A Jordanian LGBT-focused online magazine published its first Arabic-language issue, slaughtering sacred cows and fending off the outcry from the kingdom’s conservative population.
The online magazine My.Kali, named after its founder Khalid Abdel-Hadi, went live eight years ago in English. By unprecedentedly publishing a joint Arabic-English issue a few weeks ago for May/June, the magazine’s editors knew they were opening themselves to more criticism at home and the possibility of physical danger.
Yet after receiving requests from the Arab LGBT community to publish in their native tongue in order “to expand awareness” of their issues, Abdel-Hadi decided it was time to take the step, he told the Jordanian site al Kawn News.
The magazine’s newest issue has two cover photos, one in Arabic and one in English, both of Yara Kakish, the Jordanian jiu-jitsu star, who is not gay but who is paving a feminist path in the Hashemite Kingdom by dominating international tournaments in her sport.
The bilingual magazine does not include all the same stories in both languages. For example, in English there is a story titled “What have we been missing out on when it comes to online dating?”
In Arabic, the stories are arguably more controversial and targeted toward a Middle Eastern audience.
One story in Arabic is an interview with a married Jordanian cleric who had to flee his home after declaring he was gay. Another story in Arabic, written by a young Iraqi writer, asks whether Umm Kulthum, one of the Arabic world’s most adored musicians with a near-sacred status, was a lesbian.
Not all the stories featured in My.Kali are about LGBT issues. The magazine also tackles women’s rights, personal politics, freedom of speech, new media and the arts.
Anger but no death threats
The editors of My.Kali have been accused by some in Jordan of trying to “spread homosexuality,” “undermining the traditions and culture of Jordanian society” and acting for a “foreign agenda.”
But in a July 19 statement on the magazine’s Facebook, the founder writes they “are not receiving death threats as is being reported in international media,” and have only faced “some negative comments made on local media Facebook pages.”
In a separate statement published in Arabic and English on July 15, the magazine’s founder rebuffs the criticism of his work.
“[My.Kali] is purely the product of an ever-changing collective of Arab and North African heterosexual and LGBTQIA youth who are interested in presenting marginalized voices with a platform through which to express their issues, interests and creativity,” the statement says.
The statement adds: “The Jordanian LGBTQ community has always been an inherent part of the country’s social fabric.”
In a 2009 issue, My.Kali’s founder appeared on the cover shirtless, wearing a traditional Jordanian keffiyeh over his bare chest.
“I wanted to be part of a cover that gives a sense of belonging and pride, to reflect the relation between being LGBT and Arab/Jordanian,” he wrote.
While Jordan legalized homosexuality in 1952, and is still one of the only Middle Eastern countries to do so, a 2015 US State Department report on human rights found that discrimination in the kingdom is widespread. A 2015 Pew Research poll found 97% of Jordanians still reject homosexuality.
A month prior to My.Kali’s first Arabic issue, the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila, which has an openly gay frontman, was prevented from playing a concert in Amman by the country’s conservatives.