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Monday, 11 July 2011

Homosexuality acceptance in Moroccan society today

YouTube screen shot of the controversial staged "gay marriage" that led to the arrests of six men under Article 489 of Moroccan Penal Code. Link to Youtube video within text-
1:40 is "marriage scene" 3:21 is riots when men and women denounced the actions. Source. Video.
Source: Jour 470: Global Communication

According to Article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code of 1962, any person who commits “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex” may be sentenced to 6 months to 3 years of imprisonment and fined 120 to 1,000 Moroccan dirhams or approximately $15 to $150 U.S. dollars.

Morocco, as well as many of its neighboring countries in the Middle East, enforces strict policies banning homosexuality today. Magharebia, an African news source, published and article quoting the Moroccan Ministry of Interior,“[our agenda] is to preserve citizens’ ethics and defend our society against all irresponsible actions that mar our identity and culture.” This was issued as a response to articles calling for greater homosexual tolerance published by “Kif Kif,” a gay rights organization based in Morocco.

In recent years, Morocco’s LGBT community has fought for societal and governmental acceptance in a region where homosexuality has not been addressed as a human rights issue ever before.

“Homosexuality in Morocco is tolerated behind closed doors but repressed in public,” stated an article published in The Moroccan Daily. In 2007, six men were arrested and jailed for four to six months under Article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code for holding a private party that was alleged by the Moroccan government to be a “gay marriage.” The men were charged with the evidence from a YouTube video of the party, however the video did not contain any sexual activity among the men. Human Rights Watch published an article stating, “Following the arrests [of the six charged men], hundreds of men and women marched through the streets of Ksar el-Kbir, denouncing the men’s alleged actions and calling for their punishment.” The protest reveals the social divide in regards to homosexuality acceptance in the region and demonstrates how passionately some are against the cause. Despite arrests and protests such as these, Moroccan government and society are gradually changing their views of the LGBT community.

In 2010, Moroccan parliament hosted a music festival featuring Elton John that proved controversial because he is a gay man and an advocate for LGBT rights. “We categorically reject the appearance of this singer because there is a risk of encouraging homosexuality in Morocco,” said Mustapha Ramid, an Islamist opposition party leader in News 24, a South African news article. The organization sent a request to parliament to ban the singer from performing in the festival, claiming the problem was “not with the singer himself but the image he has in society.” In an article published in Morocco Newsline, Ramid states, “Morocco is an Islamic state where stages should not be used to allow a person with such a degree of debauchery to perform because we have to shield the young from such influences.” In response, the Moroccan government refused to ban Elton John from performing and said, “The private life of a singer is not our business. We do not invite singers and artists after assessing their private lives.” The fact that the Moroccan government chose the singer to perform and stood with their decision marks a shift in homosexuality acceptance within the government. In 2010, there are multiple examples of small steps that were accomplished in regards to homosexuality tolerance and acceptance in the Morocco.

A year ago, Abdellah Taia was the first Moroccan writer to come out as a gay individual in Morocco’s history. According to TelQuel, a French news source, Morocco’s most widely circulated newspaper, Al Massae, published their own biased opinion regarding Taia’s announcement, stating, “Taia will burn!” and in one of its columns the publication called for the lynching of the writer. In the TelQuel article, Taia commented on the state of Moroccan society and its acceptance of the LGBT community, “In Morocco, [homosexuality] goes on, but in silence. There was a moment for me when that silence was no longer sufficient. I had to break the taboo, as I speak. Of me.”

In an article written by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, the ACLS or Moroccan Association for the Fight Against AIDS director said, “Moroccan homosexuals keep their homosexuality to themselves, and that those who come out are rejected by their friends and family.” In TelQuel’s  article, Taia reveals the backlash he received from his family, “My family, my old friends have preferred to ignore me, for them I was something repaired over time and in any case concealed immediately.” Although it is a step for a Moroccan man to have the courage to come out in the public, it will take time for society to slowly become more accepting to give other LGBT individuals the ability to come forward. In an article published in the Daily Star, a Lebanese news publication, Taia states “Despite some regression in Morocco, over the last 10 years, there have been extraordinary things in terms of declarations of personal freedoms by many parts of Moroccan society.”[Taia is based in France.]

The next revolution in the battle for homosexuality acceptance and tolerance in Morocco came in the form of an unlicensed gay magazine based in Morocco Spain titled Mithly. In 2010, this gay interest magazine was the first of its kind to be distributed in Morocco and marked the beginning of homosexuality opening up in the public eye. In an article written by News 24, a gay Moroccan author said, “It seems that something is happening in Morocco that does not exist elsewhere in the Arab world. A new generation… has achieved a certain freedom of expression thanks to the Internet, and this magazine is a result of that freedom.”

Although Mithly shows progress for the LGBT community, the Islamist opposition party has taken great efforts to defeat their efforts. News 24 quoted Mustapha Khelfi, editor of Attajdid said, “Propagation and encouragement of homosexuality represents a threat,” in response to Mithly’s establishment in Moroccan society. Writers at Mithly reveal that this is a chance to give homosexuals in the Arab community a voice, but understand that it comes with its challenges. In an article published in Menassat, a Lebanese and Middle Eastern news publication, a Mithly writer reveals his motivation to write for the magazine, “The only thing we can do is add our own voice to the debate in the hope that we will be able to change the homophobic mentality in our country, even if we realize that such a thing is quite impossible in the near future.”

According to Kif Kif, some 5,000 gay men have served jail sentences in Morocco since the country’s independence in 1956. With each step taken by the LGBT community there has been an opposing force fighting back, but looking back from 2007 to today, Morocco has gradually shifted from a closed society to a developing open state. From the government’s refusal to ban Elton John to the emergence of a gay-interest magazine - times are changing in Morocco. The gay community in Morocco recognizes the change, however, they know that change can only happen once the majority of Moroccan society has decided to become more tolerant. According to the article published in Guin Guin Bali, a Western Africa and Macaronesia news organization, Mithly publisher, Samir Bergachi said, “Our enemy is not the regime or the state, but simply the prejudices of a conservative society.”

Edited to add: Gay Maroc - Portail gay et lesbienne du Maroc - is based in Morocco


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