July 6 2023 GM
Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IF Square on the TCU Mattermost, at 9am EDT / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.
- Date: Thursday, July 6
- Time: 9am EDT / 1pm UTC
- Who: Ayman Makarem
- Moderator: Islam & Mardiya
- Where: On TCU Mattermost "IF Square" Channel.
- Don't have an account to the TCU Mattermost? you can request one following the directions here.
Queer Mutual Aid: Challenges of Coordinating Queer Solidarity Efforts Online
QMA Lebanon is a small group of queer individuals in Lebanon working to support the LGBTQ+ communities around us, particularly trans refugees residing in Lebanon, through mutual aid and community-building. Their vision is to build a network of mutual support that works outside traditional modalities of aid and emphasizes radical community care and practical solidarity. Currently their work centers around providing immediate financial support for the individuals in our network, all of whom are struggling under Lebanon’s total economic and political collapse. Their group is one of few in Lebanon, and in the region, to explicitly adopt a mutual aid philosophy as a way of supporting the immediate needs of those around us while also engaging with them socially and politically. QMA relies heavily on online platforms and social media to communicate with queer individuals, which poses its own challenges and risks, particularly due to the online entrapment that queer people in the region face.
Ayman Makarem (@ayman on Mattermost) is a writer and organizer from Beirut. Working with artist Hisham Rifai under the name Bizri #6, Ayman writes political and personal comics that explore complex themes and topics in accessible ways. His most recent project is the comic series ‘Revolution in Every Country’ which looks at contemporary revolutions in the SWANA region through a radical and empathetic lense. Ayman is also a core member of Queer Mutual Aid Lebanon, where he focuses on fundraising and community building for and with the queer and trans communities in Lebanon. Ayman currently lives in Vienna with his husband and cat.
It would be great if you could begin by telling us a bit about QMA and its goals!
- Queer Mutual Aid Lebanon is a group made by and for the queer and trans communities in Lebanon. We formed in 2020 and wanted to organize as queers in Lebanon in a way that was opposed to the NGO structure, which is super prevalent and in our opinion super harmful. Our goal is to support and empower the queer and trans community in Lebanon, especially in the context of the ever-deteriorating economic/political collapse in Lebanon.
How is mutual aid structured and organized?
- We organize horizontally with an emphasis on autonomy, although our structure in general is very fluid. We're all in all about 8 people doing the organizing, all on volunteer basis (no compensation). We also emphasize transparency with everyone that we work with as why try to work away from the hierarchy of 'aid recipient' and 'aid distributor', which is the hegemonic practice among charities and NGOs. Although it is mostly 8 of us that do the work of organizing, we see everyone that we work with as essential to our work, especially in terms of their input, particularly in expressing to us what their needs/desires are.
- I mention our structure is fluid for one main reason: most of us are still living in a collapsing Lebanon and are working full-time jobs aside from this work, so burnout/existential depression is a serious issue that we all want to address and make sure there is space within our group to deal with collectively. Mutual aid is something we practice internally in terms of making sure we are taking care of each other as well.
Can you tell us more about how you do this work? You organize online? Or do you do outreach online?
- So the bulk of our work at the moment is in providing financial support to queer and trans people in Lebanon. We do this through grants from feminist/queer Feminist INGOs, personal fundraisers, and most recently our Patreon page. The financial aid we provide is non-contingent and direct, and for most of the people we work with goes directly to paying for essentials, like rent, food, and medicines.
- We are all also in constant contact with people we work with, many of whom have become close friends. This is, imo, a really important way of forming bonds of solidarity, which otherwise is a very vague term. It also addresses a key issue among the queer and trans communities in Lebanon, loneliness and social isolation.
- As for online activity, we have been quite careful of being too visible. We are an unregistered group and prefer to remain that way to avoid any scrutiny and potential harassment from the state and/or other malicious actors. We are active and vocal online on our own social media pages, but otherwise are still hesitant to create a page dedicate for the group for instance. The Patreon page is actually our first attempt of having a static online presence as a group.
- Oh they're definitely really important. So first of all within Lebanon, Whatsapp is a super essential platform for queer and trans folk, especially those living in rural areas or in smaller cities where a) there aren't many other people within the community and b) going outside is sometimes risky.
- In terms of online communities that are more international, I think there's a lot that can be done. We for instance have been in contact with other mutual aid groups as well as other LGBTQ+ groups in areas whose contexts are not wholly dissimilar to ours (such as Istanbul). We've learnt a lot from them and share resources in whatever ways we can. We are one of the only groups working with these groups in this way, so connecting with others across the globe definitely gives us a small sense we're not alone and there are others we can reach out to in times of crises. In fact, some people have even went as far as hosting their own fundraising events on our behalf.
Looking at the paradox of visibility where vulnerable groups such as queer people face more existing and potential threats, what type of holistic security do you think needs to exist for queer people you work with to be able to organize and benefit from online spaces?
- That is something that I'm definitely excited to learn more about from you actually. For instance, social media has become so much more hostile and/or ineffective for our community. Aside from individual precaution, I'm not sure what kind of holistic approaches would enable more secure visibility online, that wouldn't lets say, risk potential real life harm.
If you had the support of digital rights groups, technologists etc to create a system or programs that harness human rights potential of tech, what would be the reality or future of QMA? Like do you imagine a sort of online system for this? And additionally, what type of support can the digital rights defenders community support you with here at the moment?
- I definitely think we'd be able to be much more vocal online. Because of issues related to visibility and real-world risks, we do refrain from speaking as explicitly as we'd like. For instance, we've known of certain cases of abuse/harassment by landlords (especially a few who were within the security forces in Leb). It was debated whether or not we should expose him online, but decided against it in the end, afraid of the backlash it might cause both online and irl (to us as organizers and to the survivor of the abuse). We also were not fully convinced of the efficacy of exposing the perpetrator online or what that could translate to.
- We definitely would appreciate circulation of our Patreon (not just as a means of raising sustainable funds, but also because it thoroughly describes our work in a way that isn't available anywhere else online). The message we have on our Patreon sort of acts as a mini manifesto, nd I think the ideas of mutual aid are rly important, not just on the ground but online as well, in terms of community support and solidarity.