Thoughts on Visiting the UAE as a Gay Man

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Just wanted to share my impressions.

While writing the previous post, a straightforward review of the Park Inn Yas Island, I wanted to get into the back story of the hotel booking and the overall impression that it left, but then decided it would be better to separate the thoughts into a different post.

When me and boyfriend decided to book the Park Inn for an 18-hour layover, I selected the double bed option without even thinking about it. Force of habit.

Then, he said out of nowhere, “Did you book two beds?” “No, why would I?”

as

Visiting the UAE

We read the reviews and saw that another gay couple recommended getting two separate beds, because in the UAE being homosexual is illegal. Not “participating in homosexual acts”, but simply being homosexual. For residents, the highest penalty is death. For visitors, it’s deportation, fines, or prison time.

It’s also illegal for unwed couples to share a double bed, for what’s it worth.

So after reading that, I completely canceled the first booking and re-booked for two twin beds instead.

gay in uae

Reserve, oops, rebook

Respecting culture

Whenever I decide to go anywhere, I realize I am in the realm of different laws, governments, and societies. I try to be sensitive to it. The places I like to visit tend to be other major metropolitan cities, with some rural places here and there (like Alaska).

Abu Dhabi is a major city in the UAE, but it was really the first time I felt like I had to be different just to visit. It made me self-conscious of myself, and created a tension that I might do something wrong by simply being. 

But how would they know I’m gay?

Now, if you know me, my sexuality comes across pretty obviously. I don’t mask it but I don’t flaunt it, either. It’s there, and it’s fine.

I’m from the Deep South (Mississippi), so I’m familiar with the discrimination that can happen by doing nothing other than being who you are. But I know the laws here and, for the most part, feel free to be me.

Being in the UAE was the first time where I really felt that it was illegal to be myself. It was a new feeling, but I knew I was in the territory by choice and had to abide by their national laws. Just like any other place I visit.

I knew that the process of rebooking the room could potentially color my experience before I’d even arrived, and even still, I wanted to keep an open mind about a new place.

Arriving at AUH

At a certain point, after becoming a bundle of nerves, I realize that gets me nowhere. So in that spirit, I readied myself for whatever was going to happen at customs. There was no going back at that point, and after 14 hours on a plane, I wasn’t equipped to put too much thought into something I’d done hundreds of times. This was just another customs line in another airport.

The AUH airport is super weird. There were pictures of American businessmen in full suits shaking hands with the locals in their traditional clothing. All smiles. But I got a certain feeling of the place, just like how being in Bratislava gave me a feeling about its renewing vitality.

The immigration officer didn’t even look up at me. He grunted, I took my passport back, and went on down the line.

Within minutes, I was at the Etihad chauffeur desk.

But all the while, I could not shake the feeling that I was being watched. Call it paranoia, or psyching myself out, or whatever, but I felt… monitored, somehow.

Second thoughts

Hearing about gays being beaten, kicked out of their homes, or taking their own lives – sad as all those things are – is the usual news the gay community is attuned to hearing. That stuff happens in the States on a daily basis. I kept watching my steps. Were they steps, or were they gay steps?

Did I look gay? Wave my hand a little too much? Sound gay? Do something wrong?

limp-hand

Human connection

Outwardly, I knew that I was fine. But I was thinking these things as the check-in agent handed us our room keys and was perhaps (?) watching us walk away toward the elevators.

Was it OK that we were going into the same room? Did they see where I booked, canceled, and re-booked? I found myself thinking these things – things I’d never considered were now running through my mind. I didn’t expect a police officer to knock on the door or anything, but I knew I had to stay on my best behavior.

Reading articles about medical testing and banning gay travelers in the Gulf States didn’t help anything.

As we walked around the area directly outside the hotel, I had the chance to observe the locals from a distance. I’m very used to seeing Americans walking around, obviously. I have no right to place a judgment on the UAE. But it was different than what I know, and other places I’ve visited – for sure.

Bottom line

This is what travel is all about: immersing yourself in a completely different environment, being out of your comfort zone, and seeing new parts of the world.

I typically like to embed the type of thoughts included here within the reviews themselves, but felt this one should have its own spot.

If you are LGBT and planning to visit the UAE, just know that homosexuality is illegal there. Book separate beds if traveling with your partner, unless you’re staying at a 5-star resort and have informed them ahead of time. The same would theoretically apply to unwed couples, but that is a lot easier to get away with.

No public displays of affection are tolerated from what I understand, and it’s best to keep a low profile while you’re there.

If I get the chance to go to the UAE again, I’d take it, even knowing all I know now. The architecture is beautiful, the hotels are crazy opulent, and the desert scenery can be hypnotic in its grandeur. Like any place, you must recognize and respect the culture you are choosing to immerse yourself in.

Has anyone else been to the UAE or another place where they have felt themselves to be on the fringes? How does your experience compare?

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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Comments

  1. Yes, it is necessary to book two beds when traveling to the U.A.E., and to not engage in any overt PDA’s. But I think you are being a tad paranoid about the rest of it.

  2. Thanks for this insight and perspective. I have recently started traveling more on points and miles. With the exhilarating feeling of freedom to roam the globe has come the sobering reality that there are many places that ravel will be difficult if not impossible and simply to too uncomfortable to choose, based on laws that may result in prison or worse, simply because I’m gay. Since my wife and I usually travel with our jointly adopted children – whose passports include both of our names as their parents, we have gloriously failed at “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I have been trying to arrange for award travel to South Africa. I have enough to go on AAdvantage miles, but they only have 2 options, British Air, which imposes fees that amount to about 80% of the cost of a cash ticket or Qatar Air. I, too was raised in the South and have been out for 30 years. I way prefer to live in places and times where I don’t have to think about arrest or beatings etc. I know there is only a small likelihood of arrest if I travel through Doha to South Africa. But, risk is a measure of not just likelihood of occurrence but also the severity of catastrophe. The risk of years of imprisonment for me and or my wife is not a risk I’m willing to take. Instead, im now saving my United miles to go on a Star Alliance carrier that avoids countries in which I’m viewed as a criminal based solely on the gender of who I love and build my family with.

    Again thank you for addressing this issue. I’m fascinated to hear the perspectives of others who have travelled to the Middle East, parts of Africa, or even Jamaica, which treat us (and sometimes our family or other allies) as criminals. Or those who have chosen to forgo such travel.

  3. My partner and I have been to Dubai and had no issues whatsoever. We stayed at the Conrad and booked a king on award points. We were taken to the lounge and checked-in. I mentioned that my “partner and I” were excited to be there. Had no problems with anyone. Additionally, we ordered room service and it was pretty obvious we were a couple sharing a bed and again no issues. We also had no problem walking around Dubai together. Mind you we didn’t hold hands or anything. We also met a bunch of other couples as well.

    • Romer,

      Thanks for sharing. Maybe I fell down the internet hole of horror stories. This is so good to hear. I’ll probably be transiting the UAE at some point in the future and would like to build in a stopover to reassess.

      Thanks again – for sharing and for reading.

      Harlan

    • I’ve just been back from Dubai, my fourth time, and I have been to the Conrad. It’s a very upscale hotel and many expats stay there. Visiting Dubai as a gay man should not be a problem if you’re there for interests other than the night life, which there is none for homosexuals. There’s a lot of contradiction to Dubai. Prostitution is illegal, yet many women from abroad come to Dubai for that very purpose because it’s easy money. Homosexuals exist everywhere, including the Middle East, but it’s sad that these men and women have to live out their lives in secret. Once in a while, I noticed men making eye contact with me, which makes me wonder if they knew or wanted to reach out. So, come to Dubai and enjoy the scenery & shopping but wait ’til you come back to the US or Europe if you miss the gay scene.

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  5. It’s good to be cautious and as they say, better safe than sorry. Dubai, however, is the Las Vegas of the Middle East. I think the perception of 2 young guys sleeping in a room with one bed is different too. Think of your high school trips sharing one room with 3 other guys (2 sleeping in each bed) and nothing sexual happened. That happens in Dubai too for families or groups of friends who wish to save money. Here in the USA, it’s always presumed 2 adults sleeping in the same bed means they’re a couple.

  6. I can definitely respect culture; When in Rome do as the Romans. I have to draw the line at places like the UAE though. There comes a time when human decency trumps tradition and customs. That is why I personally have always declined to go there, even when seeing some great mistake fares. I don’t think their culture or people deserve even the slightest ounce of respect; There are plenty of other cultures in this world that actually can enrich your life. And even though I’m not gay, I don’t want to be held to a standard in regards to sleeping with a local woman by guys who think its ok to not only have 4 wives but to beat them. Just my 2 cents 🙂

    On a completely side note, I often wonder what takes precedence at hotels in these strict countries, local customs or loyalty program. If I’m a Club Carlson concierge members that drops thousands a year in Radisson properties and the hotel sees me with my arm around some girl in the lobby, what do they do? Especially at some of the higher echelon chains like the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton. The last thing Marriott wants is a story circulating in America about how their hotel staff treated an American for doing absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

    • as I mention before I’m bisexual female and in a long term relationship with a female and an Emirati and as much as I hate it here, you seem to hate it for the wrong reasons- west and white washed reasons. Domestic abuse is an issue even in western countries just as it is here, and polyamory/polygamy is still a thing in parts of the western world- and as long as it’s consensual you have no right to be judgemental or to so generally dismiss the validity of healthy polyamorous relationships. Of course there are unhealthy relationships that include more than two people but there are also unhealthy relationships that include only two people. It’s not up to you to be judgemental so long as people are happy, and you don’t have the authority to check for their “happiness” so what are you basing all this hate from?
      The UAE itself has homophobic laws but not sexist ones. The goverment is not an issue when to comes to women’s rights, it’s the mentality of the society. And you can’t change the society because you’re not a part of it- we can. Also, it really set me off how you said “people of the UAE dont deserve an ounce of respect” but then go on to pretend like you care about the women here? You don’t give two shits about us so don’t pretend that you do just so you can ride on your high horse and pretend you white folks are better.

      • I am really proud of the way you defend your people, as for the homophobic laws i sincerely hope that you will change someday, and that the society’s views will change too.

      • I agree with most of your statement. It is cynical how some people from the so-called Western point fingers to judge other cultures. One example is Democracy and the way they see it. They brag about how important is that system and it should be adopted by many countries who lack it. The funny twist is that in the US, the pure democratic system ain’t in place since 1972. On top of this, Hollywood with its machinery is continuing to brainwash viewers around the world showing how great society is there when they hate neighbours, other races, and those who may or may not believe in a deity they think chose their country as a pillar for our world.
        Facts are facts… Cheers and Peace!

  7. There are some states in the US where sodomy is still illegal.

    This is a completely irrational fear of gays entering the UAE (arrest… Death)- but after the first time you realize all your original fears were ridiculous.

    • All sodomy laws were invalidated across all States in 2003 (on a federal level). Besides, same-sex marriage was just made legal across America, and married couples (more often than not) DO have sex.

  8. Having traveled to UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan & Egypt and being positive on top of it I along with my partner were both a bit unsettled but like you said no issues. We did have separate beds booked and ran into many other gay people as well who weren’t announcing it to the world either. Don’t flaunt it you’ll be fine. The locals are warm and friendly and you will have a wonderful journey, when you get back home you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you had a wonderful experience and can convey to the rest of the world that Arab men in thobes and women in abayas are nothing to fear and are no different than we are in the west.

      • more like their government hates us. it’s unfair to judge the people with such broad strokes. i mean, do Americans have amnesia already over how long it took us to gain civil rights for women, blacks and gays? ALL of them were recent, but we expect the WORLD to move when we move. IT doesn’t work that way.

        PLUS, we typically aren’t even the example – we play catch up. They will eventually, but for now they are stuck in America 1990s (everyone was afraid and hated us here then too!)

  9. Me and my husband were in Dubai last week of April and we were kind of apprehensive about all we read on the Internet , however for what we saw I would say is different as people on the net writes, I would like to mention everybody was very nice and we had a wonderful time, before we left we really thought gay life would be inexistent there , people from all places in South Asia were there Indians , Pakistanis , Africans etc, we noticed there is a big Filipino community and we saw several Filipino lesbians out and being themselves at the mall hanging out with friends or family and as we were riding the subway everyday one evening we saw this tall young handsome and very flamboyant Filipino wearing tight Bermuda shorts acting like he was either in LA or MIA . During the week we were in Abu dabhi and hanging out at this mall across the street from central station we came across with this arab muscled guy wearing the sorthest shorts and not cruising but being noticeable to everybody out there , we probably go back as we enjoyed our stay an like I said we kept ourselves low profile and very respectful of all customs observed there, sorry for my bad English as Spanish is my fist language .

  10. I’m gay and a UAE local. Imagine living through this everyday, it’s horrible. I envy that you get to leave this place while I wait to graduate from college.

  11. dude, you’re just being over the top dramatic. I’m a local emarati and gay, we’ve had some severe cases where lgbt people got arrested in the past but its extremely rare. booking a double bed with my partner isn’t a big deal too! there are a couple of gay clubs in Dubai and everyone there is pretty OBVIOUS! just relax no one cares if you’re gay as long as you don’t make out in public or cross-dress 🙂

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  13. I can honestly not find it in me to respect a culture that criminalizes minorities. I could care less about how we need to “respect” others beliefs. There is a different between having a different culture, and ignoring + blatantly and purposely defying human rights.

    I don’t even care if it’s “rare” to hear about that sort of thing. It could of happened once 7 years ago and as long as the laws that allowed it are still there I’m not going to respect anything the festers in its light.

    • I totally agree. I’d much rather not EVER visit any such countries. I would not visit Russia neither even though same-sex sexual activity (performed in private) is still legal there (the Orthodox Church is lobbying to make it illegal, though).

      Same-sex sexual relations (male or female and male) are currently illegal in 75 countries and territories. Homosexual relations (especially male) are forbidden in the following Islamic nations (some of which are under sharia law): Morocco, Western Sahara, Iran, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, The Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland, Comoros, Turkmenistan, Brunei, Maldives, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Qatar, Palestinian territories (Gaza), Oman, Kuwait, Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

      Ten of these nations prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality: Iran, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates (except Abu Dhabi and Dubai), Yemen, Brunei, Qatar, and Maldives. Abu Dhabi punishes homosexuality to up to 14 years in prison. Dubai, 10.

      Lebanon has now legalized same-sex sexual relations, but two men have recently been imprisoned and tortured for three weeks for being gay, so it may awhile before all authorities honour and uphold this new legislation.

      As for Christianity, homosexuality is illegal in South Sudan, Ghana, Liberia, Cameroon, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Seychelles, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru.

      Swaziland is the only one of these countries that prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality.

      As for Togo, 51% of its population holds indigenous beliefs. Togo criminalizes same-sex sexual relations.

      Mauritius and India, two countries that criminalize same-sex sexual relations, are predominantly Hindu. That being said, the only reason why same-sex sexual relations are still forbidden in India is because of an old British colonial law when such relations are now legal in the United Kingdom. As a matter of fact, same-sex marriage is now legal in Great Britain.

      Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Burma and Singapore, four countries that criminalize same-sex sexual relations, are predominantly Buddhist nations.

      • It was nice reading the comments. I agree in Mauritius same sex sexual relations are still criminalized but if you are going to be here in Mauritius, you will notice that no one will care about what you are doing or not.

        Some 15 to 18 years ago it was still difficult as if someone knew you are gay, you will be bullied. But today, hopefully with education,the net and most importantly the Equal Opportunity ACT, there has been much more development. Many young people are easily making their coming out to their families and friends.The number of events parties being organised throughout the island is incredible. The Associations present for the LGBT community in the island also are doing great jobs. Nothing to worry about. I won’t say we don’t have people who oppose same sex relations, of course we do have but their actions or reactions are not that alarming as we hear from some other countries.

        When it’s said Mauritius is a paradise island. indeed it is. Proud to be mauritian, proud to be gay..

        Sorry for my bad english.

  14. I understand the “visit” and passing through and being able to respect and enjoy/immerse in different cultures ….My concern is a little deeper ( Maybe concern is wrong word, my question) . I may be ask by my employer to do a project there in the length of 18 months. I would no go without my partner…. We to are not flamboyant, and do not hold hands or show any kind of public affection even in the US… Not our style… Really the only obvious marker, is that we do everything together….People don’t pay much attention to visitors and tourist passing through for a short visit… but what about being there 18 months! Seems like it would give the opportunity for a lot more people and authorities to put 2 and 2 together? And how far is Abu Dhabi from Dubai… would it be and is it feasible to live in on place and work in the other? Really appreciate any thoughts or advice… The negative and sometimes unfair media drive me nuts, Heck I am even afraid to put my e-mail below as it could be tracked and myself and partner targeted when/if we arrive…. The rationale part of me…. hopefully as won… here I am

    • I appreciate this was posted a year ago now but I am intrigued to find out if you and your partner made the move? Has it worked out and would you recommend? I have an opportunity to work with my current employer in Bahrain but am undecided on the practicality of living there with my long term BF. Any advice gratefully received!

  15. The question is not only why take the risk, but why give them the money?
    It’s not that these people have different habits, they are in a different civilizational era. Their values are totally opposed to ours.
    I would never give money to a society that kills people like me just for being like me, period. That’s a moral issue more than anything else.
    The only safe place for gays in the middle east is Israel (and not the border cities, just the Tel Aviv area). The rest does not worth the risk or the support.

  16. REALLY, as a gay man living in the Middle East I feel like you are completely over dramatising things, it is no where near as bad as you make it out to be, I have been with my Emirati Boyfriend since I arrived in the UAE and have had no issue… Stop making a mountain out of a mole hill. There is no death penalty for being a homosexual unless you fucked a man while holding the Sheik hostage….

  17. Thank you for this article. Reading about your experience is interesting. I won’t travel to any country where being gay is illegal. I think I’d be a nervous wreck the entire time just knowing that – if they wanted to – they could arrest me just for who I am and there would not be much I could do about it. Furthermore, I wouldn’t want to spend any of my money in such places. Thanks again.

  18. I went to the UAE last March, I visited Daubi and Abu Dhabi. In both cities my growlr blew up. I meet a cute Saudi guy in Daubi and hooked up with a guy in Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi hook up was the coolest. We blew each other outside in the street. Yes, it was hot and a bit scary. All this to say it was not as bad as your thoughts lead you to believe. As you say, I have been harassed here in the U.S. more than any place in the Middle East.

    When I visited Cairo this past May I was totally blown away. Those men are HOT and always looking. My growlr blew up there also and the guys working at the hotel were all too “helpful”.

    Have fun.

    • This is a really bad idea. Don’t blow anyone in the street, in any country. I realize that certain people have a fetish about engaging in taboo practices for the thrill, but this is a terrible idea in any country that adheres to Sharia law. If you’re a resident, you’d face jail time for this; if you’re a tourist, you’d be processed through the criminal court and promptly deported. Seems silly for me to post this, I know, but I don’t want to give the false impression that this is advisable conduct in the UAE.

      I personally haven’t encountered a problem in Dubai; not even an awkward stare or suspicious glance. Public displays of affection are discouraged for married heterosexual couples, and haram (forbidden) for homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexual couples. Don’t push the line here; just respect the cultural norms of the place, and I don’t believe you’ll have any problems. I’ve booked King rooms at both the Burj al Arab and the Emirates Palace when traveling with a partner, and never had an issue.

      When in public, I virtually guarantee that no one will mind you provided you’re not passionately making out and feeling each other up. It’s common for Middle Eastern men to greet each other with a kiss, but as a Westerner, I make a conscious decision not to draw negative attention to myself. It’s just a cultural and religious difference, but I wouldn’t let this dissuade gay couples from visiting Dubai, which is one of the most progressive and more tolerant places in the MENA region. I’d be nervous about traveling to Saudi Arabia with a gay partner, but not the UAE.

  19. I was recently in Dubai for a business conference and let me tell you this place is something else. The people were very nice. One evening while I was having a drink with a client, an older gentlemen kept watching us very strangely. Knowing that about the laws of the country and thinking that I am a very obvious case, I kinda grew a little paranoid. But as it turns out he was cruising my client! So you know how silly I felt after that. I had a deep conversation with my client (he is a from Abu Dhabi, living in Dubai) about the situation his words to me stroke home: “It is a simple as you americans put it: Dont ask, don’t tell.”

    So all in all the there are some laws that horrible. But my experience was a very pleasant one the staff at Burj Al Arab were nothing but extraordinary. I have to go back once a year for business and I am really looking forward to my next visit over there. So let us be thankful for the liberty we get back home and hope that one day the community over there may have the same liberty as well.

  20. Reading these posts gives me hope that the middle east is not as backwards as the media would hav eyou believe.

  21. Gay local reporting in, public display of affection is not welcomed even for heterosexual couples because people there don’t like you shoving your relationship in their throats and I think it’s because even though our country has developed in a short period of time it’s still a young country, the minds of the locals didn’t catch up along just yet and the first generation is still alive so give it time, we will catch up with the US eventually when it comes to women/LGBTQ rights.

  22. The Muslim people (ummah) believe in every word in the Qur’an,Hadiths,and Sura, the three holy texts of Islam. Th y are always to follow the lifestyle example of their Prophet Muhammed and share his “”Sacred Hates” against all Non-Muslims.
    Islam does not allow picking and choosing which to obey and which to ignor. Neither can anything be changed,ever.
    These texts define ALL Non-Muslims(Kaffir, Plural:KUFFAR) as “sub-human filth and sons and daughters of apes and pigs.” These are the words of the Arabic moon God Allah, who also says “He comes not for the people of the book,nor does he care for them.” Therefore Muslims are freed to abuse,rape, steal from, enslave,sell off or murder any Non-Muslim anytime.
    Muslims are directed by the Prophet to continuously without end wage Jihad = War against ALL Non-Muslims until the entire earth is under the Domination of Islamic SHARIAH Laws = Islamic Totalitarian Government. There is anyone such thing as Equality in Islam. Islam proclaims Arab Muslims superior in every way and top ruling class over any non-Muslims who have ZERO Rights!
    Muslims when taking Your Money are to smile, be hospitable, but are NEVER to sincerely take ANY Non-Muslim ever as a “friend”!
    So homosexuals, stop feeling you are being singled out for being “gay”.
    In GAZA the Muslims HAMAS-Muslim Brotherhood Terrorists are Burying Gays Alive Through Suffocation/Drowning in 30 foot Pits Overflowing with Raw Human Excrement Feces and Urine!

  23. A gay man visiting a country whose laws state that one’s very existence is illegal and punishable by death is STUPID. When you visit these countries, and I don’t care how much “culture” you want to experience, you are spending money and contributing to the economy that supports an archaic set of laws that allow for executions for the sole purpose of being gay. By visiting these countries, buying goods and service your contribute to their tax base and tourism industry. You might as well be agreeing with them that’s it’s OK to punish people for being gay. Don’t you get it? Not only does that make you a hypocrite, but the lowest form of scum there is. I hope you get caught because whatever sentence they give you, you’ll deserve. Not for being gay, but for helping the process along to kill others. SHAME ON YOU and any other gay person who goes there!!!

  24. I guess the main question is: why are gay people so obsessed with luxury and travel? You, TPG, lucky, all gay and travel blog writers. In a way it feels like gay people feel superior to the non gays.

  25. Did you do anything to support the lgbt community living under UAE apartheid?

    Or did you just check into some fancy hotel so you could assure other rich gays to keep supportinf this bloodthirsty dictatorship?

    Traitor.

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