The Homepage of My.Kali magazine for LGBTQI news to advocate rights and promote awareness.

Jordanian LGBTQI magazine: A product of innovation and social challenges

By Faten Bushehri

During a visit to Stockholm’s Internet Freedom Forum (SIF2015) earlier this year, I met an intelligent young man whose start-up story inspired me to write this blogpost. When it comes to LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Questioning/Queer) rights, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region falls behind. A clash of identities between religion, morals, and basic humanity comes to surface. It is safe to say that any loud voice advocating for gay rights is bound to be attacked and heavily criticized, sometimes by the closest people. Social and political debate on the topic is weak and suffers from limited to no local open communication channels.

Khalid Abdel-Hadi, founder of My.Kali magazine. Photographed by Camille Léage Location: Paris - 2015
Khalid Abdel-Hadi, founder of My.Kali magazine. Photographed by Camille Léage
Location: Paris – 2015

Jordanian magazine passionate and human rights advocate Khalid Abdel-Hadi, 26, took up the challenge in 2007 and founded one of the first LGBTQI magazines in the region: My.Kali.

My.Kali magazine has been up and running for almost nine years, and is more of a successful initiative at this point rather than a start-up. I talked to Khalid, and asked him a few questions about the magazine, how it started and why it is important:

Q: In a few sentences, tell ms what MyKali is all about.. 

A: “My.Kali Magazine is a non-profit social web-zine that has been running for the past eight years. The magazine challenges our society’s stereotypes and breaks boundaries by covering issues of LGBTQI sexuality, gender, women’s rights and equality through art-therapy, photography, psychology, personal politics, new media and empowering content.”

Q: Why did you decide to start the magazine? 

A: “Growing up, I felt that I couldn’t express myself much and that my privacy was constantly invaded. Our environments in the Arab World are mostly based on collectivism and don’t encourage individualism as it reflects some sort of rebelliousness. Therefore, it was a natural reflex to me to start something like My.Kali, where I could express who I was, my ideologies, thoughts…etc. My fascination with the creativity of the magazine world, along with the rejection I received from the local industry, pushed me to start my own platform. Ironically, the platform now is collective-based rather than individual-based, diverting from its original reason.”

Q: Who are you targeting with this magazine and what are you trying to provide?

A: “Our target is society in general, those who are interested in “knowing” and feeding their “curiosity”, in learning more about the LGBTQI community, its struggle, identities, gender, sexuality, orientation… etc. It focuses on the youth and the lost generation within our societies, therefore the platform isn’t exclusively for the LGBTQI communities in the Arab World, but rather is inclusive of the LGBTQI community. At the same time it doesn’t come off as intimidating towards whoever is interested to learn more about what the platform mainly discusses.”

Q: What were the challenges, both technical and social, that you encountered being in the Middle East and North Africa region?

A: “Several things, starting with the different levels of struggle in each and every country in the MENA region. The understanding of such differences of being an LGBTQI in each culture/society in the Arab World isn’t only difficult, but also sensitive to handle, especially how you come across or how relevant your information to each and every country is. Not to mention the struggles that are based on religion, traditions and culture which vary in each country in the MENA. Forming our own identity when it comes to the LGBTQI community, in gender, sexuality and orientation where culture imperialism exists is also taking a huge toll. Reaching as many individuals as possible in raising awareness towards taboo subjects and reflecting different local and regional ideologies on gender, sexuality, orientation… etc.”

My.Kali's January/February 2014 anniversary issue, Cover of Khalid Abdel-Hadi. Photographed by Hiba Judeh
My.Kali’s January/February 2014 anniversary issue, Cover of Khalid Abdel-Hadi.
Photographed by Hiba Judeh

 

Q: How do you think My.Kali can contribute to social change or impact?

A: “Our platform focuses on challenging the stereotypes by using these stereotypes and reforming them visually and content-wise. One of the platform’s basic goals is to raise awareness towards the topics of sexuality, LGBTQI, orientation, gender through art therapy and personal politics, along with removing the partition between the LGBTQI community in the MENA and non-LGBTQI individuals.”

Q: Why is it so important to continue with your project?

A: “The platform has different dimensions. Aside for its importance towards the visibility of the LGBTQI case, the magazine allows many individuals, bloggers, artists, writers, to come together and express themselves through our medium, promoting alternative voices and creating the Arab identity of the LGBTQI community. All that helps remove that “alien” feeling towards the LGBTQI community in the MENA, erasing all sorts of stigmas, and affirming the idea that being an LGBTQI isn’t a “foreign agenda”, isn’t a “disease” and shouldn’t be a taboo.”

Q: How do you choose your content, cover stories and contributors?

A: “We focus on dedicated individuals, like bloggers, people from different societies and cultures from the MENA region who want to reflect, individuals who want to conduct researches, social experiments… etc. Our cover stories are often dedicated to the underground art and pop culture, artists, empowering individuals, muses to the magazine (My.Kali muses; like our latest cover dedicated to Egyptian artist Ruby that was embodied through one of the magazine’s muses, Jordanian model, Razan). We consider our covers to be a note of recognition towards the artist, figure or individual and her/his work regardless of their gender, orientation… etc and based their input that we value.”

September/October 2015 cover is the 1st bilingual issue photo. The reincarnation of Egyptian artist Ruby.
September/October 2015 cover is the 1st bilingual issue photo. The reincarnation of Egyptian artist Ruby. Photographed by Amer Sweidan

 

Q: Why did you decide a magazine was the best way to communicate your message and how did that work for you?

A: “I combined both passions in one platform. My love for magazines (running one), and my passion and dedication towards human rights and forming my own way of being a civil worker. The vast options and flexibility of a magazine offers new ways of reflecting social issues, in our case through visual content, creativity and empowering content which is impactful, entertaining and personal. The platform checks those boxes and offers awareness in a non- bland way.”

 

My.Kali is also active on different social media platforms to communicate their message in both Arabic and English. It strives to create a connection between the LGBTQI community and the rest of the world through raising awareness. The official twitter account tweeted this on December 12:

 

Translation:

Your identity and sexual orientation belongs to you, belongs to the individual, and not to the people

In the MENA, where media is trying to catch up with the west in terms of freedom of press and having uncensored communication channels, creating platforms where taboo ideas are published and presented to the audience is a revolutionary move. When we think of how new start ups can impact journalism, we usually think of technology, new features, or latest equipment. In the MENA region, the most meaningful impact and influence one could have on journalism is to push for public debate on what would be considered “unaccepted rhetorics”. Put forward controversial topics, and provide information to the audience in a move to challenge the status quo.

 

You can follow My.Kali magazine on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.