Activist Seeking a Happy Normal Life Explains Why It’s Hard Being Gay in Morocco
Meet Aadil Ait Ouchraa, who goes by Adam. He is a 25 year-old college graduate who works in the television and media world in Morocco who finds himself facing the headwinds of a hostile religious state that has targeted him for his very identity after a fellow citizen, a police officer claiming to be an activist, revealed his identity in her attempt to gain asylum in the United States.
Morocco is in Africa. It sits on the North Western part of the continent across the Mediterranean sea from Spain.
When American writer William S. Burroughs accidentally shot his wife to death in Mexico while they were playing a drunken game at a party he found refuge in Morocco. He moved to Tangier in 1954 where he indulged in a hippy lifestyle and spent four years working on the Naked Lunch.
Morocco may seem exotic to some yet is the setting for some of the most iconically famous American movies and books: chiefly 1942’s movie Casablanca, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and Paul Bowles 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky.
Casablanca features some of the most memorable quotes of any Hollywood movie like, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and”Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
In the 1950s other American intellectuals chose to live in in Morocco in exile. Influenced by Bowles, members of the Beat Generation, of which Burroughs was one, came to the Northern city to get inspired, finish their projects and live the Moroccan dream.
Photo above: Sitting in front are Peter Orlovsky and Paul Bowles behind them stand William Burroughs Allen Ginsberg./Ph. DR
Yabiladi: Members of the literary movement remembered for influencing the American culture and politics in the post-World War II era, fell in love with Morocco and most precisely Tangier. In the mid forties and fifties, Paul Bowles, Peter Orlovesky, Irwin Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs stayed in the Northern city, writing, translating and enjoying what Tangier had to offer.
Now one of its own citizens is living in a Kafkaesque nightmare.
Adam says he is “a queer non-binary person, activist and militant for LGBTQI + rights in Morocco.”
Less than a year ago, police officer Ouahiba Khourchech, came to the U.S. as an asylum seeker, she claimed to be a victim of injustice, persecuted by her former employers. But Ms. Khourchech herself threw had thrown Adam under the bus by exposing Adam’s real identity in a YouTube video, an incident that brought him outlaw criminal status and exposed that she had abused the protection of the U.S. government when her recent video attacking a vulnerable LGBTQ activist in Morocco brought him to the brink of suicide.
The video exposed “Adam’s” real identity, endangering his life and subjecting him to false attacks on his credibility and harassment by extremists, resulting in a recently filed lawsuit by the LGBTQ activist against the ex-police officer. “Adam” has chosen to appeal to the US justice and to hold Khourchech accountable for the slanderous attacks, including claims that as a homosexual, he cannot be considered a truthful witness in reporting an attempted sexual assault.
Currently the United Nations Refugee Agency’s biggest concerns are the two tier asylum plans that against the backdrop of an overwhelmed system cannot distinguish between legitimate grievances and someone gaming the system.
Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR Representative in the United Kingdom says, “We recognize the need to improve some asylum procedures, but these plans threaten to create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system, undermining the 1951 Refugee Convention and longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues. It’s not too late for a rethink. We’re ready to work with the UK on alternative reforms.”
At the heart of the plan is a two-tier approach to asylum, differentiating between those entering by legal routes, like resettlement, and those arriving spontaneously or having passed through countries deemed safe. For the latter, attempts at transfer to other safe third countries would be made, and, if impossible within six months, access to asylum would be provided. But a successful claim would only offer temporary status, up to 30 months, with abridged rights and benefits, regularly reviewed, and the threat of removal. “These proposals will be expensive and hard to implement,” Ms. Pagliuchi-Lor added. “We can’t see them deterring movements of desperate people. And the human consequences will be real and harmful. Living under the constant threat of expulsion will hamper the ability to integrate and push people into precarity and exploitation. Mental health will suffer. This feels like a recipe for social problems.”
Born in a small town and desert commune called Talat N’Yaaqoub, his advocacy and activism began when he was young, first with the Moroccan Association for Youth Education (AMEJ), where he organized contemporary dance, theater and singing workshops and later in congresses and conferences for the rights of the children with the Association Espace des Générations et du Futur.
His early work on the behalf of women in Morocco took to the first conference of the National Human Rights Observatory. As he got older and awakened to his identity he devoted all of his efforts to seeking equality for the LGBT community of Morocco. In 2016 he became one of the founders of Akaliyat (Voice of the Queer) the first of its kind in Morocco. They organized the first national conference of the Forum de la Modernité et de Democracy in Casablanca. Between 2018 and 2019 the ideas had caught on and they became an official establishment.
Today he is a volunteer member of the Association for the Fight against AIDS, (ATYAF ) seeking legal rights and the decriminalization of homosexuality in Morocco working alongside feminist and other marginalized communities against the backdrop of the conservative religious Muslim government hostile to their efforts.
#GayNrd spoke to Adam to see how 2022 looks to the an outlaw activist living in a country whose government is hostile to his very existence. It’s ironic, to say the least, that the country that many queer American writers and artists fled to during the 30s, 40s, and 50s to live openly and write freely provides no shelter to its own queer sons and daughters.
Has the situation with Ouahiba Khourchech been resolved? No, but it is an exceptional case. I have already won a first step, thanks to the great work and a solid case filed by my team of American lawyers. A complaint and legal proceedings are underway in the United States against her for, in particular, homophobic remarks and endangering my person.
What are the biggest challenges faced by LGBT people in Morocco?
Just talking about it at all. It’s difficult to argue on your own behalf when the subject itself is considered taboo and homosexual acts. are condemned by law. Article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code says that you “shall be punished by imprisonment for six months to three years and a fine of 200 to 1,000 dirhams, unless the act constitutes a more serious offense, anyone who commits an immodest or unnatural act with an individual of his sex.”
Despite an improvement in the human rights situation in Morocco since the 2011 Constitution, the gay community remains, sadly discriminated against. Our very existence and identity is inherently illegal.
Morocco has a rich queer history and one that involves many Westerners (e.g. the gay American writer Paul Bowles). What is it in the culture that has changed since then? For the last ten years Morocco has been led by a fundamental Islamist government that swept into. We will see what the future holds but we have little faith in the new “liberal government” led by businessman Aziz AKennouch.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Writers like Bowles, who wrote the The Sheltering Sky among other legendary queer American novels, went to Tangiers in Morocco in 1947, fleeing American oppression of gay men.]
Above: Sally and Paul Bowles in Morocco in the 1940s.
Above: Paul Bowles, lying in bed with his paper and pen. Photo by Jerry Cooke/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images. In the winter of 1996, writer Brian T. Edwards was based in Morocco for a year on a Fulbright grant and wrote The Moroccan Paul Bowles.
Do you think Morocco can return to those days again? It’s difficult to see a hopeful future when the question of homosexual rights is illegal to talk about. It’s not a priority on the political agenda in Morocco.
Do you feel safe living there? No. I am in danger, since the deserting police officer, Ouahiba Khourchech revealed my true identity publicly. The real danger here consists in the fact that the consequences of homosexuality, when an individual is “identified,” go far beyond the formal nature of the law: LGBT people in Morocco suffer threats of violence, physical torture of street than psychological, stigmatization from civil society, loss of employment, loss of family reputation, public humiliation etc.
What is your main concern? Right now? I’d like to lead a “normal” life and feel safe when I go out. Since being outed in a place where homosexuality is criminalized: the entirety of the country is actively hostile and dangerous not only law enforcement.
Do you want to stay or do you prefer to live elsewhere? Everything in its time. At the moment, I am focusing on the ongoing trials in Morocco and also in the United States of America against the deserting police officer, Ouahiba Khourchech. Sometimes LGBT people who have faced violence, threats of violence, loss of employment need safe spaces.
Is Islam more homophobic than Christianity or any other major religion? I answer for my religion Islam. I do not have sufficient possibilities to compare with other religions. Homosexuality and politicized Islam: a complex relationship. When homosexuality has the appearance of respecting the sexual mores of Islam, and living it in private, it seems that it is more accepted. To tell the truth, Muslim law is not, in itself, a morality police. It is its public manifestation that is criminalized.
How can western LGBT activist be most helpful and effective? Partnerships and exchanges of experiences. I have a project and an action plan to submit to Western LGBT associations that would be interested in encouraging LGBT movements in Morocco and in the Arab-Muslim world. The support of this community will be appreciated at its fair value.