Youth Start Online Forum for LGBT in the Middle East
Gay rights advocates in the Middle East have created a new website that allows for open discussion on homosexuality–an ‘offense’ that’s punishable with life imprisonment or even death throughout most of the region.
Members of Mideast Youth launched Ahwaa.org on April 16th. The self-proclaimed “grassroots digital network” describes the new project as a “bilingual tool” used to facilitate interactions among LGBT youth and their allies.
Website founder Esra’a Al Shafei tells OutQ News that her group wanted to create a safe space for members of the LGBT community since discrimination is the “norm” in the Middle East. The Bahrain native admits they were scared at first, but soon realized that the online forum was needed.
AL SHAFEI: “It’s a very serious issue, and one that has incredibly harsh consequences from members of society, from the mainstream in general, and also from the government. So, there’s very few support groups for this community, and we felt that’s where we came in.”
Al Shafei says the site has more than 100 members, though some have chosen to remain anonymous. One user recently commented: “I hope to find more people who can sympathize with our struggle for justice and equality all over the Arab and Muslim world.”
That hasn’t stopped online trolls from leaving their own “abusive” remarks, though. But Al Shafei says such web visitors are weeded out by the site’s point system–which rewards users for both posting and liking helpful comments.
Al Shafei says her group is happy with the site’s visitor numbers and is now planning a 2.0 version.