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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Popular Uprisings: Marriage Equality and Gay Rights in Egypt - Global Post

Photo is taken from Gender Across Borders.

The most talked about issue in the gay rights movement in America is marriage equality. And Wednesday signified a historic moment for the LGBTQ community, when the Obama administration announced that, “Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages — is unconstitutional and [we] will ask the Justice Department to stop defending the law.” (I agree with others that this should have come sooner. But it is something.)
For me, marriage equality is less about a burning desire to sign a legally enforceable marriage contract with the one I love and more about an expression of my personal freedoms and liberties. I believe every person should have the right to choose whether or not they want to enter into marriage (and have access to the 1,138 federal benefits that come with a marriage contract).

Yet, just like reproductive rights do not encapsulate the entirety of women’s rights, marriage equality is not synonymous with gay rights. Marriage is, in fact, a relatively recent strategic focus (and, some might argue, not necessarily the most important). The issues that we—LGBTQ folks and allies—mobilize around have inevitably changed with time. In America, today our issue is marriage equality; in the past it was decriminalizing sodomy, fighting housing discrimination, etc.. etc., etc.

In the face of changing times and evolving issues, a consistent basis for the LGBTQ movement, and any social movement, is our freedom of association—the individual right to come together with other individuals and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests.

I found myself thinking a lot about this right as I watched the protest movement in Egypt unfolding. And now that the revolutionary masses have left Tahrir Square, I wonder: When people talk about the future of human rights in Egypt does this include equal rights for gays and lesbians? What are the most pressing issues facing the Egyptian LGBTQ community—the issues a movement could be built around (and, perhaps, the issues already being discussed in hiding)?

To date, although Egypt does not have an anti-sodomy law on the books, other laws have been used to target and arrest gays and lesbians, including claims of violations of the “Public Order & Public Morals” code and “violating the teachings of religion and propagating depraved ideas and moral depravity.” The most widely known attack on homosexuals occurred in 2001 and was dubbed “The Cairo 52” — 52 gay men aboard a floating nightclub called the Queen Boat were arrested. The detainees were subjected to forensic examinations, apparently in order to determine whether they had engaged in anal intercourse. They were also forced to say “my name, my job, my address and say ‘I am gay.’” Despite the pleas of international humanitarian organizations, 23 of these men were imprisoned.

I am not the only one wondering “what now?” for the LBGTQ community in Egypt. Last week in the Huffington Post, Keli Goff posted an article in which she expressed skepticism about what the regime’s demise would mean for gays and lesbians. Goff wrote,

“While I hate to be a “Debbie Downer,” it must be said that amid the worldwide jubilation that greeted the news of Hosni Mubarak’s retirement from his chosen profession of dictator, not all are celebrating. A big question mark remains regarding what this new era in Egypt will mean for gays and lesbians.”
And in light of last week’s announcement that the state’s emergency laws might be lifted in six months Katherine Franke offered a thoughtful perspective on the “Gay Rights Angle on the Egyptian Revolution?” Franke wrote,

“As Egypt and its supporters begin to dismantle the decades-old institutionalization of the State of Emergency, it is important to bear in mind the ways in which the denial of basic civil and human rights for sexual minorities can be used to undermine larger projects of democratization that seem not to “be about” gay rights at all.”

On a slightly more optimistic note, the website Gay Middle East (GME) featured an interview with the well-known Egyptian gay blogger IceQueer, in which he stated:

GME: “I suppose it’s too risky and even counter productive to ask directly for LGBT rights in the protests, but how do you see these issues in the context of the revolution and a larger human rights agenda?”
IQ: “You can’t ask for lots of changes that have different affect on people. I mean already asking for “freedom” and “fall of regime” bedazzled the whole country and its people. So imagine what would happen if we asked for LGBT rights?
“I believe that Egypt’s LGBT community can only have its rights when Egypt becomes a real secular country.”

To date, no organization exists in Egypt whose explicit aim is to improve the legal or social position of LGBTQ Egyptians. Furthermore, Egyptian human rights organizations have largely avoided LGBTQ-rights issues for fear of a backlash from the government or socially conservative citizens.

Hopefully, this can and will change now.

Rasha Moumneh—a researcher with Human Rights Watch who works with feminist and LGBT groups in the Middle East—was interviewed on The Gist and provided a nuanced description of what the protests might mean for LGBTQ Egyptians.

“I think the key issue to look at going forward is if there is a democratic transition and if there is a popular government that is truly representative and that does respect human rights. I think the most important thing to look at is whether freedom of expression and freedom of association are going to be guaranteed. I think those are going to be the most indicative things moving forward to see whether work on sexual rights or gender rights is going to be pushed forward.”
It remains to be seen what the popular uprising will mean for every sector of Egyptian society, including gays and lesbians. Whatever it is, it seems likely that meaningful change will be slow to emerge. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Evolution is more complex than a revolution.”

Something that went largely unmentioned in all of the reporting on the recent uprising in Egypt is that before Tahrir Square was the center of the pro-democracy movement it was the most popular place for gay cruising in Cairo. Let’s hope that now it can be home to both democracy and the LGBTQ community.

And as change unfolds, let’s—as an international LGBTQ community—actively support Egyptians. Our issues may be different but our right to express our sexuality and the freedom to collectively promote, pursue and defend common interests is the same.

Friday, March 11, 2011


The news and images coming out of Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East, remind us of all the LGBT people who suffer or have been the victims of violence at the hands of the state or society. We can't choose where we are born, or who we are destined to love. Nor can we forget the cruel and tragic images of youths being hung in Iran - a country where death remains a real threat for anyone accused or suspected of being gay.

Image Source: Ice Queer - LGBT people were among the crowds in Tahrir Square, Cairo

In the past weeks, many gay people have taken part in the mass protests across North Africa and the Middle East. Their heartfelt aspirations they have for their countries and for their own rights are deeply inspiring. We must hope that whatever "freedoms" are won will include and not exclude the rights of sexual and other minorities. Experience shows that while governments and regimes can sometimes fall overnight, it takes much longer for a society to lose its prejudices.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

L'Egitto, tra rivoluzione, Internet e omosessualità: anche il blogger gay IceQueer in piazza Tahrir

Abbiamo sentito raccontare le rivoluzione del Nord Africa da esperti (spesso presunti), da leader politici, da ideologici, da professori universitari. Sentirsela raccontare da chi quella rivoluzione l'ha fatta nella strada, con le idee della strada, fa tutto un altro effetto. E ci permette di capire davvero la rabbia e la gioia, la paura e la speranza, l'incertezza e la sicurezza e soprattutto la fede assoluta nel popolo e in Internet che sono state in grado di muovere le masse e di abbattere i dittatori.

Dopo che Rachid, rappresentante in Italia dell'associazione lgbt clandestina marocchina KifKif, ci ha raccontato le rivolte in Marocco, ora il più noto blogger gay egiziano, IceQueer, ci racconta gli eccezionali giorni che l'Egitto sta vivendo. Ce li racconta con gli occhi di un semplice amante della libertà che, senza alcuna esperienza di politica, come lui stesso ammette, ha vissuto la straordinaria esperienza di scrivere la storia in piazza Tahrir...

* * *

Quali sono state le cause principali della vostra rivolta?

Il popolo egiziano non ne poteva più di Mubarak e del suo regime: la rivoluzione è stato il risultato naturale di quello che abbiamo sofferto negli ultimi 10-15 anni e forse anche di più. Il popolo in piazza Tahrir chiedeva i diritti più essenziali, che sono libertà, giustizia sociale e democrazia.

Qual è stato il ruolo di Facebook, di Twitter, dei blog?

I social network hanno giocato un ruolo importante nell'organizzare il popolo e anche nello smascherare l'ipocrisia dei mass media. I social network semplicemente dicono la verità. Puoi leggere di un caso di tortura su Twitter, vedere il video su YouTube e poi discuterne su FaceBook!

Dal punto di vista occidentale, il ruolo dell'esercito non è molto chiaro...

Ad essere onesti, il ruolo dell'esercito adesso non è molto chiaro neppure per noi. Il popolo è contro questo governo di transizione e l'esercito sta cercando di rimanere il più neutrale possibile, ma non è abbastanza.

Non è molto chiaro neppure il ruolo dei Fratelli Musulmani...

La rivoluzione egiziana non ha portato avanti alcun programma politico o religioso, ma gran parte del popolo fino ad ora non vuole i Fratelli Musulmani per le prossime elezioni.

A Palermo, un ragazzo marocchino, Noureddine Adnane, si è dato fuoco per protestare contro le persecuzioni della polizia italiana, emulando il gesto storico del tunisino Mohamed Bouazizi. Credi che i giovani delle due sponde del Mediterraneo possano unirsi per lottare contro tutti gli oppressori?

La gente non ha alcuna idea di come ci si senta quando inizi a uccidere le tue paure e diventi capace di dire: "No, ora basta, andatevene via!". E' uno spirito che spero che persista in Egitto e nel mondo intero.

Cosa ne pensi dell'Italia?

Sarò superficiale: ti dico che l'Italia per me è la moda, i bei ragazzi e l'architettura, ma sono sicuro che ci sono molte più cose da conoscere a proposito dell'Italia. Io sto cercando di conoscerle attraverso i miei amici italiani, qui in Egitto.

E del nostro governo, cosa ne pensi?

Del vostro governo? Beh, io non sono un'esperto di politica, quindi non so davvero cosa dire sulla situazione in Italia, ma di tanto in tanto leggo notizie sulla corruzione di Berlusconi.

Come vivono i gay e le lesbiche in Egitto?

La vita per i gay e le lesbiche in Egitto varia da persona a persona: alcuni sono profondamente repressi, alcuni sono "discreti", alcuni sono dichiarati, ma non con tutti, e una minoranza sono dichiarati con i propri genitori e con gli amici. Fondamentalmente ci incontriamo tra di noi attraverso i siti di incontro online.

Qual è la situazione dal punto di vista legale?

Anche se in Egitto l'omosessualità non è illegale in senso stretto, gli omosessuali vengono arrestati in riferimento ai reati di "depravazione abituale" e di "comportamenti osceni", in base all'articolo 9c della legge n. 10 del 1961 sulla lotta alla prostituzione, e al reato di "disprezzo della religione", in base all'articolo 98 del codice penale.