August 16, 2022
Enlarge / The United Arab Emirates flag.

Getty Images | Tim de Waele

Amazon has started blocking LGBT-related products and search results in the United Arab Emirates to comply with a government demand in the country, which bans homosexuality.

The new restrictions are spelled out in internal Amazon documents, according to The New York Times. “The Emirati government gave Amazon until Friday to comply under threat of penalties, the documents show. It was not clear what those penalties would be,” the NYT story said.

Amazon’s “Restricted Products team” removed individual product listings, “and a team that manages the company’s search abilities hid the results for more than 150 keywords,” the NYT wrote. Searches for terms such as “lgbtq,” “pride,” “closeted gay,” “transgender flag,” “queer brooch,” and “chest binder for lesbians” now turn up zero results in the UAE. Removed products include books such as My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

Amazon: “We must comply with the local laws”

We asked Amazon for more details on the restrictions, but the company merely confirmed that it has restricted search results on the Amazon.ae store to comply with local laws. Amazon has operated in the UAE since 2017, when it bought the e-commerce site SOUQ.com.

“As a company, we remain committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected,” Amazon said in a statement provided to Ars and other news organizations. “With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate.”

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As a US State Department travel advisory says, “Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized in the UAE,” with potential punishments including fines and imprisonment. “Under interpretations of sharia, the punishment could include the death penalty,” the State Department says. “Although the US Embassy and US Consulate General are not aware of any recent arrests or prosecutions for such activities, they remain illegal. Cross-dressing is also a punishable offense and there have been reports that the government took action against cross-dressing individuals.”

In addition to same-sex relations being illegal, “expressing support for LGBT rights could also be deemed an offense” in the UAE, the BBC wrote.