Wrestling with sex in the UAE

A gay American wrestler has been barred from performing in the UAE – not by the Emirati authorities but by the company promoting the tour, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc (WWE).

In 2013, Darren Young was the first professional wrestler to come out as gay while signed-up with WWE. Although WWE says it does not "discriminate against individuals regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation" and "proudly" supports Young for being open about his sexuality, it has excluded him from three events in Abu Dhabi this week.

In a statement, WWE said:

"Unfortunately, WWE cannot change cultures and laws around the world, and thus we did not send [Darren Young] to the United Arab Emirates for our upcoming events for his own protection."

This is a pathetic cop-out, and it reflects the muddled thinking often found in connection with gay rights in the Middle East. WWE had two defensible options: one was not to go to Abu Dhabi at all; the other was to go there and take Young with them. Excluding him on the spurious grounds of "his own protection" is the worst of all possible choices.

Despite the cultural taboo on homosexuality in the UAE, there is no reason to suppose that Young, as a visiting foreigner, would be any more likely to face homophobic attacks there than he would in the United States. And considering that he's a wrestler who stands over six feet tall and weighs 239lb (108kg) it would probably be foolish for anyone to provoke him with taunts about his sexuality.

Keeping Young at home to protect him from arrest in the Emirates doesn't make sense either. As a gay man, he would not be breaking the law unless he actually had sex with someone during his stay. But Emirati law doesn't particularly distinguish between gay sex and straight sex: any kind of sex is a crime if it takes place outside marriage. On that basis, if WWE is really concerned about "protecting" its wrestlers from the UAE's sex laws, it should keep all of them away, not just Young.

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Thursday, 12 February 2015