A magazine for gay men in the Arab world

The World

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

Throughout much of the Arab world, homosexuality is condemned by religion, rejected by society, and prosecuted by the authorities. Men who openly identify as gay face the kind of discrimination not seen in the west for decades. Still, one Moroccan man is taking huge risks to start an online magazine specifically for gay Arab men.

He’s feels forced to remain anonymous, he told PRI’s the World, “Because I have a job and a social life I have to protect. If someone stumbled on my name in the news it would be a disaster. It’s social suicide to come out here. So I can’t, for now.”

The online monthly magazine caused a furor in Morocco when it was launched in April and has received six million visits so far. A few hundred printed copies of the magazine were distributed personally and very carefully.

The name of the magazine is “Mithly” — a new Arabic term for gay. It comes from the root “mithl,” meaning “alike, similar.” Existing Arabic words for homosexual are all pejorative, “lothi” from the story of Lot in the Bible, and the word “shaath.” The editor of Mithly told The World:

Shaath, yes. Shaath means pervert. Am I a pervert? No. This kind of word has nothing to do with homosexuality. This humiliates the homosexual. We wanted to change. We wanted another term of reference. Mithly just means who love the same sex.

The editor says it was important to come up with an Arabic word, rather than just using the Western term gay, to emphasize that gay men in the Arab world are part of society. For many gay Arab men, that inclusion is taking place online. It was thanks to an online discussion forum that the editor first discovered that he wasn’t “the only gay in Morocco,” he says. Today, Mithly magazine is spreading that message.

PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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