It was this past September in Cairo, Egypt, when Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila were playing to a crowd of 30,000 fans. But what started out as a moment of music and celebration turned a sharp corner when seven people were arrested for raising a rainbow flag (the band’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay), charged with “promoting sexual deviancy.”
That concert has sparked a battleground for LGBTQ rights — and safety — in Egypt. As of October, nearly 40 people had been arrested as part of a crackdown on the queer community.
Despite homosexuality not being outright illegal in the country, gay men are routinely harassed, discriminated against and arrested on charges of debauchery, immorality and blasphemy.
On Oct. 26, Hornet broke the story that the Egyptian parliament had proposed a new anti-gay law in the African nation, seeking to imprison LGBTQ people with up to three years in prison for first offenses, five years for those thereafter. The proposed law itself labels gays and lesbians “perverts” in Arabic.
And last month, on Nov. 27, 14 men were sentenced to three years in prison — prosecuted for incitement to debauchery — with more arrests expected. As an Egyptian presidential election looms, LGBTQs are being used as a scapegoat to garner support against conservative hardliners.
“While it isn’t the first time the government has gone after gay and transgender communities, this most recent effort is, according to human rights activists I work with, unprecedented,” Hornet President Sean Howell recently said to Newsweek following a trip of his own to Egypt.
While there, Howell met with some of the Egyptian LGBTQ community’s activists, many of whom required anonymity due to being on the government’s “wanted list.”
Hornet has a history of implementing security measures tailored to regional socio-political issues, and so has steadfastly dedicated itself to its user base in Egypt, which is significant. Increased outreach in Arabic has been coupled with security warning alerts and safety tips for avoiding entrapment.
Before and during his trip to Egypt and his meeting with gay Muslim leaders there, the question on Howell’s mind was simple: “Should Hornet be in Egypt?” But as one of the only available spaces for Egyptian LGBTs to be open about their sexuality, the answer is a resounding yes.
“Hornet is working with local NGOs, lawyers, foreign ministries and international press outlets to apply pressure to the Egyptian government to establish a safe environment for the LGBTQ community in Egypt,” says Howell. “Until we are all free to live and love openly, I, alongside everyone at Hornet, will stand in solidarity with our users. We will not give up the fight.”
Xavier Héraud, Hornet’s Senior Editor in France, is a journalist and photographer based in Paris who has worked in LGBT media for 17 years. He is the co-founder and former editor in chief of France’s first LGBT news website, Yagg, and he is the co-author of the Gay Youth Survival Guide.
Featured image courtesy of AP