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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The British and American embassies in the United Arab Emirates are facing backlash online and among locals for hoisting the rainbow pride flag honoring LGBTQ communities, along with their own national flags to celebrate Pride. Celebrate month.

This is the first time a diplomatic mission has hoisted a gay pride flag in the religiously conservative Arabian Gulf and it is sparking controversy in a country where same-sex relationships are illegal.

“June is #PrideMonth and we are celebrating the equality and visibility of #LGBT + people around the world,” wrote the British mission in the United Arab Emirates on Twitter on Monday. “Today we are hoisting the rainbow flag to reaffirm our pride in the diversity of Britain and our values ​​of equality, inclusion and freedom,” added the Post along with the hashtag “# Pride2021”.

The US Embassy posted a photo of their own flagpole showing the American and Pride flags, and their Twitter account @USAinUAE posted a tweet saying, “On the anniversary of Stonewall, a landmark in the American civil rights movement, shows the US mission its support for the dignity and equality of all people. “The Stonewall riots of 1969 are considered to be the birth of the gay rights movement.

Negative reactions to the posts were quick.

“Very disrespectful of the British Embassy to the United Arab Emirates and its residents. It looks like someone is still living there the long-gone British imperial days, ”wrote Nasser Al-Shaikh, the former director of Dubai’s finance department, in a post on Twitter.

The British Embassy did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

“This is not acceptable. We consider this to be an insult and disrespect,” wrote another user whose profile stated that he was based in Dubai.

One user replied to this tweet and countered with “You’re looking at it … not US”.

“You are free to support any cause or value in your country. We ask that you respect our beliefs, values, customs and traditions,” said another user, tweeted in response to the US Embassy contribution.

Many of the people commenting on the embassies’ Pride Flag posts are tagged @MoFAICUAE, the UAE Department of Foreign Affairs, in their tweets.

A taboo subject

Homosexuality is considered a sin in Islam. And although the UAE allows its expat population many activities prohibited by religion, such as socializing, drinking alcohol, and pork, it is still a Muslim country, with the local population largely religious. The subject remains a high taboo throughout the Middle East.

No official comment was made by the UAE and the UAE Foreign Ministry did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

One government official, a senior Emirati official, who spoke anonymously, called the act “So strange.”

“The flag waving. Why rub it on our faces? The official told CNBC, requesting that her name be withheld due to the sensitivity of the matter. The source asked why there were not similar statements from the embassies in every other Muslim country.

For example, the Pride flag was not hoisted in western embassies in Saudi Arabia or Iraq, but a Twitter post commemorating Pride month was first posted in early June by the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A State Department spokesman referred CNBC to the US embassy in Abu Dhabi when asked. The embassy did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.

The rainbow flag also first appeared at a US diplomatic mission in the Vatican, a move that angered some Catholics.

An initiative of the Biden administration

The pride flag expresses support for LGBTQ rights in a region of the world where same-sex relationships can result in the death penalty; for example in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen.

The UAE’s penalties for homosexual acts are less clear, although the predominantly overseas desert shewealth is a diverse center of people from diverse backgrounds and is significantly more liberal and tolerant of cultural differences than its neighbors.

United States President Joe Biden makes remarks commemorating LGBTQ + Pride Month in the East Room of the White House in Washington on June 25, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Raising the flag is a mark of the presidency of Joe Biden, who pledged to make human rights a government priority. Current and former U.S. diplomatic staff on missions in several different countries told CNBC that the flag movement represents a significant reversal from the years of Donald Trump’s administration.

State Secretary Antony Blinken announced earlier this year that US consulates and embassies would be allowed to fly the rainbow flag on the same flagpole as the American flag during Pride Month in June. The choice was left to the individual missions, some of which waived out of concern for the local response.

The Washington State Department hoisted the Pride flag for the first time this year, and Blinken said in a June 1 statement, “As we celebrate Pride Month this June, let’s not just watch how far we fight for the human rights of LGBTQI + people, but also recognize the remaining challenges. ”

While flags of pride were hoisted at many US embassies during the tenure of former President Barack Obama, they were not allowed to be hoisted on the flagpoles of the missions under Trump, whose administration only allowed the raising of the American flag from 2019. The administration still allowed the flag of pride to be hung on buildings or projected on walls.

The US pavilion at Dubai’s Expo 2020 – the mega-event postponed to autumn 2021 due to the coronavirus – also published an Instagram post in June to commemorate Stonewall and “his support for the dignity and equality of all people” to show.

“It is US policy, no matter who objects to it,” said a former US embassy official, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.