As a blogger, I have to say a little something about the last workshop I attended at the conference: Sunday’s “Internet Rights are LGBT Rights”, conducted by Jac sm Kee (Malaysia) and Kamilia Manaf (Indonesia).
(Yes, the fact that they’re both Southeast Asians did have something to do with it. When I first stepped in the room looked like a mini-ASEAN Caucus: all us yellow and brown faces gathered to support our comrades. Luckily the room got more diverse as the talk went on.)
Based on the program, the workshop seems to have been initially centred on Kamilia. As the representative of Institut Pelangi Perempuan (Indonesian Young Queer Women Organization), she’s had her work suffer because of her government’s anti-pornography law of 2008. This explicitly bans publications on LGBT issues, which meant that her group’s online newsletter to its members got blocked. Thankfully, negotiations with authorities seemed to resolve this, but ILGA’s webpage remains a no-go zone.
Kee’s approach, however, was to talk about the Internet as a whole, asking us what we used it for as activists (her presentation style was *extremely* interactive) and then defying our expectations by pointing out that in fact the Net is not a tool but a thing unto itself: a new public sphere, populated by 2.5 billion people across the globe (are these stats right?).
She works with the Association for Progressive Communications, a group that researches the power of the electronic media for activism, with a special focus on Latin America, Asia and Africa. She investigates women’s and queer issues, and she’s seen how we as orientation/gender-marginalized people have harnessed the Net for our own uses: harvesting information and education on health and law (often absent or difficult to access in heteronormative, gender-binaried meatspace); developing a culture, language, aesthetics and identity (turns out transgender South Africans actually “practice” their new gender identities online before they start altering the clothes they wear and the gonads between their legs).
One big issue she looked at was who governs the Internet. A delegate from China was very certain it was his government – but Kee likes to talk about four main categories of governors:
1) developers – i.e. the techies who created it all
2) companies – banks, the entertainment industry, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc
3) us – We’re consumers of the service! We have some say – they only give us what we’re gonna actually use!
4) and last of all, the state. They actually came in late into the game of the Net, says Kee, and have been cursing their lack of foresight ever since.
As such, there are ways to outmanoeuvre state control of the Net – try talking to ISP providers to see how they can make sites safer for activists.
Kee’s actually started a group under the APC called Erotics – go to Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.> – to look more closely at sex, rights and the Internet. She’s working on increasing digital security for activists, plus she’s gathering evidence through surveys to understand their situation better.
As always, the floor provided valuable comments. My co-blogger Ketan (India) has worked for Freedom House as a rapporteur, and he says by their metrics, no Asian nation has a truly free Internet. The top “partly free” nations are South Korea and India.
Hadi Al Khateeb (also India) also offered a new application for activists, called Security in a Box, freely downloadable and available in 11 languages for purposes of balancing privacy and expression. Important stuff, I think, especially for queer media writers like myself.