Facing the Myths: LGBT Voices from the Middle East & North Africa

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 24 June 2019.

When Human Rights Watch and the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) released No Longer Alone: LGBT Voices from the Middle East and North Africa in April 2018, the videos helped to convey to isolated LGBT people in the Middle East and North Africa that it’s possible to come to terms with one’s identity, find support, and be part of a resilient community. Now, a new Human Rights Watch and AFE video looks at the myths surrounding being LGBT in the Arab world. LGBT activists spoke to Human Rights Watch to address those myths and talk about how the myths, and stereotypes, have affected their lives.

“You are not a product of trauma. It’s inside you and it’s normal”

Farouk Ashour, Libya

As an openly gay man and LGBT activist, Farouk Ashour told Human Rights Watch he faced death threats from militia groups in Libya. At first, he didn’t take them seriously, but then one group turned up at his office.

He realized he could never be safe at home and now is seeking asylum in the Netherlands. He said he could never live freely in Libya, especially as some people still believe being LGBT is an illness.

“This is not a disease or a problem that needs to be fixed,” he said, adding that people in the region should seek answers in the place they trusted most – whether that was religion or clinical studies.

In 1992, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases. Since then, medical associations around the world, from Lebanon to India to Brazil, have stated that same-sex attraction is not a mental disorder.

Farouk dresses in bright clothes and embraces his exuberant style, something he never did in his home country for fear of unwanted attention.

“I’m 30 years old, but I felt like I was born again in the Netherlands.” he said.

Throughout his life, Farouk has run into people who believed the myth that a childhood trauma must have “made” him gay.

“It’s the most aggravating myth that I’ve encountered,” he said, adding that even some LGBT people thought their sexual orientation or gender identity is a result of trauma.

One man Farouk met through his activist work believed he was gay because he experienced sexual trauma as a child. Farouk had to explain to him that other people who hadn’t experienced trauma were gay, too, and that it is totally normal.

Dispelling this myth is challenging, as LGBT people in Libya can’t talk freely and openly. Because he had resources and a circle of LGBT friends, Farouk understood the idea that childhood trauma causes homosexuality was ridiculous. But for people who are alone, it can be a lot harder.

“To LGBT people I say: Your identity is not a product or consequence of trauma, it is inside you and it’s completely normal. You shouldn’t blame yourself for who you are,” he said.

“Your parents will accept you sooner or later. In the meantime, it’s their problem”

Liz, Algeria

Liz, a trans woman from Algeria, founded one of North Africa’s first LGBT groups. She said that she fled Algeria in 2009 because of death threats – including one she was told she’d be killed if she did not leave the country in 10 days.

For a while she lived in Lebanon, but when she was detained by police in a case of mistaken identity, they kept her in detention – even after unraveling the mix-up – because she was trans. She thought she’d never get out and was scared that if she did, they’d send her back to Algeria, where she feared for her life.

She now lives in Europe, where she is studying law.

Liz, with her friendly smile and gentle voice, speaks thoughtfully about the way that misconceptions about being transgender have harmed her.

Because she is queer as well as being trans, she constantly deals with questions from people who don’t understand why she’d make the transition to female if she was also attracted to women.

“It bothers me so much, first because it’s none of anybody’s business, but also, just because I’m trans doesn’t mean I’m straight,” she said. “We need to get out of these binaries because they are harmful to everyone.”

Liz struggled for a long time because she had no idea that being trans existed. She was bullied by her teachers and peers for acting feminine and for a long time assumed she must be a gay man.

Most countries still do not formally recognize transgender people or allow them to legally change the gender markers on official documents.

“I kept feeling like something was missing, that there’s no one out there like me, and something is wrong with me.”

When Lizfinally saw a trans woman on TV, she was overwhelmed with happiness.

Liz’s family defied another myth discussed in this video – that Arab parents will never accept their LGBT children. Although it took time, her family accepted Liz’s identity, with the help of her sister.

“Now, [my father] addresses me as his daughter and he doesn’t talk about the past, he just loves me as I am now.”

Asked what she would say to other transgender people, Liz said she would recommend that they seek out support and guidance.

“The most important thing in your life has to be you,” she said.

Read the full report.

The post Facing the Myths: LGBT Voices from the Middle East & North Africa appeared first on IFEX.

Source: MEDIA FEED

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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