Attacks against gay and bisexual men in Morocco are continuing after a prominent social media influencer encouraged her followers to download gay dating apps, leading to hundreds of men having their profile pictures posted on social media and receiving death threats.
The backlash against the men was instigated by Naoufal Moussa, also known as Sofia Talouni, a Turkey-based beauty influencer whose nightly Instagram Live series was watched by more than 100,000 people.
In a broadcast two weeks ago, Moussa, speaking in Moroccan Arabic, urged her followers download apps like Grindr, PlanetRomeo, and Hornet and create fake profiles pretending to be bottoms so they could see which people near them identify as gay. She claimed her aim was to call out hypocrisy in Moroccan society by showing people how many men are secretly gay in the country.
Although Moussa did not say directly to out the people with profiles on the apps, people took matters into their own hands and began sharing pictures of the men in question on social media, prompting activists to urge gay and bisexual men to delete their accounts — thus cutting off another outlet for those who may be suffering in silence.
Homosexuality is criminalized in Morocco, and there are penalties for people suspected of engaging in same-sex relations. For now, though, the country is in lockdown due to COVID-19 and people are interacting with their families during the holy month of Ramadan — making it much worse for men who have been outed.
LGBTQ activists say the men are being beaten, harassed, or subjected to forms of conversion therapy to try and change their sexual orientation.
“It’s a double-edged sword. You might be in lockdown with homophobic family, and with Ramadan, people are very concerned about morality, and things might get heated,” Samir el Mouti, the organizer behind a Facebook group called The Moroccan LGBT Community, told BBC News. “A lot of people become a watchdog for so-called wrongdoings and they are outing people, calling on them to repent.”
Mouti, who has since moved to the United Kingdom to study for a PhD, says the number of men reporting abuse and asking for help has increased significantly since Moussa’s stunt.
One man who wrote to the Facebook group said he feels like “a dead man.”
“I’m in great trouble. Everyone knows now that I’m homosexual, and my neighbor sexually harassed me, so I decided to flee,” he wrote. “I have nowhere to go — especially during lockdown.”
According to the Moroccan publication Le Desk, one man who returned from France during the lockdown hung himself after he was outed.
The LGBTQ organizations Nassawiyat and Kif Kif are trying to assist some of the men who have been outed to ensure they can find places to stay. The problem facing those who are forced out of their homes because they are gay is that they effectively become homeless, because hotels are closed and special permission is required to travel between cities, advocates say.
Nassawiyat reported Moussa’s Instagram Live to Grindr and Facebook. Other LGBTQ organizations also successfully managed to get her Instagram account taken down, but she has allegedly created a new one and began amassing followers once again.
Mouti warned BBC News that there will be many more men affected by Moussa’s “outing” stunt, particularly after quarantine is lifted.
“What we’ve seen is just the tip of the iceberg — many people are suffering in silence,” he said.
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