Saudi authorities seize rainbow toys in crackdown on homosexuality

Originally posted to The Guardian website, 15 June 2022

Pencil cases, skirts and hats among items targeted for ‘contradicting Islamic faith and public morals’

Saudi officials have been seizing rainbow-coloured toys and clothing from shops in the capital as part of a crackdown on homosexuality, state media has reported.

The kingdom opened to tourism in 2019 but, like other Gulf countries, it is frequently criticised for its human rights record, including its outlawing of homosexuality, a potential capital offence.

Items targeted in the Riyadh raids include bows, skirts, hats and pencil cases, most of them manufactured for children, according to a report broadcast on Tuesday evening by the state-run Al Ekhbariya news channel.

“We are giving a tour of the items that contradict the Islamic faith and public morals and promote homosexual colours targeting the younger generation,” an official from the commerce ministry, which is involved in the campaign, says in the report.

Some of the items that were seized.
Some of the items that were seized. Photograph: Saudi Ministry of Commerce

Gesturing towards a rainbow flag, a journalist adds: “The homosexuality flag is present in one of the Riyadh markets.” The colours send a “poisoned message” to children.

The report did not detail how many shops were targeted or items seized, and Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The rainbow raids come as Saudi Arabia has banned films that depict, or even refer to, sexual minorities. In April, the kingdom said it had asked Disney to cut “LGBTQ references” from the Marvel film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but Disney refused.

Saudi regulators objected to a 12-second scene in which one character refers to her “two mums”. An official said at the time the government was trying to work with Disney to find a solution but ultimately the film did not screen in Saudi cinemas.

Tuesday’s report showed stills of Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange and of “apparently foreign children waving rainbow flags”.

Disney’s latest animation, Lightyear, which features a same-sex kiss, has also been banned in Saudi Arabia and more than a dozen other countries, according to a source close to Disney.

Riyadh has not commented on that film but it has not appeared among the listings in large cinemas.

Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-long ban on all cinemas in late 2017, part of a social overhaul spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that is shaking up the conservative kingdom.

The country has since achieved significant growth in cinema ticket sales, with revenues totalling $238m in 2021, a 95% increase on the previous year, according to a report by Variety magazine in January.

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