When celeb allies sell out the queer community


David Beckham was once thought to be an LGBTI+ ally (Photo: Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com)

Some LGBTI+ fans are angry and bemused at David Beckham’s decision to take 150 million pounds from Qatar to be the face of the country ahead of its controversial hosting of the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Beckham is known as an LGBTI+ ally, and Qatar is known to be not so friendly towards the queer community. Men caught having sex with each other can face fines, imprisonment, or corporal punishment in the form of flogging. Technically, sharia courts could also impose the death penalty.

This seems like an odd partnership, which has many questioning Beckham’s true motives. Did the famous footballer sell out the queer community for the money? What Qatar will get for their proverbial 30 pieces of silver, is the renowned soccer star promoting tourism and culture over the next ten years.

Perhaps Beckham’s PR team or advisers didn’t think the whole thing through properly. Or perhams the man himself didn’t. How the decision came about is irrelevant: Qatar not only has it out for the queers, it has an abysmal record when it comes to human rights in general. The country has curbed freedom of expression and exploits migrant workers – with over six thousand of these people ending up dead since 2010. Reports say that these workers are subject to abuse and forced labour.

David Beckham has been outspoken about sport being a unifying force, a way to bring people together, a way to do good. Let’s also not forget that back in 2007, Beck proclaimed that he was proud to be seen as a gay icon. Until someone hands him a life changing amount of money, it seems. Then it’s okay to work hand-in-hand with the country that is the second most dangerous place on the planet for LGBTI+ people. (Nigeria, according to Forbes, is the first.)

There seems to be no logical reason whatsoever for the footballer to take the Qatar deal. Beckham has several multi-million dollar deals in the pipeline, so why else take this one, and sell out his queer fans? Unless his motive is greed. Or, his PR people thought it was great to play for the queers for a bit for his image, and when something better came along, he could drop the entire LGBTI+ community of Qatar into a steam pile of manure.

Are we placing too much stock in celebrities? Are they, as businesspeople, not allowed to go where the money is?

One gay man, Dr Nas Mohamed, who fled Qatar and now lives in the US, wrote Beckham a long open letter calling the famous Brit out. He implored the footballer to consider the impact his deal would have for gay Qataris. That his image would endorse, in some way, the antiquated and fear-based laws of the country. He begged Beckham to reconsider and informed him that the gay community in Qatar felt “upset and defeated.”

Beckham’s response? He blocked Mohamed on Instagram.

No, there’s no typo. He actually blocked Mohamed. This move was certainly not helping his already tarnished image with the gay community. When Mohamed approached the press with what had happened, Beckham unblocked the man the next day.

Why does this matter? Celebrities hold a great deal of sway over public opinion. When a celebrity endorses a brand, there is usually an uptake in purchases of that brand. When a celebrity supports a cause, people feel more likely to support that cause too.

What Beckham is doing is clearly a conflict of interest on some level. However, are we placing too much stock in celebrities? Are they, as businesspeople, not allowed to go where the money is? It seems that it’s a lot like a celebrity who endorses a vegan lifestyle and then becomes the face of a burger franchise.

Beckham is not alone. Other queer allies who’ve made dubious decisions to perform and party in countries that oppress queer people in the past include Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Naomi Campbell.

Perhaps we expect too much from these icons we’ve placed on pedestals – that they will always be on our side because they supported us once-upon-a-time. But even if we remove the spotlight from our own queer community, Qatar’s human rights abuses in general should be enough to send any celebrity worth their brand scampering in the other direction.

With celebrity comes great responsibility (to be corny and misquote from a Spiderman movie). Some have displayed that they use theirs wisely. Others, however, leave much to be desired. Still, despite whatever their influence, we as a community of queer, lesbian, trans, gay, bi and non-binary people across the world, can and should still stand together and champion the rights of others like us.

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