Challenging anti-LGBTIQ bias in Arabic media

Arabic-language media on display. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)
Arabic-language publications on display. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

Arabic-language media regularly display anti-LGBTIQ bias, often using loaded words for sexual minorities that mean “faggots,” “sinners,” “immoral” and “devil worshippers.” A new project from OutRight Action International seeks to change that.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, writes:

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International. (Donna Aceto photo courtesy of Gay City News)
Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International. (Donna Aceto photo courtesy of Gay City News)

All around the world the use of homophobic and transphobic language in the media has perpetuated prejudice and lies about the LGBTIQ community. OutRight has worked with hundreds of journalists over the years to change this because we know that better coverage of LGBTIQ issues in the media will lead to more positive perceptions of LGBTIQ people in society.

I’m excited to tell you about our new media project aimed at creating positive impact on Arabic-language media in the Middle East and North Africa.

Over the past few months OutRight has been monitoring local and national newspapers, radio, TV channels, and social media with fearless partners from the region. We found overwhelming evidence of derogatory terminology, hate speech inspired by religious doctrine, medical misinformation, and legal fallacies being used to describe LGBTIQ people.

Some interesting findings of the report include;

  • Out of 332 articles analyzed in the time period, 260 contained derogatory terms to describe LGBTIQ people
  • Some common words used to describe LGBTIQ people basically mean “faggots” “sinners” “immoral” and “devil worshippers”
  • 45% of the articles concerned incidents of arrest, detention or trials of LGBTIQ people.
  • Less than 10 stories out of 332 articles reviewed were about violence against LGBTIQ people.
  • Higher incidents of hate speech against LGBTIQ people were documented from online platforms than from print media.

Nazeeha Saeed, OutRight’s Arabic Media Coordinator, noted that not all of the coverage was negative, and said,

Nazeeha Saeed (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)
Nazeeha Saeed (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

“While most of the reporting is very negative and even derogatory, there are a few noteworthy exceptions. For example, when media reported on singer Ricky Martin’s engagement to a Syrian boyfriend, the language was surprisingly neutral. I think the reason is that foreign musicians and artists are given more leeway in society – and so the reporting also becomes more accepting.”

This project has been possible thanks to an individual donor who believed so much in the idea that media can change hearts and minds that he funded the first phase of the project. OutRight is now in the process of developing a media training geared towards correcting common misunderstandings about LGBTIQ people among Arab journalists and promoting the use of more neutral terminology used by the United Nations to cover these issues.

The study and media training guide are geared at making media coverage of LGBTIQ communities in the Arab-speaking world more accurate and fair.

You can check out OutRight’s Persian and Caribbean media training guides which have been used in workshops all over the world with huge success.

Be on the lookout for our Arabic media monitoring report on our website, Facebook, and Twitter soon!

If you would like to personally receive a copy of the report please email Rashima Kwatra at

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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