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In a shift, Saudi Arabia to 'welcome' LGBTQ tourists

The Saudi Tourism Authority said that authorities do not ask for personal details in this regard. The position follows social changes the kingdom is undergoing, though it is difficult to determine the exact status of LGBTQ people in the country.
 Protesters hold a giant rainbow flag as they march along Oxford St ahead of the pontifical requiem Mass for Cardinal George Pell on February 02, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. Cardinal George Pell, a former senior Catholic Church official who was accused of sexual violence in Australia and then cleared, died on 10 January 2023 aged 81 years old. His body was returned to Sydney after his funeral at the Vatican and will lie in state at St. Mary's Cathedral on Feb. 1 and 2. (Photo by Roni Bintang/Getty Images)

LGBTQ tourists can now visit Saudi Arabia, according to the kingdom's official tourism site. The shift follows a series of social and economic changes that the kingdom has made in recent years. Homosexuality, however, remains illegal in the country, though these laws are not always enforced.

The Saudi Tourism Authority’s website has an updated section under its Frequently Asked Questions page stating “Are LGBT visitors welcome to visit Saudi Arabia?” The answer to the question reads as follows:

“We don’t ask anyone to disclose personal details and never have. Everyone is welcome to visit our country.”

There was no announcement of the change but accounts on Twitter started circulating the news last Wednesday.

Background: Like most Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, same-sex relationships are prohibited by law in Saudi Arabia. This is due to the conservative culture and traditional interpretation of Islamic law, Sharia, which forbids homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are punishable by death or flogging in Saudi Arabia.

But Saudi laws against homosexuality are inconsistently enforced in the kingdom.

“There were no known prosecutions for same-sex relations during the year,” read the US State Department’s 2022 report on human rights.


It is difficult to determine how much repression the LGBTQ community faces in Saudi Arabia, according to the London-based Human Dignity Trust, which tracks anti-LGBTQ laws around the world.

“Societal stigma and the absence of LGBT organizations limits reporting of discrimination,” read the organization’s page on Saudi Arabia.

Saudi authorities have targeted purported LGBTQ activity in some ways recently. Last June, Saudi officials claimed that rainbow-colored toys were “promoting homosexuality.”

Why it matters: Saudi Arabia’s tourism site declaring LGBTQ people “welcome” is in line with the massive social changes that have taken place in the kingdom in recent years. In 2018, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving. However, several activists campaigning for a woman’s right to drive were arrested shortly before the decision.

The same year, Saudi Arabia announced women would no longer be required to wear an abaya — a long article of clothing that covers the body from head to toe.

In 2021, Pure Beach opened in Jeddah on the Red Sea, becoming the first beach in Saudi Arabia where women can wear bikinis.

Some traditional restrictions remain in place in Saudi Arabia, such as the ban on alcohol.

The treatment of LGBTQ people in Saudi Arabia has harmed the kingdom’s international image. For example, American golfer Phil Mickelson, who plays for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, called Saudi people “scary” last year, claiming they "execute people over there for being gay.” The comments elicited a strong backlash and prompted Mickelson to apologize.

Know more: Unmarried couples are also “welcome” to visit Saudi Arabia, according to the tourism website.

“Everyone is welcome to visit Saudi Arabia and unmarried couples are able to share accommodation … it is important to respect local customs and act in a culturally sensitive manner when in public,” read the site.

Saudi law prohibits men and women from living together unless they are “mahram,” an Arabic-language term referring to close family members or spouses. However, in 2019, Saudi Arabia decided to allow unmarried foreign couples to share hotel rooms.

The law concerning this matter received media attention in January due to Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo moving to Saudi Arabia to play for the Al Nassr Football Club. Ronaldo has lived with his girlfriend, Georgina Rodriguez, to whom he is not married. Saudi lawyers told the Spanish news outlet EFE at the time that authorities have been turning a blind eye to unmarried foreigners living together.

Hotels in other parts of the Middle East also regularly allow foreign couples to stay in the same room without proof of marriage. Locals and citizens of Muslim-majority countries, however, often need to show a marriage certificate in such situations.

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