Read in Arabic here.
The fight for equality and human rights is never easy, and it is especially challenging for members of LGBTQ community in the Middle East and North Africa. We are currently witnessing the devastating effects of the COVID-19 health crisis, and due to stay-at-home restrictions, many LGBTQ people are finding that the volatile situations they face are getting worse, exacerbated by being confined to hostile living environments. The public health crisis has increased their exposure to harassment, online and off, simply for being who they are.
In the MENA region, despite these challenges, government repression, and social stigma, LGBTQ communities are continuing to find ways to express themselves —through telling their stories, building alliances, establishing networks that transcend borders, and adopting creative ways to combat online harassment.
June is Pride month, and we stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people everywhere who are fighting for human rights and equality. We dedicate this piece to people in historically targeted communities who are facing repression and rights violations. By sharing stories from individuals in MENA facing targeting and attacks during COVID-19, we hope to amplify their voices, reinforce the need to support their fundamental rights, and offer resources to help everyone stay secure, safe, and proud.
Saloua, Leemin, and RubyJane are not alone in their experiences, but neither are they alone in the fight for LGBTQ rights. We are standing with you.
United for human rights, united against censorship and online harassment
No one should be stripped of the right to speak freely, to form an opinion, or to share information, and this fundamental human right does not disappear when the LGBTQ community comes online. Unfortunately, this is the reality in most MENA countries, as many laws legitimize censorship and online harassment, and even result in arrests. Worse still, little is known about COVID-19’s impact on these communities, or the ways in which they are dealing with the crisis.
Several MENA countries use gender-neutral “morality” laws to persecute people accused of having gay relationships. Provisions in these laws are vague, and often use terms such as “immoral” without defining them. That makes the risk of arrest for LGBTQ people in the region disproportionally high. One example is Egypt, where the government is intensifying its crackdown on the LGBTQ community after the tragic death of Sarah Hegazi, an Egyptian human rights activist who killed herself while in exile in Canada. Sarah’s last words were, “To the world, you’ve been greatly cruel, but I forgive.” She was a courageous member of and advocate for the LGBTQ community in the region. Alongside many others, she was arrested in 2017 after raising a rainbow flag at a concert held by Mashrou Leila in Cairo.
LGBTQ rights are human rights, and Sarah’s story adds to the list of cases of repression and human rights violations perpetrated against the LGBTQ community in MENA. We honor her and stand with other human rights defenders in the region whose stories are finally being told.
Keep yourself and the LGBTQ community safe during the COVID-19 crisis
Your safety is of paramount importance. If you are experiencing harassment or you need assistance in strengthening your digital security, help is available.
Contact Mawjoudin’s emergency hotline via +21652607080, which offers support for queer (LGBTQ) people in Tunisia. If you need additional information, you can also reach out via [email protected]
For civil society organizations, activists, journalists, and human rights defenders that need real-time, direct digital security support, Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline is available 24/7 via [email protected]
Your struggle is our struggle. We wish everyone a safe Pride Month, and we encourage you to reach out for support if you need it.
* Saloua, Leemin, and RubyJane are pseudonyms. The names have been changed at their request to protect their identities.