Another World Cup Double Standard: LGBTQ+ Rights

What does it mean for Qatar to host the World Cup? There have been repeated Islamophobic attacks on the Qatari government. In this article, I would like to address the double standard regarding LGBTQ+ rights. We all know how homophobia is an issue in the Muslim world. That isn’t a news flash. However, there are multiple blind spots in this conversation.


Several European soccer clubs and the US all proposed to wear “One Love” armbands while playing in a stand for LGBTQ+ rights, which are believed to be violated in Qatar. FIFA prohibited the armbands and then said the captains of the teams who sported them would be issued a yellow card which could easily result in a suspension for them. Due to the harshness of the response from FIFA, the clubs all relented and chose not to wear them.

FIFA has encouraged Qatar to host an inclusive World Cup and fans are ostensibly allowed to wave rainbow flags at events, although Qatari officials have publicly let it be known that this might be selectively revoked to protect fans from violence from local people.

So what is the issue beyond FIFA supporting homophobia? It is blatant hypocrisy and outright gendered Islamophobia for players who come from countries with their own issues of human rights offenses against the LGBTQ+ community. To aggressively profile Qatar for homophobia and transphobia when other counties are also guilty is hypocritical.

gendered Islamophobia in the WEST

Islamophobia and feminism have been linked in the targeting of Muslim women and the whole Muslim community and have contributed to entrenching patriarchy in Muslim communities. One basis for gendered Islamophobia is the misuse of universal human rights.  In response to people defending non-Western nations against critiques of misogyny, proponents of the universalizing human rights discourse argue that cultural relativism and multiculturalism in effect rob real individuals of the benefits of the help that human rights advocates can offer them. 

Homophobic and misogynistic trends in Western societies as a whole are erased in instances where domestic abuse is ignored and honor killings take center stage.

An example of this is Zechenter’s (1997) article about cultural relativism where she discusses the rape and murder of Muslim women by fundamentalists as examples of how non-Western countries need the discourse of human rights to defend disempowered individuals, primarily women, from abuse. The question, however, in response to accusations of the limitations of cultural relativism, is not whether human rights abuses occur, but whether the way these abuses are framed by Western voices and powers actually represent the truth about the claims put forth.

The focus on the abuse of women, particularly among Muslims, is not a matter of human rights when it is isolated from greater contexts of patriarchy, and effectually leveraged against the rights of Muslim women. Homophobic and misogynistic trends in Western societies as a whole are erased in instances where domestic abuse is ignored and honor killings take center stage.

In the media, Muslim homophobia is one of the primary examples of mythical exceptional Muslim misogyny.  Following artificial proof of unusual guilt, Islamophobes use Muslim homophobia to justify all kinds of violence against Muslim communities.  One widely reported example is the Israeli government’s deployment of pinkwashing to justify the oppression of Palestinians.

When considering decolonial discourse, the categories of gender, men and women, become exposed as colonial constructions. Although accused of homophobia and transphobia, Muslim histories tell a different story of the genealogies of gender-based discrimination as colonial legacies. Thus, it is important to include the acknowledgment of the colonial construction of gender itself when discussing gender justice in decolonial terms.

Multiple queer theorists, both Muslim and non-Muslim have commented on the great lengths to which the US military in particular has taken alleged Muslim homophobia as a justification for violence. While there are a variety of examples of the weaponization of sexual politics, as discussed in Terrorist Assemblages: homonationalism in queer times (Puar, 2007), as well as other books like Insurgent Aesthetics: Security and the Queer Life of the Forever War (Kapadia, 2019), the most disturbing and well-known case is that of the horrific torture narratives of Abu Ghraib. 

For context, in the US we’ve seen more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in states across the country.

Those photos and stories of survivors as well as the perpetrators describe the actions of members of the US military where the victims’ alleged homophobia was used as justification for forced homosexual sex, and other forms of humiliation and torture. The case of Abu Ghraib is a prominent and well-known example of the violence done to Muslims due to alleged Muslim homophobia, but there are many others. In fact, torture manuals for the US military are alleged to contain directions to use Muslim homophobia as a tool of torture (Richter-Montpetit, 2014).

Additionally, organizations like Queer Crescent, when calling out the gendered Islamophobia involved in this so-called protest point out that “Qatar is a microcosm of an increasingly homophobic and transphobic world. For context, in the US we’ve seen more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in states across the country.”

So, while it’s great that these players want to stand up as allies, it is a massive double standard.  As Queer Crescent states, “Let’s kick that protest ball back.”

Sarah is a social worker in the San Francisco Bay Area with at-risk and homeless youth. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God.