By Tatiana Flowers

RABAT, MOROCCO — After the Orlando shooting, he told his mom that 50 people were killed.  She said, “Oh my God, that’s so sad.”  But when he explained the full story, she realized many of those killed might have been gay.  Then she changed her mind, “Oh, well then they deserve to be killed,” she replied to her son, not knowing he, himself is gay.

 

In Morocco, if you’re transgender, you can’t do anything about it.  There’s no such thing as sex reassignment surgery.  If you’re gay, you keep quiet and try your best to dispel any potential speculation that you might be.  Sometimes lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people can’t return to their own hometowns.  They’re barred from getting jobs, denied necessary documents, expelled from school, kicked out of their homes, shunned from society, beaten publicly, jailed, and sometimes even murdered.  The perpetrators who assault or kill them often escape punishment.  Many people in Morocco and other Arab countries believe being gay is a disease or a mental disability and if people find out, the stakes are high.

 

Many thought after the Arab Uprising that there would be more rights for LGBT people across the Arab world.  But in fact, some say it’s only gotten worse.  “More women are wearing hijabs, people are becoming more religious and more conservative,” said John Entelis, a professor at Fordham University who studies the Middle East North Africa region.  “Part of that has to do with the kind of government in power.  They’re are all authoritarian and they’re being challenged to get more credibility.  They’re making more mosques, controlling what’s on TV, dictating education systems, and encouraging more conservative religion in the classroom.  That manifests itself in the streets, so of course, that would make life worse for LGBT people.”

Since it’s illegal to be anything but heterosexual in Morocco and many other Arab countries, many Arabs, activists, and academics don’t see any chance for LGBT equality in many of these countries in the near future.  Nothing is moving as far as legislation for LGBT rights in any of the 22 countries involved in the Arab Uprising.

 

“There is no support, no funds, no legal organizations that support this,” said Soufyane Fares, a 25-year-old avid and fearless activist in Rabat.  “It’s all about the religion.  Then after that, people have to get used to accepting it.  I think they’re really in the wrong place to be homosexual,” he said.  He thinks it might take close to 200 years for LGBT people in Morocco to be granted safety and protection.

 

“We need people who care.  That’s the difference between Morocco and other countries with LGBT rights and human rights in general,” said a 25-year-old gay man living in Rabat, who asked to remain anonymous for his safety.

 

In fact, there’s a verse in the Quran that references how gay people should be treated if they are caught,مَنْ وَجَدْتُمُوهُ يَعْمَلُ عَمَلَ قَوْمِ لُوطٍ فَاقْتُلُوا الْفَاعِلَ وَالْمَفْعُولَ بِهِ, whomever you find doing the actions of the people of Lut, then kill the one doing it, and the one it is done to.”

 

In a society where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, it becomes difficult to defy such a widespread, sacred set of rules.  “Since we don’t have separation between church and state, there will never be any LGBT rights,” said Hind Arroub, a social and political scientist from Rabat.  “It’s a question of culture, consciousness, and education.  But if LGBT people want their rights, they need to fight.  There’s nothing for nothing,” she said, acknowledging that this move could be extremely dangerous for an LGBT advocate.

 

Moroccans say that while their country may seem liberal on the surface, it is not.  They say many Moroccans are royalists, people who strongly support a monarchy.  “Many people here think we need more control from the government because we have a lot of problems,” said Fadoua B., who requested her last name remain disclosed since it’s illegal to speak negatively of the Moroccan government.  “There are a lot of babies and young people living in garbage or on the streets, a lot of poverty, so people think we need more police, more government control.  People think it’s unsafe here, so they want more authority.”

 

Fares added, “People don’t want to be involved with this.  There are other priorities like corruption and transparency.  This is like second level.”

 

An anonymous 16-year-old trans woman from Oujda, in northeast Morocco said she’s convinced LGBT hatred comes from early Islamic education.  “They make us like little Daeshes [another word for the Islamic State], if you want my opinion.  They made me hate LGBT people and people who weren’t Muslim, when I was an empty head and ready for new information.  It’s really hard to figure out your sexuality when you’ve been brainwashed your whole life,” she said in an email.

 

She recalled watching a graphic video at a younger age about a transgender woman who was brutally, publicly beaten by a group of men while she was walking down the street.

“They first insulted her and then they started hitting her until her head started bleeding.  Her face was so, so messed up because they kept punching and kicking her everywhere, but they just kept hitting and spitting on her anyway.  One of the guys took her head and started hitting it against a car.  I cried so much after watching that video.”

 

A 19-year-old gay man from Rabat who requested to remain anonymous for fear of safety says stories like these are common.  “I don’t like living here.  I’m always hiding who I am.  It’s like I’m wearing a mask and being someone else in order to survive.”  His 20-year-old friend sat next to him.  Also, a gay male, he said, “I feel alone sometimes.  I thought about going to the doctor because it’s so weird to be gay here.”

 

They looked at each other, and then he continued, “Sometimes I dance in my room with heels on to Beyoncé.  I try to hide it from my parents, but sometimes I just have to let it out,” he said.

They continued laughing and making jokes, reminiscent of their childhood, brainstorming reasons to explain why they’re gay in a society that doesn’t accept them.

One continued, “My friend asked why I was coming here to talk to a journalist today.  It’s risky, but I said, ‘because I want to make a change for the LGBT community, even if it’s just a little bit.”’

 

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