Openly Gay Lebanese Singer Hamed Sinno Urges Men To Champion Women’s Rights In The Middle East

We’re living in very turbulent political times which can make it hard to find nuanced and varied narratives about life in the Middle East when you look at mainstream newsmedia. Throughout history, art and entertainment has been a powerful conduit for sharing stories, championing human rights, and challenging binaries that ostracize marginalized voices.

That is exactly what Lebanese rock singer Hamed Sinno is doing. He is the lead singer of Mashrou’ Leila, and is an openly gay man, known for speaking about LGBTQ rights in the Middle East. His advocacy is well known by those familiar with the band, and he has also been interviewed by various international media outlets.

According to a recent profile by Reuters, the band, and Hamed in particular, are no stranger to being seen as “controversial” for their views as their lyrics regularly discuss issues like homophobia, sexism, politics, religion, social justice, and sexual freedom.

Hamed also believes in championing women’s rights and is encouraging other men to do the same. He is calling for a greater representation of women in politics and the repeal of discriminatory laws, but is careful with his wording as it’s not uncommon to see patriarchal push-back to discussions about equality.

No one is saying that we should arbitrarily just get rid of all men in power and substitute them with women, but there is a question about … why it is that we still have this many issues with women’s representation, with women in government and other rights,” he said.

While the band has many loyal fans around the world (they are currently on a world tour), they of course receive backlash and even death threats for daring to speak about such taboo subjects and challenge the status quo. Mashrou’ Leila were recently banned from performing in Jordan simply because Hamed happens to be gay. Hamed points the finger at “the fanatical conservatism that has contributed in making the region increasingly toxic over the last decade.”

He and his fellow feminist band members believe there needs to be greater women’s rights legislatively in order to achieve gender equality. In Lebanon, a rapist can easily escape punishment by choosing to marry their victim. When you live in a country that appears to tolerate the abuse of women and isn’t concerned about their ability to prosecute abusers in the face of such egregious laws, issues like abolishing the wage gap and even reproductive health autonomy are a long way from being realized.

Hamed is a fan of feminist activists from the Middle East such as Egyptian author Mona Eltahawy, who regularly speak out about gender equality and the need to dismantle disturbing patriarchal social codes often found in various conservative religious cultures.

Mashrou’ Leila have performed in the US in cities like Los Angeles and New York, and even speaking at Columbia University. Their American fan base extends beyond Arab expats too, showing how important their message of equality and human rights is.

In an interview with CNN, Hamed pointed out that there is no way they can expect to be the sole voice of all the global Arab community, as it is such a nuanced and varied culture. Instead, they choose to leverage their music as a way to empower Arab youth struggling with their sexuality, and have even dared to raise the LGBTQ flag on stage as a symbol of hope.

“I think for me and for rest of the band, as allies, there’s a big question about visibility being one entry point to actual change. I know it’s a controversial thing to say, not controversial in the sense where it’s polemical, but controversial in that people don’t necessarily agree — that visibility should be the first step to changing things,” he told Stepfeed.com in an interview.

Being the only gay member of Mashrou’ Leila, he also recognizes the risk his fellow band mates are taking by choosing to stand with him and promote messages of gender equality. Their song ‘Shim El Yasmine’ has become a “gay anthem within the Arab LGBT community,” as The Huffington Post describes.

“I think the whole band – as allies – have been quite vocal about that as well, being on stage with a queer member, themselves being straight, and being stigmatized because of that. At the end, it’s a question of whether or not you think it’s worth it to get into that battle.┬áIt’s a personal struggle that people have to decide for themselves,” he said.

While the band can’t rewrite legislation in the way they hope, they can help reform mindsets through their music, which they have done in their latest music video ‘Roman’, which challenges stereotypical representations of Muslim women by showing them in an empowered setting.

Instead of featuring the male musicians from the band, they decided to take a backseat and position women as the leads, showing them celebrating who they are without having to be seen alongside men to appear powerful or autonomous.

Having men there not doing anything was basically what the point was,” said Hamed.

Count us as new fans of Mashrou’ Leila and Hamed Sinno especially. You can watch the ‘Roman’ music video below:

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