Human Rights

Gay Jordanian now 'gloriously free' in Canada
Sent to Canada to 'straighten out,' he founded support group for Muslims

By Marina Jimenez
Thursday, May 20, 2004 Globe and Mail

When the family of Al-Hussein, son of a wealthy Jordanian politician, found out he was gay, they threw him down the stairs. While he was recovering in hospital from a broken leg and smashed jaw, his younger brother shot him in the ankle. A bureaucrat in the Jordanian government, his brother was never prosecuted for this act of public violence because it was considered a "family matter." Mr. Hussein knew that under Islamic law, he had got off lightly: He could be stoned to death for committing homosexual acts, or murdered by his family in an honour killing.

In 2000, Mr. Hussein's father agreed to send him to Canada to "straighten out." Instead, the wayward and talented son, the "artistic" one with the flamboyant wardrobe, founded a gay support group for Muslims. He made a successful refugee claim and is now starring in a documentary by Filmblanc production company on Canada's gay refugee claimants titled Gloriously Free, after words in the Canadian national anthem. "I am doing the film because I want people to know what homosexuals go through in the Middle East," said Mr. Hussein, a youthful 47-year-old in cut-off shorts and a sleeveless red T-shirt, his fingers and ears adorned with silver jewellery. "I have lost everything, but I don't regret coming here. Now I can walk down the street without having to watch my back, wondering if I will be killed."

When he left Amman, he gave up a 20-year career as a set designer for Jordan Television, and signed over all his assets -- a BMW and Suzuki Jeep, a home and interior design business and his inheritance -- to his brother, the one who had tried to kill him. "I don't approve of what my brother did, but I understand why he did it. It was about preserving the family's honour," he says, pulling down his sock to reveal several white scars and tapping his false teeth.

The documentary, to be aired on OMNI Television this fall, will also have testimonials from four more gay refugees: a Jamaican man who was beaten; a Brazilian singer whose father forced him to have an operation on his vocal cords to cure his "effeminate" voice; a former U.S. oil-drilling-company manager who is HIV-positive, and a Mexican man. "Canada has become a haven for gay refugees and we are tapping into why this is," said Noemi Weis, president of Toronto-based Filmblanc.

Mr. Hussein's life story is one of wealth and privilege, as well as secrecy and shame, as he struggled to fit into a traditional Arab culture that considers homosexuality the greatest sin. The family moved in the same social and political circles as the royal family. His father, who served both as deputy defence minister and as an adviser to the royal family, received special permission from the late King Hussein I for his son to have the same name. Mr. Hussein was educated at the best private schools and grew up in a five-bedroom house, surrounded by servants. There were weekends at Dead Sea resorts, and summer vacations at five-star hotels in Paris.

While still a teenager, Mr. Hussein began a clandestine affair with a family "slave" named Amber, a gift to the family from King Hussein's uncle. "Because of the strict segregation of genders in Arab culture, there is a lot of closeted homosexuality," he says. "Most men at some stage have sex with a man because they all have needs. Women are supposed to stay virgins until they marry." Rumours about his homosexuality began to spread, and his father forced him to marry in 1986 when he was 29. He told his fiancée the truth, but she accepted the match because of the Hussein family's social cachet.

The couple had three children through artificial insemination. Mr. Hussein tried to conduct his gay affairs discreetly, but in 1996, he fell in love with the head of Jordan's national judo team. He separated from his wife and built a house on the outskirts of Amman where the lovers could meet in secret. One night, his brother caught the two men kissing, and, enraged, threw Mr. Hussein down the stairs, breaking his leg. He underwent surgery, and spent three months in the hospital recovering, with an armed bodyguard posted outside his room. His brother later shot him in the hospital lobby after Mr. Hussein's lover came to visit him. When he was released, it was not to his own home, but to a tiny servant's room with bars on the window in his brother's home. He had become his family's prisoner.

A sympathetic aunt in Toronto persuaded his father that Canada could save him. And so Mr. Hussein gave up his pampered life and came to Toronto with $300 (U.S.). He went on to form Salaam, a gay rights organization for Muslims, as well as Wattan, an organization that helps gay refugees. Recently, he summoned the courage to tell his 15-year-old daughter in an e-mail why he left the country. "She wrote me back and said, 'You're still my father and I love you and accept you,' " he said.

And, see here for historical verification of certain Arab propensities: Ed