Internet Rights = LGBT Rights!

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.


By | December 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm | One comment | Tags: ,

About the Author

Ng Yi-Sheng

Writer of poetry, drama and non-fiction. In 2008, he became the youngest ever winner of the Singapore Literature Prize. He has published four books, including the bestselling "SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century". Currently, he writes for the pan-Asian LGBT website Fridae and teaches in Singapore's only university-level creative writing program. He also organises the annual queer literary event ContraDiction.

One Comment

  1. jac (3 years ago)

    Hey Yi-Sheng, thanks for covering the session! So awesome to read this :) Wanted to also add to what you noted about the blocking of ILGA and ILGHRC sites in Indonesia. IPP and several other LGBT organisations in Indonesia had several discussions with the ISP association of Indonesia to talk about the blocking, and after these dialogues, ILGHRC site has been back online in most of the national telcos (yay!) but yes, the work carries on for the ILGA site. It’s been affecting things like registering for the ILGA world conference as well! Ouf.. the perils of blocking. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks again, and you are super prolific! It’s been great catching up on all the other sessions that I didn’t manage to attend through your posts. You rock.



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