Rabat – Morocco-based LGBTQ+ group Nassawiyat, which translates to “feminists,” studies the marginalization and rights violations against Morocco’s minority groups amid the pandemic in its recent report “Loubya fi Zamane Corona” (Arabic for Beans in the time of Corona).
“Loubya” or “beans” in English, is a slur widely used by Moroccan social media users to refer to a queer person.
The report summarizes the living conditions of the LGBTQ+ community in Morocco during the lockdown through a series of interviews that members of the Nassawiyat collective conducted.
Despite its difficulties, the pandemic has shown solidarity between Moroccan LGBTQ+ activists and international NGOs to call out homophobia, the report found.
Nassawiyat has actively provided moral and financial support for those who suffer from severe consequences due misconceptions surrounding the queer community.
It is also heavily engaged in public awareness-raising. The educational campaign “Did You Know?”, which Nassawiyat launched on May 17, 2020 in Moroccan Arabic, offered a series of video-capsules and images on YouTube and other platforms to educate people on a variety of taboo topics in Moroccan society such as gender and sexuality.
The campaign, which ended in June 2020, spread informative statements about the queer community. It caught the public’s attention and initiated debates about homosexuality and the stereotypes surrounding those whose gender identity or sexual orientation contradicts Morocco’s penal code.
In collaboration with different Moroccan activists and organizations that aim to improve the current situation in favor of the queer community, Nassawiyat chose arts for their artivism campaign “Nassawiy’Art.” The campaign provided a way for Morocco’s LGBTQ+ activists to express themselves, to spread the message, and to raise awareness for social change and the realization of full rights.
Nassawiyat also organized a campaign under the theme “Moroccan queers for Black lives” to stand against anti-Blackness and racism.
The challenges behind Nassawiyat’s efforts
The absence of concrete laws that prevent violence against minorities escalated cyberbullying during the pandemic. An outing campaign took place during the same period. Social media users publicly “exposed” many for their sexual/gender orientation. The campaign also heightened hate speech and led many to retreat into prolonged silence.
According to a study by NGO Akaliyat, which translates to “minorities,” only 14% of violence victims have filed a complaint. The report explains why: “Fear of retaliation, of being detained when filing the complaint, the awareness of the systemic inequities, fear of breach of confidentiality, distrust in local authorities, but also the connection with the assaulter (fear of vengeance, scandal, or impact to family reputation) are the main reasons of the lack of recourse to justice.”
The Moroccan penal code heavily punishes relationships and sexual orientations that do not conform to the Moroccan and Islamic context by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine ranging from $20 (MAD 200) to $100 (MAD 1,000).
Morocco has signed many international conventions in terms of providing safety and security for its citizens with no exception. Despite that, the “discriminatory laws” do not ensure any protection for the population who do not identify as cisgender. Many LGBTQ+ activists consider articles 489, 490, and 491 of Morocco’s penal code a violation of their rights as human beings.
Ongoing violence against homosexuality in Morocco
The lockdown has been particularly rough for queer Moroccans, Nassawiyat’s report found. Online violence cases have risen and many of the victims had to conceal their identity from their families for fear of being harassed and abused.
A representative from Nassawiyat spoke to Morocco World News about the obstacles they dealt with during COVID-19: “One of the biggest challenges we faced was the pandemic. As the lockdown continued, we couldn’t reach as many people as we wanted. As we didn’t have enough resources, we opened our own houses for the victims.”
Online violence very much translates to real-world suffering.
Approximating the number of cases that the online campaign prompted during lockdown was difficult. “It is hard to know the exact number since many of the victims live in small areas that we unfortunately can’t reach,” they said. “We focused on those in our surroundings and those who made it in the media’s headlines.”
“We are still working to reach more people,” they added.
The outing of dozens of Moroccan gay men goes against the online community regulations of major social media platforms.
Nassawiyat and other Moroccan LGBTQ+ NGOs reacted to the matter by contacting Facebook, Instagram, and dating apps for this community. The platforms responded positively to their request through suspending the creation of new accounts in Morocco and eventually taking down the influencer’s profile who first initiated the hateful campaign.
But the challenges do not end there.
According to the report “Loubya fi Zamane Corona,” one of the survivors who tried to file a complaint about an online bully was welcomed with “hostile glances” from his local police station in Sidi Kacem, a small city in northern Morocco. After a heated discussion and with the refusal to register his complaint, police held the victim in custody for two days.
The victim explains in the report: “(…) when I proclaimed that I was entitled to reporting the defamation and death threats under the law and that it was my civic right; he proceeded to file a report against me for ‘contempt of cop’ /’disrespect offense.’ I was held for observation without the right of making a phone call, getting a legal representative or paying my bail. My health condition was ignored and I was denied my life saving medication so much so that I fell terribly ill and had to be transported to the hospital.”
In May 2020, another person received backlash after a Moroccan media outlet publicly shared their picture and personal information, causing them “significant psychological distress.”
In terms of resources to tackle harassment and abuse, Nassawiyat clarified: “We still lack direct services for the LGBTQI+ community when it comes to mental and physical health, as well as resources for digital safety, especially for survivors of hate speech and violence.”
But there are more ways to combat discrimination. Nassawiyat recommends media outlets to shed the light on the challenges minorities face and stand up against all forms of discrimination.
As the battle for LGBTQ+ rights in Morocco continues, the Nassawiyat representative hopes that the initiatives will change the current legal and social situation.
“It is hard to make a change in a short period of time. However, we are happy that our initiatives created a positive debate among Moroccans, which made them notice our existence,” they declared.