Observers

A growing number of gay Moroccans have had their sexual orientation revealed on social media without their consent over the past few weeks. The wave of revelations began when a transgender influencer encouraged her followers to visit gay dating sites and “out” people. In Morocco, where homosexuality is criminalised, outing people puts them in danger, particularly when many of them are on Covid-19 lockdown with their families. At least one person has died by suicide after being outed.

On April 10, trans social media influencer Sofia Talouni, who is originally from Morocco but who has been living in Turkey, did an Instagram Live feed. She has 619,000 followers, most of whom are women. 

In the 50-minute video, Talouni invited another social media user (who was identified by his full name and the name of the town where he lives) to join the live feed. She then forced him to “admit” that he is gay, by showing images of him on Grindr, a dating site for gay and bisexual men, then asking him the same question over and over: “Enta loubia?”, which roughly translates to “Are you a fag?” The young man eventually broke down and answered “yes,” and quit the live.

Talouni then told her audience she is tired of the hypocrisy around homosexuality in Morocco. Formerly a closeted gay man herself, she said that if she took the risk to live life in the open, others should too. “You see, it’s better to just admit it. At first, you're ashamed, but in the end, you admit it.... You could go to prison, get killed or stoned and you still won’t own up to it.... I won’t stay silent any longer!”
 
At the request of numerous users, Instagram deleted Talouni’s account on April 17. We have chosen to only publish screengrabs of the video in question.
 
In a second Instagram feed on April 13, which was streamed by more than 100,000 users, Talouni urged her followers: “Girls, go and download gay dating apps.... The apps will show men in your area who have signed up. Pose as a 'passive' man so that you can call out the men who call themselves 'active' and hide behind the facade of a virile man. For those who think that their man is irreproachable, for mothers who insult gay people, for those who say to me, 'My man is more of a man than you, Sofia' -- now is your opportunity.”


Talouni suggested her viewers use the apps' localisation features: "You might find someone who is 200, 100 metres away. You might even find someone half a metre from you, in your living room or in your bedroom.” She told her followers to keep her updated on who they find on the apps-- be it a husband, a brother, a cousin or an uncle who is living a double life. “After lockdown, if they ever try to keep you from living your life, confront them with the ‘proof’ that you’ve gathered,” she said.

Instagram user's appeal prompts wave of outings 

Numerous viewers took Talouni’s call-to-action seriously. A wave of outings began on April 14, the day after Talouni’s second Instagram feed. Just as Talouni had instructed, some of her viewers created accounts on the apps, posing as gay men. They engaged in conversations with other users, took screengrabs and posted them online, alongside the men’s photos and sometimes their telephone numbers. 

Members of the LGBTQ community quickly realised the scale of the movement and flagged users who were outing gay men. But in the meantime, however, the names and photos of some users of these apps had already circulated widely. LGBTQ activists reported numerous physical attacks on the men who were outed - though not the man originally outed in Talouni's April 10 feed, who has posted messages on social media reassuring his friends that he is safe. 
 

Moroccan journalist Hicham Tahir says he was contacted by several victims, including a high-school student whose classmates discovered his online profile, and a young man whose cousin threatened to reveal everything to his ultra-conservative father. “At least one suicide has been confirmed,” Tahir told the FRANCE 24 Observers, "but the number could be higher because families will hide a suicide if it is tied to their child’s sexual orientation.”

“The one in green is married, that son of a whore,” wrote the person who shared these photos, taken from a dating app.

“They don’t have anywhere where they can seek refuge, to keep from dying”

Mala Badi is a trans activist who works with the group Queer Revolution Morocco. Badi says it is a shame that gay Moroccan men can no longer trust the anonymity of gay dating sites, in a country where homosexuality is punishable by six months to three years in prison:
 
The dating sites were a breath of freedom. In my day, you had to go out in the streets to flirt with a man. And you felt so victorious when you got a phone number! Now even dating apps are being invaded by homophobes. 

Domestic violence against queer people isn’t new but it is worse during lockdown. The problem in Morocco is that if you are the victim of a homophobic attack you can’t even go to the police because you might get locked up yourself. And a queer person who gets locked up will experience more violence in prison; they might even die there.

Talouni’s statements fall into a long history in the media, in law and even in the educational system of painting queer people as insane. From childhood, we learn to use words to describe queer people that project the abnormal, the bizarre, even the aberrant. That’s where hate towards people because of their gender or sexual orientation starts.

Moroccan LGBTQ rights organizations gather proof of all of the hate speech and calls to violence, like this post that reads: "We need to gather them all in one place and burn them.”
 
Mala was kicked out by her parents when she told them she was trans. She was able to go and stay with friends. But not everyone is that lucky.
 
During quarantine, we know that there are hundreds, at the very least, who are trapped with their families and suffering. They don’t have anywhere where they can seek refuge, to keep from dying. 

Since Talouni posted her videos, a number of groups and well-known people have issued warnings, telling people to be careful on dating apps. One is Moroccan influencer Adam Eli, who reported Talouni’s account. Instagram suspended the account on April 17. 


A number of LGBTQ organizations in the Arab world also warned their communities about the wave of outings. After learning about the situation, the apps Grindr, Hornet and Planet Romeo all warned their users in Morocco and advised them to suspend their accounts for the time being. Planet Romeo also deleted all of the new profiles created in the two days following the release of Talouni’s video. 

Arabic-language LGBTQ groups have been warning gay Moroccan men about the outing campaign on gay dating sites.

Moroccan law criminalises the dissemination of personal information, including outing. 
The director general for Moroccan National Security announced on April 24 the launch of a preliminary investigation into “incitement of hatred and discrimination”.  

“Victims must file individual complaints in order for them to be registered. But homosexuality is criminalised under the law, so this process doesn’t work,” says Walid Ennis, an LGBTQ activist.

In 2018, 170 people were arrested on charges of homosexuality in Morocco, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. 

Article by Fatma Ben Hamad.