Transgender Discrimination Continues in Kuwait, Despite a Court Ruling

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02/13/2023

A year ago, Kuwait’s Constitutional Court overturned a law that criminalized “imitating the opposite sex,” ruling that Article 198 of the penal code, which authorities had used to prosecute transgender people, was unconstitutional because it violated Kuwaitis’ right to personal freedom. The decision was welcome news for transgender people in Kuwait who face widespread discrimination, abuse and harassment. But while national and international human rights advocates celebrated the court’s move as a first step toward recognizing transgender rights in the country, others proceeded more cautiously. Kuwait’s judiciary is historically transphobic, as reflected in the courts’ attitude regarding legal gender recognition applications filed by transgender people. The judiciary rejects those applications citing Islamic Sharia in its judgments, denouncing “sex change” as the work of the devil and against Islamic and Kuwaiti values. By ruling against the anti-transgender law last year, the Constitutional Court added to Kuwait’s reputation of being more liberal than its neighboring Gulf countries, as its constitution and laws allow for a margin of freedoms that do not exist in countries like Saudi Arabia, for example. Yet the reality in Kuwait does not hold up to that reputation. Like its neighbors, Kuwait doesn’t recognize any LGBTQ+ rights at all. Instead, laws criminalize homosexuality and openly target LGBTQ+ Kuwaitis, including morality-based laws that can criminalize any acts deemed “immoral” by Kuwaiti society. Abuse and harassment, especially by the police, are widespread.

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