Gay people in Saudi Arabia continue to face a life and death battle as homosexual acts are punished with torture or public beheading.
Saleh*, 34, has to hide many aspects of his life to avoid unwanted attention from the country's moral police.
The Riyadh resident is both a practicing Muslim and gay. This conflicts with the ultra-conservative sharia laws of the Saudi kingdom. However, when the sun sets on the hot desert capital, the underground gay life awakens.
“At the moment, we cannot express ourselves openly in Saudi Arabia,” Saleh said.
”Every weekend there is a new party or birthday going on. Alcohol is forbidden but is available on the black market,” he said.
As long as we are quiet about it and do not kiss in the streets, we are fine - Saleh
The 34-year-old is open about his sexuality with some friends and family members but this is highly unusual in the Muslim Kingdom.
He had his first experience with another man at the age of 17, before he came out to his family at the age of 21.
”The reaction from one of my cousins was 'do not take too much Botox and do not become a drag queen'."
“At the moment, we cannot express ourselves openly in Saudi Arabia. The government and society knows that homosexuality is present. As long as we are quiet about it and do not kiss in the streets, we are fine,” Saleh said.
This tends to be the norm throughout the Muslim world, where homosexuality is punished and criminalised in many of the countries practising the Islamic faith.
According to the Global Islamic Website, Islamonline.net, death punishment is an appropriate penalty for homosexuality. The website states that homosexual acts are as heinous as murder.
Fahad Ali, student of Genetics at University of Sydney, has been active in the battle to make LGBTI rights more accepted in Islam and among the Muslim community in Sydney.
He is one of few practicing Muslims in Australia who are openly gay. Mr Ali is the founder of Muslims for Marriage Equality.
The activist pushes back on the ideology found in radical groups and online websites like Islamonline.net
“I began to realise that the only reason people think that religion and LGBTI rights clashes, is because that is what we have been told.’
“For me, the Koran does not say anything about homosexuality being bad, but I do believe clerics will say things like that,” Mr Ali said.
The Sydneysider believes that the Koran can be interpreted in many ways. "There are Muslims who believe wife-beating is acceptable, and then, there are Muslims who believe that wife-beating is a sin."
“I think the same applies to gay rights. It is a question of interpretation, and in my personal interpretation, I do not see any conflict," Mr Ali said.
“Islam is a religion, being gay is who you are and we know that you cannot change who you are. The only people who believe being gay is a sin are people who believe it is a choice,” Mr Ali said.
Dr Justin Koonin, president of ACON, said their organisation does receive enquiries from gay Muslim men, worried about coming out to their families and community.
ACON is a New South Wales based health promotion organisation, specialising in LGBTI health.
“Our Middle Eastern men's workshop is a place where these men can get together in a safe and autonomous space and discuss issues such as coming out,” Dr Koonin said.
“We, as a human species must recognise and appreciate the distinction between love and sex.”
The ACON president believes that cultural factors can influence one's experience of coming out, so being able to discuss these issues with peers is valuable.
Mr Ali believes he is blessed with a free life in Australia, far away from the worries gay individuals like Saleh face in Saudi Arabia. However, he says, coming out has not been easy.
Being open about being gay and Muslim has been challenging and he has experienced harassment from the Muslim community.
"You should be ashamed of yourself, you should go and kill yourself and you are going to hell."
These are some of the reactions Mr Ali has met from individuals within Sydney’s Muslim community.
“It is not nice, but I do not take it too seriously. I will never let the abuse stop me from being out and proud. I believe in intelligent faith,” he said.
I will not let harassment stop me from being who I am. I will continue advocating for other people,” Mr Ali said.
Keysar Trad, Founder of the Islamic Friendship Association, believes that the harassment Mr Ali has experienced is unacceptable, making it clear that he opposes violence.
However, Mr Trad was active in the No campaign against legalising gay marriage in Australia.
“Islam encourages adherents to develop love in our heart for all, but to restrict our sexual behaviour to a male/female marital relationship. Anything beyond that, places the long-term quality of life of the individual at risk,” Mr Trad said.
According to Mr Ali, the beliefs Mr Trad holds encourages and contributes to the spread of hate and intolerance towards the LGBTI community.
“I would say that Keysar is wrong. He is abandoning any kind of claim to say anything valuable when he ignores the reality of the situation.’
“The reality of the situation is that you cannot change your sexuality. One needs to stop ignoring the world around you based on what you read in a book.” Mr Ali said.
The LGBTI activist encourages other Muslims to not be blinded by faith.
MR Ali said equality has come a long way in Australia, but that more can be done to create acceptance. However, he does not believe the world will see LGBTI rights in Saudi Arabia anytime soon.
*Saleh's last name has been withheld for safety reasons.