In Algeria, a country where homosexuality is criminalised, a group of young activists took the risk of launching a magazine that talks about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) issues in North Africa.
El-Shad magazine – which means “abnormal” in Arabic – has been available online since November 20. Our Observer, El-Shad’s editor-in-chief O. Harim, told us about the launch of this publication, the first magazine of its kind in Algeria.
“We have no choice but to remain in the shadows”
I am part of a small group of young LGBT activists who founded this magazine. We chose the name El-Shad because it means ‘abnormal’ in Arabic and it’s a name that heterosexuals use to describe us. We decided to reappropriate it. We are abnormal-- but so is everyone else in this world. There are people of all different colours and there are also people of different sexual preferences.
All of the members of our editorial team are Algerian. Some of our members now live in France but most of us live in Algeria. We do not receive foreign money, neither from foreign embassies nor foreign LGBT groups. We are independent. The magazine is 100% Algerian and completely self-financed.
We began as activists working with an organisation called Alouen, created in Algiers in 2011. Just like this organisation, El-Shad magazine doesn’t officially exist. We don’t have offices. We work online from our homes. Sometimes, we manage to organise group work sessions, but most of the time we just use the internet. In a country where homosexuality is criminalised, we have no other choice but to remain in the shadows.
Estelle, one of the people interviewed in the first edition of "El Shad". She is transsexual and lives in Paris.
“We write to shatter stereotypes”
Our primary audience is the LGBT community in North Africa. There is already a magazine for the gay community in Algeria called Lexo Fanzine, which was created by another member of Alouen; however, there was no magazine speaking to the entirety of the LGBT community. There’s one in Morocco and Tunisia but there wasn’t one in Algeria, even though it is the largest country in Africa. According to certain estimates, one in ten people are LGBT. But many people here suffer because they aren’t able to talk about it… and if they dare to, they are rejected by both their family and society. They live in utter loneliness.
Recently, a 23-year-old man committed suicide because he was gay. I describe this tragedy in an editorial in the magazine. We are writing to create a space where LGBT people from Algeria and the rest of North Africa feel like they can be heard, where they can come to discuss and exchange freely with others. We are also writing to shatter stereotypes. Our sexual orientation may be different, but there is a richness in difference that should be celebrated.
Transgender in Algeria. Photo from the magazine "El Shad" by O. Harim.“Our first issue was in French but our next issue will be published in French and Arabic”
Each trimester, we are planning to discuss different issues in this magazine. We are planning to give organisations that work on difficult issues like AIDS and prostitution a chance to talk about their work. We want to talk about love because LGBT relationships are not just sexual. Just like heterosexual relationships, they are built on feelings.
Our first issue was written in French but our next issue will be published in French and Arabic. In this issue, we talk about the idea of transsexuality. We interviewed numerous Algerian transsexuals. All of them decided to stay anonymous, except for an Algerian who lives in Paris and now freely accepts her identity after years of loneliness and fear. I took photos of them that only show their bodies. In this issue, readers can see that transsexuals have had a mixed history of acceptance in different times in history and different places in the world. In Indonesia, for example, the largest Muslim country in the world, there are Koranic schools for transgender students. In Iran, homosexuality is criminalised but sex change operations are legal. Thus, those who decide to change genders can live there in complete legality. It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s a start because at least a few people can live their transsexuality freely.
We also spoke to different people living in North Africa to find out their opinions on transsexuality.
“We’ve received numerous death threats”
Since our magazine was first published online, we’ve received numerous death threats as well as a lot of hate mail. The internet creates a space for freedom of speech, but it also can allow people to express hate. We have been accused of all different terrible things. We know that we’re taking big risks, but, for now, most of our hate mail comes from average citizens. We haven’t received any messages from the Algerian authorities.
Homophobia in Algeria is institutionalised. The laws 333 and 338 of the Penal Code criminalise homosexuality. If someone is arrested for some reason and they turn out to be gay, they receive a more severe sentence. We want LGBTs to be treated equally under the law. But we aren’t campaigning for a specific change in legislation. We are apolitical, which is one reason that we are more or less tolerated by the authorities.
The amount of work that remains to be done is huge but, for us, it is necessary. We need this space to express ourselves and to help those who might otherwise lose hope.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Dorothée Myriam KELLOU (@dorakellou).