Human Rights Activist ‘Punks’ Saudi Arabia Over Treatment of Gays
The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) held its annual celebration and job fair last month just outside Washington, D.C. The four-day event begun on May 22 and was “designed to reward the graduates on the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) with the chance to both celebrate their success with their colleagues as well as search for jobs and meet top executives from leading companies and universities in Saudi Arabia.”
But in true American fashion, celebrations draw surprise guests. This year the Saudi royal family representatives and the 120 exhibitors had their party crashed by David Keyes, Executive Director of Advancing Human Rights, a nonprofit human rights advocacy group.
In an effort to bring awareness to the torture and murder of gays and lesbians in Saudi Arabia, Keyes set out to “punk the government of Saudi Arabia.”
“Saudi Arabia is one of the worst human rights violators in the world,” Keyes told the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. “Homosexuality is punishable by death. Gays are routinely lashed. Such treatment is utterly inexcusable. Free societies should not be silent in the face of such brutality.”
Earlier this week, Keyes released a video of his trip from New York City to the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel in Maryland where the conference took place.
Keyes explains in the first few seconds of the video that he intends to throw “the most awesome gay party that hotel has ever seen.” He continues, “We are going to invite Saudi diplomats, the education minister, maybe King Salman will be there, I hope so.”
Upon arriving at the hotel, Keyes mocks the Saudi government policy of lashing gays by taking an “actual Saudi whip” and beating the “GAY” in the word “GAYLORD” on the hotel entrance sign.
He then embarks on a mission to attend the “Saudi Gaylord Party” and ask attendees for information about the “after-party, the Saudi Gaylord after-party.”
Using a hidden camera, Keyes meets an individual who claims to be with the Saudi Interior Ministry and asks him, “Are you going to the Gaylord after-party? Are they doing the whippings?” To which the person replies, “Yeah, they are.”
“I hoped to use satire and comedy to highlight a very serious human rights situation,” explained Keyes. “Had I shown up with a few protest signs, no one would have cared, unfortunately. But throwing a gay party demonstrates the absurdity of the situation. I’d like people around the world to help raise pressure on dictatorships.”
With the Saudi Arabian flag in one hand and the rainbow flag of gay pride in the other, members of the GLBTQ community and their supporters declared on camera they are “Saud and Proud,” before getting on a party bus and heading back to the hotel in hopes of finding the “Gaylord Saudi after-party.”
With no party to be found, Keyes and his friends decide to throw their own bash with balloons that represent the colors of the rainbow and drinks that would also be forbidden in the Saudi Kingdom.
This is not the first time Keyes has used satire to bring awareness to human rights violations.
In April he brought an ice cream truck to New York University where the Iranian foreign minister was speaking. Keyes threw a “massive party” to bring awareness of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s recent milestone of 1,000 hangings in just the past 18 months.
Keyes told the Salomon Center:
I’m pranking dictators because it’s fun and gets people talking about human rights issues. People like Bill Maher and Ayaan Hirsi Ali face a torrent of protest when they speak on campus, but the foreign minister of a regime that murders gays, lashes liberals and tortures bloggers? Utter silence.
“Activists use satire because it’s a very powerful weapon. Most important, dictators fear comedy. That is why they go to such great length to silence cartoonists, humorists, and stand-ups. Think of how insecure your regime must be if it cannot tolerate a bit of laughter,” he continued. “Free societies, by contrast, allow people like Colbert and Stewart to mock their leaders. Every year, the president sits at a fancy gala while comics make fun of him to his face. This is unthinkable in countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea, Syria and Saudi Arabia.”