by Polly Withers

This is the introduction to a series of memos presented as part of a panel organised by the LSE Middle East Centre on 26 February 2019. 

Image: Women’s March, Beirut 2018. Source: Patrick Abi Salloum

In February 2019, the LSE Middle East Centre workshop titled “Sexualities and LGBT Activism in the Middle East and North Africa” aimed to create a space for critical interventions on sexualities and approaches to activism in and across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). By foregrounding voices from the region and its diaspora, we wanted to contextualise and nuance discussions that sometimes look in on the Middle East from the outside. To that effect, the workshop ran across two core lines of enquiry. First, participants placed the issue of sexuality in conversation with local, regional, and international struggles and campaigns for social justice. Their presentations and subsequent blog posts for this series, importantly emphasise that sexuality-based debates are immanent to wider social and political processes, identity politics, and power relations. In so doing, they unsettled – or ‘queered’ – wider critical deliberations about the interplay between sexualities and normative nation-state and/or (settler)colonial power.

Second, panellists unpacked and grounded the emergence of local activisms in the region. Their ‘bottom-up’ approaches questioned the political convergences, departures, and tensions between local, regional, translocal, and international practices and discourses on sexualities, identities, and desires in the MENA region and its diaspora. Taken together, then, we hoped that the rich and varied papers included in the workshop would contribute to on-going attempts to create space within the social sciences for the research and study of sexualities on the MENA region and its diaspora, by those working from the region.

Polly Withers is Research Officer at the LSE Middle East Centre, currently leading the LSE Academic Collaboration project “Neoliberal Visions: Exploring Gendered Adverts and Identities in the Palestinian West Bank” in collaboration with Birzeit University. She can be reached at 

In this series:

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