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Coming out in Arabic

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Filed: Country: United Kingdom

Coming out in Arabic

Brian Whitaker reports on a lesbian group's struggle for acceptance in the Middle East

Monday October 2, 2006

Guardian Unlimited

When Rauda Morcos heard there was an emailing list for lesbian Palestinians, she

couldn't believe it at first. "I thought it was a joke," she said. "Until then, I thought

I was the only lesbian who speaks Arabic."

The list was certainly not a joke but, in a society where same-sex relations are still

taboo, its members guarded their privacy. The only way a newcomer could join was

by personal recommendation.

"Eventually I got in," Ms Morcos recalled, "and I found a lot of other [lesbian] women

who couldn't be out."

After corresponding by email for a few months, she thought it would be good to talk

with some of the invisible women face to face, so, in January 2003, Ms Morcos and

her flatmate called a meeting.

"We had no expectations," she said, "but eight women turned up. The meeting lasted

eight hours and I don't think anybody wanted to go home."

That, it later turned out, marked the birth of Aswat ("Voices") - the first openly-

functioning organisation for Arab lesbians in the Middle East.

"We realised we had a great responsibility towards other women in our community,"

Ms Morcos continued. "We tried to contact many organisations and sent out letters

but the only reply came from Kayan ["Being"], a group of feminists in Haifa ... Many

NGOs don't count it as a human rights issue or want to be associated."

Three years on, though, Aswat is firmly established with more than 70 members spread

across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel (where the organisation is based). Only about

20 attend its meetings; the need to keep their sexuality secret, plus Israeli restrictions

on movement, prevent others from attending but they keep in touch through email

and an online discussion forum.

Beyond the group itself, there are also signs of acceptance in a few places. "We do a

lot of work within the community, for example with youth groups, counsellors, and so

on," Ms Morcos said. "That proves to me at least that the gay/lesbian movement has

started for us as Palestinians."

One of Aswat's main goals is to provide information about sexuality that is widely

available elsewhere but has never been published in Arabic. This is not simply a matter

of translation; it's also about developing "a 'mother tongue' with positive, un-derogatory

and affirmative expressions of women and lesbian sexuality and gender ... We are

creating a language that no one spoke before".

If women are to find their voice, the language needs to be re-appropriated, Ms Morcos

explains in an article on Aswat's website. "I have forgotten my language. I don't know

how to say 'to make love' in Arabic without it sounding chauvinistic, aggressive and

alien to the experience."

Recognition for Aswat's work came earlier this year when Ms Morcos won the 2006

Felipa de Souza award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

The citation described her as "a true example of courageous and effective human rights

leadership", but Ms Morcos is quick to point out that other women are also doing a lot

of work behind the scenes.

Speaking to a standing-room-only meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign during

a visit to London last week, she explained that necessity has made her the public face

of Aswat. Many of the women involved do not want to be identified - often with good

reason. "But if we don't want to come out as persons, let's at least come out as a

movement," she said.

Ms Morcos's own coming-out was not entirely voluntary and proved particularly

unpleasant. In 2003 she gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot

about the poetry she writes. In passing, she mentioned her sexuality - only to find that

the L-word turned up in the newspaper's headline. An article on Aswat's website

describes what happened next:

"All of a sudden, the Arab population of her home town [in northern Israel], which she

generally assumed to have no interest in the literary supplements of Hebrew newspapers,

seemed to have read the article and had something to say about her. Local corner shop

owners made photocopies and distributed it, because, after all, everyone knew it was

about the daughter of so-and-so from their own town.

"The consequences of that article were far more serious than Ms Morcos had imagined:

her car windows were smashed and tyres were punctured several times, she received

innumerable threatening letters and phone calls, and, to top it all, 'coincidentally' lost

her job as a school teacher, since parents of pupils complained that they did not want

her as a teacher."

Arab society today is riddled with the kind of anti-gay prejudices that were found in

Britain half a century ago, and persecution is common. Muslim clerics condemn

homosexuality in no uncertain terms, though similar statements can be heard from

Arab Christian leaders too, such as the Coptic Pope in Egypt who once declared that

"so-called human rights" for gay people were "unthinkable".

With a few exceptions here and there, this is the prevailing attitude in all the Arab

countries, but in Palestinian society the issue of gay rights is further complicated - and

made much more political - by the conflict with Israel.

Israel legalised same-sex relations between men in 1988. Four years later, it went a step

further and became the only country in the Middle East that outlaws discrimination based

on sexuality. A series of court cases then put the theory into practice - for example, when

El Al was forced to provide a free ticket for the partner of a gay flight attendant, as the

airline already did for the partners of its straight employees.

These are undisputed achievements but they have also become a propaganda tool,

reinforcing Israel's claim to be the only liberal, democratic society in the Middle East.

At the same time, highlighting Israel's association with gay rights has made life more

difficult for gay Arabs, adding grist to the popular notion that homosexuality is a "disease"

spread by foreigners.

Linking the twin enemies of Israel and homosexuality provides a double whammy for

Arab propagandists, as can be seen from sections of the Egyptian press. In an article

to mark the 30th anniversary of the October war, a headline in the Egyptian paper

Sabah al-Kheir announced: "Golda Meir was a lesbian." In 2001, following the mass

arrest of more than 50 allegedly gay men, al-Musawwar magazine published a doctored

photograph of the supposed ringleader, showing him in an Israeli army helmet and

sitting at a desk with an Israeli flag.

Israel, however, is not quite the gay paradise that many imagine. There is still hostility

from conservative Jews, and some of their blood-curdling statements are not very different

from the more widely publicised remarks of Muslim clerics. In Jerusalem last year, the

ultra-Orthodox mayor banned a pride march, though an Israeli court promptly overturned

his decision. As the parade took place, a Jewish religious fanatic attacked three marchers

with a knife and reportedly told the police he had come "to kill in the name of God".

The gay rights movement in Israel also has a questionable history. Lee Walzer, author

of Between Sodom and Eden, explains in an article that the first Israeli activists pursued

"a very mainstream strategy" that "reinforced the perception that gay rights was a

non-partisan issue, unconnected to the major fissure in Israeli politics, the Arab-Israeli

conflict and how to resolve it".

"Embracing gay rights," he continues, "enabled Israelis to pat themselves on the back

for being open-minded, even as Israeli society wrestled less successfully with other

social inequalities."

As part of their strategy, activists sought "to convince the wider public that gay Israelis

were good patriotic citizens who just happened to be attracted to the same sex". As a

general principle this may be valid, but in the context of war and occupation it leads into

murky territory. Should it really be a matter of pride that openly gay members of the

Israeli armed forces are just as capable of wreaking havoc on neighbouring Lebanon

as the next person?

The question here is whether gay rights - in Israel or elsewhere - can really be divorced

from politics or treated in isolation from other human rights. Helem, the Lebanese gay

and lesbian organisation, thinks not, arguing that gay rights are an inseparable part of

human rights - as does Ms Morcos.

For Ms Morcos, there's a connection between nationality, gender and sexuality. She has

a triple identity, as a lesbian, a woman and a Palestinian (despite having an Israeli

passport) - "a minority within a minority within a minority", as she puts it. Her first concern,

though, is to end the Israeli occupation, and she sees no prospect of achieving gay rights

for Palestinians while it continues.

Nowadays, the more radical Israeli activists also acknowledge a linkage. In 2001, Walzer

recalls, "Tel Aviv's pride parade, typically a celebratory, hedonistic affair, got a dose of

politics when a contingent called 'Gays in Black' marched with a banner proclaiming,

'There's No Pride In Occupation'." Later, a group called Kvisa Sh'chora ("Dirty Laundry")

sprang up and began drawing parallels between the oppression of sexual minorities and

Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

The issue was further highlighted in 2002 when Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime

minister to formally meet a gay delegation. Activist Hagai El-Ad asked: "Is this an

achievement for our community, or an example of a lack of feeling, callousness and loss

of direction?"

He continued: "It would be unbearable to simply sit with the prime minister and, on behalf

of our minority, ignore the human rights of others, including what's been happening here

in relation to Palestine for the past year: roadblocks, prevention of access to medical care,

assassinations, and implementation of an apartheid policy in the territories and in Israel.

"The struggle for our rights is worthless if it's indifferent to what's happening to people

a kilometre from here.

"All we get by holding the meeting with the prime minister," he concluded, "is symbolic

legitimacy for the community. What he gets for sitting down with us is the mantle of

enlightenment and pluralism."

This mantle of enlightenment and pluralism does not, however, extend to Israel's treatment

of gay Palestinians. For those who face persecution in the West Bank and Gaza, the most

obvious escape route is to Israel, but this often leaves them trapped in an administrative

no-man's-land with little hope of getting a proper job in Israel and constantly at risk of

arrest and deportation.

Meanwhile, as far as the average Palestinian is concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal

of the cause, and gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under

suspicion - not always without good reason. There have been various reports of gay

Palestinians being targeted or pressurised by Israeli intelligence to act as informers.

Whether or not they actually succumb to the pressure, all inevitably come under suspicion.

"Gays in Palestine are seen as collaborators immediately," said Ms Morcos.


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Filed: K-3 Visa Country: Mexico

I concur.



Ana (Mexico) ------ Daniel (California)(me)


Sept. 11, 2004: Got married (civil), in Mexico :D

July 23, 2005: Church wedding



Oct. 28, 2004: Mailed I-129F.

~USPS, First-Class, Certified Mail, Rtn Recpt ($5.80)

Nov. 3, 2004: NOA1!!!!

Nov. 5, 2004: Check Cashed!!

zzzz deep hibernationn zzzz

May 12, 2005 NOA2!!!! #######!!! huh???

off to NVC.

May 26, 2005: NVC approves I129F.


Oct. 6, 2004: Mailed I-130.

~USPS, First-Class, Certified Mail, Rtn Recpt ($5.80)

Oct. 8, 2004: I-130 Delivered to CSC in Laguna Niguel.

~Per USPS website's tracking tool.

Oct. 12, 2004 BCIS-CSC Signs for I-130 packet.

Oct. 21, 2004 Check cashed!

Oct. 25, 2004 NOA1 (I-130) Go CSC!!

Jan. 05, 2005 Approved!!!! Off to NVC!!!!



Jan. 05, 2005 ---> in route from CSC

Jan. 12, 2005 Case entered system

Jan. 29, 2005 Received I-864 Bill

Jan. 31, 2005 Sent Payment to St. Louis(I864)

Feb. 01, 2005 Wife received DS3032(Choice of Agent)

Feb. 05, 2005 Payment Received in St. Louis(I864)

Feb. 08, 2005 Sent DS3032 to Portsmouth NH

Feb. 12, 2005 DS3032 Received by NVC

Mar. 04, 2005 Received IV Bill

Mar. 04, 2005 Sent IV Bill Payment

Mar. 08, 2005 Received I864

Mar. 19, 2005 Sent I864

Mar. 21, 2005 I864 Received my NVC

Apr. 18, 2005 Received DS230

Apr. 19, 2005 Sent DS230

Apr. 20, 2005 DS230 received by NVC (signed by S Merfeld)

Apr. 22, 2005 DS230 entered NVC system

Apr. 27, 2005 CASE COMPLETE


Off to Cd. Juarez! :D

calls to NVC: 6


CIUDAD JUAREZ, American Consulate:

Apr. 27, 2005 case completed at NVC.

May 10, 2005 in route to Juarez.

May 25, 2005 Case at consulate.


-- Legal Disclaimer:What I say is only a reflection of what I did, going to do, or may do; it may also reflect what I have read others did, are going to do, or may do. What you do or may do is what you do or may do. You do so or may do so strictly out of your on voilition; or follow what a lawyer advised you to do, or may do. Having said that: have a nice day!

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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Morocco

Reading this, I was struck by two things.

One, that the Internet has brought together people who otherwise would never have the opportunity.

Two, the fact that Israel is home to an Arab gay organization speaks volumes.

Me -.us Her -.ma


I-129F NOA1: 8 Dec 2003

Interview Date: 13 July 2004 Approved!

US Arrival: 04 Oct 2004 We're here!

Wedding: 15 November 2004, Maui

AOS & EAD Sent: 23 Dec 2004

AOS approved!: 12 July 2005

Residency card received!: 4 Aug 2005

I-751 NOA1 dated 02 May 2007

I-751 biometrics appt. 29 May 2007

10 year green card received! 11 June 2007

Our son Michael is born!: 18 Aug 2007

Apply for US Citizenship: 14 July 2008

N-400 NOA1: 15 July 2008

Check cashed: 17 July 2008

Our son Michael is one year old!: 18 Aug 2008

N-400 biometrics: 19 Aug 2008

N-400 interview: 18 Nov 2008 Passed!

Our daughter Emmy is born!: 23 Dec 2008

Oath ceremony: 29 Jan 2009 Complete! Woo-hoo no more USCIS!

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hmmmm...this is interesting indeed

Peace to All creatures great and small............................................

But when we turn to the Hebrew literature, we do not find such jokes about the donkey. Rather the animal is known for its strength and its loyalty to its master (Genesis 49:14; Numbers 22:30).


my burro, bosco ..enjoying a beer in almaty


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