- Gay men in Morocco — where homosexuality is illegal — are fearful for their lives after an Instagram influencer encouraged her followers to use dating apps like Grindr and PlanetRomeo to find out which men in their lives are gay.
- Naofal Moussa, whose account was taken down by Instagram on Friday morning, encouraged women to use the dating apps in an Instagram Live on Monday.
- Multiple gay Moroccan men, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly, told Insider their stories.
- “I’m not just afraid,” one person told Insider via WhatsApp. “I’m certain that I will be kicked out immediately. Or worse, beaten up.”
- “Homophobic people feel empowered because the law is on their side,” Ahmed Benchemsi, the communications and advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
An Instagram influencer’s video has started a dangerous trend where women are outing gay men in Morocco — where homosexuality is illegal — after encouraging her followers there to download gay dating apps to see which men in their area identify as such.
Naoufal Moussa, a trans woman based in Turkey who is also known as Sofia Talouni, shared an Instagram Live on Monday. Speaking in Moroccan Arabic in the video, she suggested that transphobic or homophobic women should download gay dating apps, including Grindr and PlanetRomeo, using pictures of men.
Moussa’s Instagram account was removed on Friday, but a portion of the video can be seen in the post below from LGBTQ activist Adam Eli, who previously advocated for Moussa’s removal from Instagram. [Editor’s note: Business Insider reporter Irene Jiang assisted with Arabic translations. Insider’s translations of the video are largely consistent with those posted by Adam Eli in his video.]
“These apps will show you the people who are near to you. 100 meters, 200 meters, even just one meter, just next to you in the living room,” Moussa said in her video. “Since everyone is together at home, it could show you your husband in your bedroom, it could show you your son who might be in the bathroom.”
While Naoufal Moussa didn’t explicitly say people should use the apps to publicly out men in her video, multiple gay Moroccan men told Insider that it has led to a dangerous trend
A number of gay Moroccan men, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly, told Insider that many people are using the apps to out men in their community. And in some cases, they say, men are being kicked out of their homes in the midst of the pandemic.
In the days since Moussa’s video was posted, they say Facebook groups have been used to circulate pictures of the gay men on these apps, exposing them to humiliation and danger. One man told Insider on WhatsApp that had he not quickly deleted his pictures from Grindr, he would be “in a very dangerous situation right now.”
After Insider reached out to Instagram for a comment, Moussa’s account was taken down, along with many other Facebook and Instagram videos encouraging people to out gay men.
“We don’t allow people to out members of the LGBTQ+ community. It puts people at risk, so we remove this content as quickly as we can,” a spokesperson for Facebook told Insider in a statement.
Moussa had not yet responded to Insider’s requests for comment through direct messages on Instagram in the hours before her account was disabled.
Before Moussa’s Instagram account was suspended, activists like Eli, and a Moroccan LGBTQ and feminist advocacy organization, Nassawiyat, called for the influencer’s removal from the photo-sharing platform.
“We are facing a special case where a queer person that belongs to the community in a way is the one who made people in danger,” a representative for Nassawiyat told Insider in an email.
To whom it may concern, We are urgently writing to ask skateholders, organizations, associations and institutions to take immediate action by informing the concerned authorities about an active social media influencer, specifically on Instagram in order to take steps against her/him. The Instagram user’s account is named : Naoufalmoussa The person’s name is Naoufal Moussa that is known in Morocco as Sofia Talouni. Moussa is a Moroccan expat living in Turkey. He/she has got a large number of followers on her verified Instagram account, where he/she has recently began to broadcast live videos of herself that aim to expose the identities of the Moroccan queer people. Many of those people live with their families, especially nowadays due to the quarantine. Sofia clearly attacked and underestimated the Moroccan civil society associations, especially the AIDS fighting associations that are making a great effort and work really hard for the safety and well-being of the LGBTQA+ community and the Moroccan society as a whole. While homosexuality is illegal in the Moroccan law (Article 489 of the Penal Code of Morocco criminalises “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex”) and seen as a great sin by a large number of Moroccan people, homophobia is a very common act which the LGBTQA+ community suffers from here. Therefore, publically exposing the identities of the Moroccan queer people puts them at risk. Moussa has intentionally outed a lot of queer Moroccans on her Instagram live videos, as he/she has shown his/her homophobic audience the social platforms that queer people use. Such as, Grindr, Hornet, Planet Romeo…etc and encouraged them to create fake accounts to look for LGBTQA+ people there. This process has been really dangerous and harmful to the LGBTQA+ community. We urge you to contact the concerned authorities to instantly suspend the Instagram account Naoufalmoussa pending review. Then, ban him/her from the platform due to the policy of hate/speech and violence.
A post shared by NASSAWIYAT (@nassawiyat) on Apr 16, 2020 at 3:12pm PDT
Another gay Moroccan man, who is 19, told Insider that his photos are currently circulating online but haven’t reached his family yet.
“I’m not just afraid,” he told Insider via WhatsApp. “I’m certain that I will be kicked out immediately. Or worse, beaten up.”
“It is a witch hunt,” said one 20-year-old man, whose pictures are also circulating in Facebook groups as he waits for his family to learn of the news. He said he wishes his parents would just find the photos already so he’d be done with it, and “defend himself” with the “lies” that he’s been preparing.
“I’m living in constant fright,” he added.
‘Lewd or unnatural acts’ between members of the same sex are illegal in Morocco under Article 489 of the nation’s penal code and can lead to a fine and sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment
Ahmed Benchemsi, the communications and advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told Insider that he’s been looking into the recent trend sparked by Moussa’s Instagram Live.
According to Benchemsi, Moussa was directing her comments at people who had insulted her for her own sexuality and encouraging them to realize how many people around them were actually gay.
He said the outcome of Moussa’s Instagram clips can be attributed to the Moroccan government’s encouragement of homophobic behavior.
“The law inherently discriminates against LGBTQ people, so it can only be an incubator for this type of abuse,” Benchemsi said. “Homophobic people feel empowered because the law is on their side.”
Because of this, being gay in Morocco is extremely dangerous, and there have been many incidents of violence against LGBTQ individuals in the country. In 2016, a group of men broke into a home and beat up two gay men before dragging them naked onto the street, according to Human Rights Watch. In response, a Moroccan court first pressed charges against the gay men, before the attackers.
Eddine, a 23-year-old openly gay Moroccan who is also an Instagram influencer and lives in Rabat, said that while his parents have grown to respect him in the three years since he chose to come out, he doesn’t want his friends to go through this pain.
“I’m very worried and I’m very scared. I really experienced that moment when my parents knew. I left my home because I didn’t feel good,” he told Insider.
Eddine, who asked that his last name be withheld, said that as a popular Instagram influencer, he feels that it’s his duty as a publicly gay man to speak up for his community.
“The majority of people cannot talk,” he said.
Eddine and other members of the community told Insider they’ve reached out to dating apps like Grindr and PlanetRomeo to hopefully have all users notified of the situation.
Jens Schmidt, the founder and CEO of PlanetRomeo, told Insider in a statement that the company sent a security message to its Morocco-based users after being alerted to the issue.
“We were shocked when we were contacted by the LGBT group in Morocco. We took immediate action by sending a security message to all our 41,000 users in Morocco, we blocked all profiles created from the time this person addressed her users, and contacted Facebook to have the group page taken offline,” Schmidt said. “Through our work and our personal experience, we are aware that so many more people face similar threats in numerous countries.”
Similar issues with gay dating apps have occurred in other Middle Eastern and North African nations, including Egypt, where gay men have been catfished and then blackmailed or beaten up.
Representatives for Grindr did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.