BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — An online magazine is calling on readers in Arab countries to photograph themselves bearing messages against homophobia and the silence of media about queer issues.
According to Pink News, Aswat magazine's "Love for All" initiative was launched on Facebook to dovetail with International Day Against Homophobia on May 17.
Among the messages that have been posted was one that reads, "If I weren't gay, I wouldn't have learned four languages. I needed these languages after being rejected by my society. I had to learn three languages to communicate with people outside of my society. My homosexuality is responsible for 90 percent of my knowledge and culture."
Another says, "Homophobia does not have a religion. I am Muslim and I am against homophobia."
Al Jazeera says submissions have been received from Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco and Algeria. The messages are mostly written on cards that block the faces of messengers to avoid revealing the identities of those involved.
“We started this campaign to peacefully protest online the upsetting conditions that our community lives in in the Arab world, to demand revoking laws that criminalize same-sex relations, and to protect sexual minorities within their own societies,” reads a statement issued by the magazine and published on Tunisia Live.
"We, Aswat magazine, believe it is our moral responsibility to raise awareness about the occasion. The success of the campaign has been overwhelming and LGBTQ Arabs have been sending us their voices through signs they made,” Aswat staff member Maher Alhaj told Tunisia Live.
Alhaj says the magazine's goal, in part, is to "educate the Arab world about LGBTQ issues" and to "reach out to others as well who might have many misconceptions about us." Alhaj says the internet is playing a critical role in helping to improve the landscape for queer rights by facilitating connections among people who learn from and are inspired by what others are doing.
"Homosexuality is natural and a beautiful thing and our laws need to change to accommodate that," Alhaj says. "For that to happen, we need to change the conversation in the Arab world and to educate people about our beautiful existence and to 'normalize' this issue.
"Aswat magazine is just one media outlet that hopes to do that and to effect change. Our LGBTQ community exists but we are invisible, and that has to change. With that said, I think our ﬁght is still in the primitive stages and before we ﬁght for marriage and adoption rights, we need to ﬁght for our existence and visibility," he concludes.
Aswat, which was launched in April last year, is based in Morocco, but its writers and staff live both in and out of the Arab world. It is issued monthly in a PDF format and can be downloaded for free.