Amazon is reportedly restricting LGBTQ+ search results in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) following pressure from the country’s government.
Amazon made the decision on June 27 after being threatened with penalties by the UAE government if the company did not comply, according to the New York Times. (It’s unclear what those sanctions against Amazon would have entailed.) As a result, its website is hiding the results of more than 150 keywords related to LGBTQ+ expression, including “LGBTQ,” “pride” and “transgender flag.”
Products like flags, chest binders and several queer-themed books are now reportedly banned for Amazon users in the UAE. Titles that are now unavailable for purchase include Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist.
In response to the report, an Amazon spokesperson said the company remains
“committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“[W]e believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected,” a representative said in a statement to the New York Times. “With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operated.”
Currently, homosexuality is illegal in the UAE. Same-sex relations are punishable by death under its interpretation of Shariah law, although the penalty is rarely enforced. The UAE’s two largest cities—Dubai and Abu Dhabi—have their own municipal laws criminalizing sodomy, with convictions resulting in a maximum sentence of 10 and 14 years in prison, respectively.
Amazon isn’t the only U.S.-based tech company that has been forced to change its policies in response to anti-gay laws in foreign markets. Netflix, for instance, ended production of the series If Only in 2020 following criticism from Turkish leaders over the inclusion of a gay character. Later the same year, it struck a deal to keep streaming LGBTQ+ shows in Saudi Arabia in exchange for removing an episode of the talk show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, which was critical of the Saudi government.
A 2021 report revealed that Apple allows more than 150 countries to censor LGBTQ+ content in its app store, although the company claimed the allegations were inaccurate. Earlier this year, the Grindr app disappeared from both Apple and Android stores in China following a crackdown targeting queer and trans students.
But Amazon’s role in censoring LGBTQ+ content is likely to be met with particular criticism following concerns about its promotion of harmful content.
In June, LGBTQ+ employees interrupted a corporate Pride event to protest Amazon’s refusal to stop selling transphobic books on its platform. The “die-in” urged Amazon to discontinue the sale of Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage and Matt Walsh’s Johnny the Walrus, which have been met with criticism for misrepresenting the lived experiences of trans people. Both materials remain available on Amazon’s website, and the company has said it will not remove them.
In 2021, Amazon promised that it would remove books that treated LGBTQ+ identities as a mental illness.