LGBT rights group launches Arab media campaign"/>

Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Nazeeha Saeed, Arabic media coordinator at OutRight Action International. Photo: Courtesy Nazeeha Saeed/OutRight Action International
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A report monitoring a variety of media outlets in Arab regions found widespread perpetuation of homophobia and transphobia, but also a glimmer of hope.

The "Arab Mass Media: A Monitoring Report Looking at Sexuality and Gender Identity in Arabic Media from 2014 to 2017," published last month by OutRight Action International, discovered disparities in the coverage of LGBT people in the Arab region and the derogatory language used when describing LGBT people perpetuated homophobia and transphobia. It also reflected a "wider poor human rights culture in the region," according to OutRight's August 30 news release announcing the report.

The report is part of the Arab media project, which is a series of studies, tools, and workshops aimed at Arabic-speaking journalists in the region to build professional awareness about LGBT people. The goal is to increase positive coverage of LGBT people.

Arab media and civil society experts, headed up by Nazeeha Saeed, Arabic media coordinator at OutRight, spent three months monitoring and analyzing local and national newspapers, radio, TV, and social media in 14 countries in the Arab region.

Saeed, an award-winning veteran journalist covering human rights in the Middle East, and her team categorized the stories into positive, negative, or neutral.

Saeed declined to disclose her age and sexual orientation.

"We have been talking about the homophobia and transphobia in Middle East and North Africa region media for a long time, but we needed a study that highlight these issue with numbers and examples," wrote Saeed in an email interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "It's the first step toward an accept[ing] society and more tolerant region toward the LGBTI people."

The report, which is available in both Arabic and English, found evidence that hate speech inspired by religious doctrine, medical misinformation, and legal fallacies was being used when describing LGBT people, according to the release.

It also gave activists and journalists a baseline in terms of future coverage of LGBT issues in the region, said Jessica Stern, a lesbian and OutRight's executive director.



Of the 332 articles analyzed, 260 used derogatory terms, such as "faggots," "sinners," "immoral," and "devil worshipers," to describe LGBT people. Hate speech against LGBT people was higher in online media than print media. The report also found that 45 percent of the articles about LGBT people focused on incidents of arrest, detention, or trials. Fewer than 10 stories reviewed centered on violence against LGBT people, according to the release.

Two recent examples, not included in the report, involve a Singaporean couple – one male and the other a transgender woman – and a 19-year old Instagram star known as King Luxy.

The couple, freelance fashion photographer Muhammad Fadli Bin Abdul Rahman and Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, a transgender woman whose passport still listed her as male, were originally arrested and sentenced to a year in prison. However, in late August, their sentence was reduced to a fine of $2,270 and deportation.

Luxy was arrested and jailed for more than two weeks in Kuwait before being deported. He was banned for life from returning to Kuwait, according to media reports.

These individuals' crime? Looking "too feminine."

The ongoing coverage like these stories tends to numb the audience and dehumanize the subjects of the stories and therefore the community, said Stern.

"What's happening in the reporting is the individuals whose rights have been violated are being dehumanized, so it becomes interesting to read about the arrest of 'those homosexuals,' those bad people, because they are not like you or me," said Stern.

Stern noted that any time an LGBT entertainer or famous athlete is covered reports use neutral language.

"If you are successful at your craft and you happen to be LGBTI that wasn't really important to them just as long as you were a great artist or a great football player," said Stern.


Opportunity for change

OutRight, which has worked in solidarity with LGBT people throughout the Middle East and North Africa regions for more than a decade, hopes to change mainstream Arab media's current focus, said Stern.

"Pushing for social change is always an uphill battle, but in the current moment there is very strong LGBT activism happening throughout the region," said Stern.

Saeed and Stern see an opportunity to focus on human rights journalists "in covering what could be really major news stories for LGBTI people in the region," by supporting editors, journalists, and publishers. By guiding them on how to work with LGBT advocates and using correct, positive, and affirming language they could boost confidence in their coverage.

"We think that there is an opportunity to work with, and support, journalists to work with LGBTI people from various Arabic-speaking countries," said Stern. "And put something together that could really change hearts and minds and public discourse on LGBTI rights in the region."

Saeed noted media's influence in "shaping people's opinions." She plans to duplicate the training in other parts of the Middle East, she wrote.

"Media play a huge role in shaping people's opinion everywhere in the world, and making the media aware of what is their role toward LGBTI issues, and what is their effect of the hate speech and the hate crimes against LGBTI will make, at the end of the day, change [in] Middle Eastern attitudes about LGBTQI people," she wrote.

The project produced a media training guide in Arabic that will be used to train at least 15 Arab journalists at an upcoming media training in Beirut.

In a year, the project will re-examine media in the region and measure any changes, said Stern.

"We hope and believe that arrests will decrease, because instead of seeing LGBTI people as criminals or negative or sinners, they will be seen as people who have rights just like anyone else," said Stern.


CA lawmakers take a stand for gay Chechens

California legislators adopted a resolution September 11 urging President Donald Trump and Congress to condemn the government-sanctioned persecution, torture, and murder of gay men in the Chechen Republic.

The bipartisan measure, Assembly Joint Resolution 16, authored by gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) passed 76-3.

The resolution is sponsored by Equality California.

News of torture of 100 suspected-gay men and the alleged death of three men in Chechnya broke in April.

"LGBT Chechens are being attacked because of who they are and who they love," Low said in a news release from the California Legislative LGBT Caucus Monday. "We must take action now to condemn the human rights abuses, assist those fleeing persecution, and prevent further violence."

The resolution also urged Trump and Congress to encourage the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to grant asylum and refugee status for people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

EQCA applauded the Legislature's action, noting California's influence internationally and its strong protections for LGBT people.

"It is our responsibility to use our prominence as a beacon of hope as parts of the world slide into authoritarianism and bigotry," Rick Zbur, EQCA executive director, said in the release.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or



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