Five Somali friends currently living in London recognised a need for a support network for other gay and lesbian Somalis in the United Kingdom.
We noticed that a lot of Somali in the gay scene were very confused about their sexuality. We are coming from a culture/country that is extremely homophobic and lacks any role models or points of reference. This confusion led some to depression, drinking, drugs and self-hate, said James (name substituted).
We wanted to create a physical space where we could come together to socialise, talk about issues we’re facing and hopefully help solve them for personal happiness and development.
In 2007 the friends identified a need to also assist gay Somalis living outside London.
We developed the website as a medium to unite us despite the geographical distances. The website was also a great way to educate people and provide information while still ensuring security for ourselves and our members. The site contains information from religion to sexual health.
The initiative, somaligaycommunity.org, was the first of its kind for Somalia. When the site went live, the homophobic attitudes the group is fighting surfaced.
The launch of our website was greeted with horror, disgust and rage, James said. The Somali people around the world did not want to know that we existed and that homosexuality was not just a -˜Western social problem’, as they wanted to believe, but a Somali one too.
James remembers there was a huge debate in organisations, religious bodies and political parties as well as on websites regarding the site in his home country.
At first they tried to quickly dismiss us as a Western organisation started by a -˜white’ person pretending to be Somali. But when that failed, they predictably moved to making threats, denouncing us as Satan, bringing shame to our nation and urging people to take up physical violence against us.
Homosexuality is illegal by statute with a punishment of up to three years jail, but as most of Somalia practises a form of Sharia law the punishment is death. James believes religion is the core reason for a lack of acceptance.
Religion dominates every sphere of Somali life. It is taught at school, practised at home, used in the courts and by the authorities. The Islamic religious bodies are very rigid, unlike the Christian church which had to somewhat adapt to the modern times.
The website received over 133,000 hits in the first week and regularly receives over 20,000 hits a day.
There is a huge demand for the service we provide. We currently have 752 registered members. Most visitors won’t register their details for fear of being found out. There are also 35 people who regularly attend our monthly support group and we work with around 20 clients helping them with charities and service providers, James said.
The website receives around 45 messages a day from users.
People tell us the website gave them the opportunity to find out about the lives of other Somali homosexuals who face similar hardships in not only accepting one’s sexuality but also dealing with homophobia. Many thought they were the only Somali gays in the world.