The Saudi Commerce Ministry posted a video on Twitter this week that shows its officials going through stores and inspecting toys, backpacks and other items for rainbow hues.
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“Our supervisory teams make the rounds of sales outlet and seize and confiscate products that contain symbols and signs that call for aberration and contradict correct nature, and impose penalties on facilities in violation,” the post said, using a derogatory word to refer to homosexuality .
The Commerce Ministry did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
The crackdown was also chronicled by the state-owned television channel Al Ekhbariya, with a reporter following ministry staffers through shops in the capital, Riyadh, as they confiscated toys, hats and other accessories, while ominous music played in the background.
A ministry employee said of one item that it “indirectly promotes homosexuality,” and a voice-over said the toys “are nothing but poisoned messages that target the innocence of children.”
The US State Department in its latest annual report on human rights flagged “reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care” in Saudi Arabia.
President Biden is set to visit the oil-rich country in July to attend the summit of several Arab heads of state.
The crackdown follows reports that the latest offering from Marvel Studios — “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” — will not be shown in Saudi cinemas because it briefly features a same-sex couple, much the way Marvel’s early “Eternals” film wasn’ t shown, or “West Side Story” for similar reasons.
Saudi Arabia’s Culture Ministry did not respond to a request for comment from The Post. Disney, the owner of Marvel, did not respond in time for publication.
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Variety reported that Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear,” an animated movie following the extraterrestrial adventures of Buzz Lightyear, was not submitted to Saudi authorities for approval because the production studios thought it would not get the green light.
Other countries in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, decided against screening the movie. The ban in the UAE came six months after the Persian Gulf country announced it would cease censoring cinematic releases. Lebanon is one of the only Arab countries that has a relatively strong, somewhat public LGBTQ presence.
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Chris Evans, who is the voice of Buzz Lightyear, told the Reuters news agency: “There’s always going to be people who are afraid and unaware and trying to hold on to what was before. But those people die off like dinosaurs.”
The US diplomatic corps’ official celebration of Pride Month has also led to some incidents in the region. Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry summoned the US charge d’affaires over embassy social media posts celebrating the month. The ministry derided “symbols and tweets that support homosexuality” made by the embassy, and said the posts went against the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The embassy’s posts remained.
While the United States is celebrating Pride Month, Republican lawmakers have drafted a slew of bills seeking to limit discussions of sexual or gender identity in schools and to challenge the rights of young people who identify as transgender.
In Syria’s Hama city, the Directorate of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection said it had confiscated about 600 children’s rainbow kites that “indicate sexual homosexuality,” saying the toys were similar to the Pride flag. The announcement was made on the directorate’s Facebook page, listed alongside sales violations made by butchers and bakeries.
In the wake of news reports that some Qatari hotels would not accept guests from the LGTBQ community during the upcoming World Cup, soccer’s global governing body issued a statement June 1 insisting that there would be no discrimination.
FIFA said the World Cup will be “a celebration of unity and diversity” regardless of race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. It added that it has been “insisting hotels and other contractors involved in welcoming LGBTQIA+ fans to Qatar to do so in a manner that respects the rights and privacy of everyone.”
Timsit reported from London, Dadouch from Beirut. Ellen Francis in London contributed to this report.