The outrage in the western world was great after Qatar's World Cup ambassador and former national soccer player Khalid Salman described homosexuality as "mental damage" in a ZDF interview. However, this statement should not have surprised those familiar with the human rights situation in the emirate.
Because homosexuality and transsexuality are illegal in the host country of this year's World Cup. Anyone living in Qatar who openly deviates from the heterosexual norm is at risk of being monitored by the Qatari Police Preventive Security Department and then forcibly abducted.
Gianni Infantino defends controversial World Cup hosts Qatar. "It's a bit of self-protection, what we heard from the Fifa President," reports WELT chief reporter Steffen Schwarzkopf.
Those affected told the human rights organization Human Rights Watch about months of abuse, torture and "conversion therapies" to "cure" them from their sexual orientation. Everything without a trial, there is not even an entry in the police clearance certificate in such cases. It is Qatar's goal to make homosexuality and transsexuality invisible in its own country - and to persecute it where it is visible.
But there is one man who wants to change that. Nasser (Nas) Mohamed is a native of Qatar. The practicing doctor lives in San Francisco. He was granted asylum in the US in 2017 and came out as gay to Britain's BBC in May 2022. It was Mohamed who put Human Rights Watch in contact with the victims of homophobic and transphobic violence in Qatar.
Shortly before the start of the World Cup, Mohamed launched the "Proud Maroons" campaign. Colloquially, the Qataris call their national players "Maroons" - based on the deep red color of their national flag. "Proud" alludes to "Pride", a key term used by the LGBTQ movement to describe self-confidence in dealing with one's own sexuality. The English abbreviation stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.
"The Proud Maroons are Qatar's national LGBTQ football fan group," Nas Mohamed told WELT. The aim is to make the LGBTQ community in Qatar visible during the football World Cup (and beyond) - on social networks, with the help of a film, merchandise products and other activities.
Proceeds from the campaign will go to the Alwan (Arabic for Colours) foundation founded by Mohamed to support LGBTQ people in the Gulf. "I think for us that's the hope for change that everyone wants to see," Mohamed explained. “Fifa and Qatar have not taken a single step towards positive change. For us this is more than a hope. For us, this is a chance to live freely.”
Mohamed told WELT that he was working throughout the region to ensure "that we have a seat at the table, can be seen and can even start a conversation". He also hopes "that for many for whom absolute hopelessness is the only reality, there continues to be at least one viable way to build a happy life when that is not possible where they live."