Steps star Ian ‘H’ Watkins says group rejected Dubai gig over ‘don’t mention sexuality’ clause

British bop band steps in white and silver outfits.

Ian H Watkins, founding member of British pop group Steps, has revealed that the band turned down an invite to perform in Dubai due to anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the city.

The award-winning band, best known for hits including “Tragedy” and “Scared of the Dark”, are a regular fixture on Pride festival line-ups across the UK, have toured with Britney Spears and even performed in front of royalty.

However, band member Ian H Watkins, who is gay, has revealed that the band has no desire to perform in one particular country: the United Arab Emirates.

Speaking to Bobbi Pickard, the chief executive of non-profit organisation Trans in the City earlier this week at Chippenham Pride, Watkins revealed that the group had recently been asked to perform in Dubai, but turned it down after being told they could not mention sexuality.

A photo of Ian "H" Watkins of Steps wearing a purple shirt with sequins as he stands on a stage with spotlights shining behind him
Ian ‘H’ Watkins of Steps.(Getty Images/Joseph Okpako/)

“This week we were offered a gig, a show, and it was in a country where there’s lots of oppression, where the LGBTQ+ community is treated so horrendously,” Watkins explained.

“In the contract it said ‘no mention of sexuality’ and that really jarred with me.”

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Homosexuality is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, and in Dubai the act of “consensual sodomy” could result in up to 10 years in prison.

Under Sharia law in the region, same-sex activity is also punishable by death.

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“I’m at a point in my life now where my morals and what I strive for is more important than that pot of gold gig was in Dubai,” he said, adding that the group turned down the concert offer due to “all the horrendous human rights issues that are happening there”.

According to the Human Rights Watch, the United Arab Emirates continues to not only discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, but also against women and girls, migrant workers and those who challenge the country’s strict censorship laws.

While some fans have called Steps’ decision a “shining example of integrity”, others have said the band “don’t have a leg to stand on” considering member Lisa Scott-Lee, a firm favourite at UK Pride festivals, owns a performing arts school in Dubai.

Lisa Scott Lee of band Steps performs in a white and silver suit at Mighty Hoopla.
Lisa Scott-Lee of Steps performs at queer festival Mighty Hoopla. (Getty/Joseph Okpako)

Scott-Lee moved to Dubai in 2011 with her children and husband, and last year told publication Emirates Women that she “fell in love” with Dubai as it’s a “beautiful, cosmopolitan, safe city”.

Earlier this year, music behemoth Beyoncé copped criticism for deciding to perform a private gig in Dubai despite the city’s oppressive anti-LGBTQ+ laws, particularly considering her latest album Renaissance is a celebration of queer culture.

At the time, TV personality TS Maddison jumped to the “Break My Soul” singer’s defence, saying that the she simply went to the country to “get her bag”.

“People go to Dubai for many different reasons, and a lot of LGBTQIA people go to Dubai for a lot of those reasons,” Maddison said.

“You know, Beyoncé went there for some of those same reasons. She went there to make her money.”

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