome to visit our country.”

Other answers under the tourism website’s help and support section state that unmarried couples are welcome in the country but must act in a “culturally sensitive manner” and women are expected to wear modest clothing on public beaches. 

There was no official announcement about the change, with Twitter users being the ones to point out the website update and share it widely on social media. 

Journalist Wajeeh Lion, an openly gay Saudi who has asylum in the United States, tweeted: “It’s very sad to see a country criminalise the LGBT community and welcome them in the same time.

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“So what do you do if you were Saudi Arabia? Easy, criminalised LGBT community make sure that your LGBTQ citizens are in prison and in the same time welcome to International LGBT community but without saying that your [sic] GAY!

“Do you get it. Because I don’t.”

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Saudi Arabia has a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ violence

Welcoming international visitors who are LGBTQ+ is at odds with the kingdom’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights for its own residents, which are relatively non-existent. 

Saudi Arabia remains one of the few countries where homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty. 

In the kingdom, Sharia Law also forbids ‘crossdressing’, there are no anti-discrimination protections for queer people and LGBTQ+ personnel are banned from serving openly in the military. 

LGBTQ+ activists and public figures have faced persecution including lashings and imprisonment for offending “public morality” by being LGBTQ+ publicly, such as in TikTok videos

In 2019, five men were executed after admitting they had had sex with other men. A year later, a blogger was put in prison and then deported for a social media post where he issued support for gay people.

People seeking to escape the restrictive laws in Saudi Arabia have fared no better.

In March, Eden Knight, a young trans woman, took her own life after she was forced to return to the Middle Eastern kingdom from the United States and made to detransition. 

Six months before that, two sisters who had sought asylum in Australia on the grounds of religion and sexuality were found dead. 

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In July 2022, Saudi Arabian authorities began seizing rainbow-coloured toys and children’s clothing for – apparently – encouraging homosexuality. 

The colourful toys and clothes, including hair clips, bows and pop-its, were confiscated from shops in the country’s capital, Riyadh. 

The items allegedly contradicted the “Islamic faith and public morals”, an official for the government said.

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