May 18, 2015 – Reported by The Independent – Whenever protests are planned and the Egyptian tanks roll into Cairo’s main squares, Mariam, 25, takes a longer route to work, the one that avoids the police checkpoints. Her ID carries the name she was born with (a boy’s name) and a number that signals her original gender (male). These details are not easily changed, and they could get her arrested.
“Last time I got stopped, I panicked and pretended I was going to a fancy-dress party. The officers made fun of me but it worked and they let me go,” she says. It was a close call. The policemen ridiculed her for a bit, and called her names, but she played along and once they got bored they let her pass.
With dozens of members of the LGBT community in prison on so-called charges of “debauchery”, she does not want to risk it again: “I now avoid checkpoints or places where illegal things happen.”
As a sex worker, Mariam is at double risk, so she also avoids the capital’s nightclubs and “cabarets” – the decadent venues where men and women dance on stages in a shower of small bills thrown by wealthy guests and potential punters. Instead, she sits drinking tea at a scrubby downtown Cairo café, known in the industry for soliciting, and meets her clients there, hoping she is not arrested in the process.
Being gay is not illegal in Egypt, and neither is being transgender, but since the military pushed out the unpopular Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in the summer of 2013, the country has been engaged in a fierce crackdown on both communities. Human rights workers say at least 150 LGBT people have been arrested by the country’s “morality police”. and around 100 are still behind bars on draconian catch-all charges of “debauchery” or “inciting sexual perversion”.
In February, seven trans men were arrested for allegedly holding meetings where “perverts” would “participate in debauchery”, according to local Egyptian newspaper Youm7. Its reporters then interviewed and photographed the terrified men, chained to each other at a Cairo police station, without bothering to properly blur the faces…story continues below…