The Association for Progressive Communication, the Alternative Law Forum and the Centre for Internet and Society organised a session around sexuality because of their experience in dealing with internet governance and the issues of freedom of expression and privacy. While it is not usually articulated or recognized, the preservation of sexual norms is the main thrust behind the mobilization of arguments to censor content about sexuality. In arguments about censorship, it is one domain of life that becomes central – and regulation through criminal justice is often considered. Despite the open format of the IGF, it has quite a poor track record in dealing with sexuality in a positive way. The debate is framed in terms of the need to protect from harm, in terms of pornography or child protection.

This session aimed to inform policy debates through research that analyses censorship and other content related restrictions and trends from the perspective of users and, in particular, groups of users who have less access, resources and power in physical spaces and who have a multiplicity of concerns. The findings from the EROTICS research and the work of Onscenity network were presented. The EROTICS project aims to explore and expand on research on sexuality and the internet in five different countries. The Onscenity network of academics based in UK that is looking at the relationships between sex, commerce, media and technology.


Tamara Q. has a Masters of Science in foreign service, focusing on international relations and security from Georgetown university. She has published extensively for the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon

In Lebanon, we looked at the queer women's movement and the relationship with the internet, which offers a lot of lessons for the current discussion. The development of the queer women's movement and the development of the internet in Lebanon are very close. In a country where homosexual identification is criminal and punishable by up to a year in prison, the internet has proven to be a core component of queer strategizing. And so I am going to show you how the internet has proved to be a critical space for queer women in Lebanon.

I am going to first talk to you about the history of the queer movement, the LGBT movement in Lebanon and then I would like to focus on the virtual spaces that Lebanon's queer women's group have created because that will show you a very unique model for sexual citizenship and group empowerment.

“Internet search engines are pretty much the only source for information on LGBT issues in Lebanon”

So the queer movement in Lebanon really begins at a very individual level and it begins with the consumption of information about queer issues, about LGBT issues. Internet search engines are pretty much the only source for information on LGBT issues. The traditional media in Lebanon doesn't discuss them at all. There is no Arab production of knowledge on this issue. And there is certainly no importation of knowledge from the west in the form of traditional media about this issue. Many queer people that we talked to talked about how they pounced on the internet and the first thing they searched for is homosexuality.

Scouring the internet, especially in the beginning, when the internet was very slow in Lebanon, was also very expensive. What happens at the same time is queer individuals also use the internet as their own form of communication with other LGBTs in Lebanon and elsewhere. And so I want to read you a quote from one woman, her first experience meeting another lesbian online, the entry is called 'My quest to find lesbians'. So this is the quote. "The popular chatting programme at the time was called ICQ which I immediately downloaded and set out to find other lesbians. There was some method of searching these lists of people and I spent hours looking until I found one with the nickname sexy lesbian and I messaged her instantly and said hi I am a lesbian, too and she then asked me if I wanted her to bite my ear. I wondered why she was saying that but was so excited about meeting her, meeting another fellow lesbian that I just started babbling with things in my life”, and then she goes on to say, “of course, she was not interested so she disappeared".

So this kind of shows you the shock and trepidation queer people first approach this World Wide Web LGBT arena, arena which then led a lot of queer people that know that they needed to meet queer people in Lebanon.

Moving from virtual to physical world

So a group of ten queer men decided to create a chat room, which grew in a matter of weeks to 50 and then 100, and then social groups began to form in this chat room. Subsequently, they decided to form a mailing list, the first gateway in to emerge into the physical world and to hold physical meetings. And so these meetings were formed, of course, with very strict screening processes, because there was a deep fear that families would find out, that the police would find out, the fear of prosecution was really thick back then. One day they suggested that gay people in Lebanon form a gay group and make that entity a member of ILGA, so this group called Club Free was formed. And they began to meet in people's houses until they decided to turn into an entity, which they called Helem. They applied for NGO status, which they got by default because the Government didn't actually process the application.

In around 2008, a group of lesbians in Helem felt that it was becoming extremely dominated by male issues and that there was a big difference between gay male issues and female issues, and they couldn't be dealt with in the same sort of space. So they broke off, and formed Meem. Some of the founding members of Meem were really involved in audio-visual work and technical work and so ICTs became an important tool for the groups from the very, very beginning, being used to address the gender issues that they were coming across.

They also created physical structures in parallel with the creation of other virtual spaces. So when they created their first social office space called the women's house at the same time they also opened a Web site. I want to show you a video, one of the first videos that they created because it really shows how the first attempts of Meem to incorporate the queer issue with political and socio, geo political and gender issues into their activism. (See:

They also have an account on Twitter and they have Facebook pages. Their main Web site shows how they have managed to expand and also to gives a sense of the content they work with. There are 312 members and 726 nonmembers who are subscribed to the newsletter. The Web site gets an average of 286.42 visits per day. More than 9,800 have seen the Youtube video. That's quite a lot considering Lebanon is a small country of four million people.

They have a weekly online publication which tries to be a forum for queer issues in Lebanon. It discusses subjects like politics, apartheid in Israel and diversity within the queer community. The site has had 223,933 hits in the last year.

Visibility, anonymity and editorial policies

The editorial policies speak to the model that Meem has created. In terms of content, it tries to incorporate a lot of different sorts of realities that queer women in Lebanon deal with and these issues are geo political. There is a lot of talk about Israel and Palestine. There is also a lot of talk about religion, the different religious minorities that exist, diversity in how people perceive tradition and sex. There is a real effort to stay in touch with the realities of Lebanon, with civil society in Lebanon as a means to integrate into Lebanon and also to do something that they call queering, that is trying to get queer issues on the larger civil society agenda, by having this sort of content dialogue between queer issues and these other issues.

Some things about the editorial policy, articles are printed under nicknames and/or first names because anonymity is a core part of Meem's strategy. In order to ensure that people can come in, they need to ensure Meem's members privacy is being protected. There is a fine line that Meem straddles – trying to get the visibility that they need to empower the group and integrate into civil society, but at the same time protecting the anonymity of members who are not ready to come out.

Censorship and surveillance on the internet can affect the queer movement fundamentally

In sharp contrast with the traditional media in Lebanon, there has not been any online censorship and that's why they have been able to express views. And because the security sector is quite weak, they haven't yet expanded to the internet. However, that's not to say that these conditions will remain this way forever. It looks like it might change very soon, because there are two threats that we have identified. The first is that the religious institutions in Lebanon are quite strong, and they have been the driving force behind censorship in traditional media. So we think that the reason they haven't yet spoken about what's going on online is because the internet is still not a very important space to them. And because the queer movement is not quite large enough yet, but the rate of expansion has been quite vast and they have might pick them up under the radar, so we are worried there might be a big backlash.

And the second reason to fear the internet might change as a space for queer people is that there has been new legislation that's been drafted to expand the security sector to the internet. So via e-commerce laws the security sector is now becoming digitalized. There is a fear that this could be a gateway to larger surveillance over the internet. If the internet changes in this way, it comes under the watchful eye of the government and if the censorship in the traditional media then encroaches on the internet, we think that the queer movement could change fundamentally. It is not to say they wouldn't survive it because they have gotten really strong but there will be a fundamental change and I think that's something to think about.


Clarissa Smith is Programme Leader of the MA Media and Cultural Studies and MA Film & Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland, UK. She focuses on institutional practices, strategic uses and meanings of pornographies and she also researches the history of pornographies and the way representations of sex have entered mainstream media. Her research employs audience research in order to understand the particular pleasures of sexual representations and the ways in which these cultural products are embedded in the practices of everyday life.

I want to explain a little bit about the Onscenity network that I am part of and I am here representing today. It is a new network which is just been set up in the UK, but it has an international focus. And it has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK, one of the last things to get on the wire before funding was cut.

Pornography has become a way of exploring all that's wrong with new technology

We have the intention really to examine what it is that's going on now in the 21st Century with regard to sexuality, sex, media and technology. And taking this actually as something that needs to be explored in detail, there is no doubt that there are concerns about who is accessing what, what's available that day, who gets to make it, how much money it is making, what people are doing with it, et cetera, etcetera. One of the problems it seems to us within the network, and we are about 120 people across the world, is that there has been a real shying away from trying to examine pornography in all its detail. And I think in particular what has happened is that pornography has become a way of exploring all that's wrong with new technology. I am talking about new technology as something to be feared and not as necessarily a tool that people can use in particular ways that actually it has no one unitary use – and that's particularly true of pornography itself.

To read some of the recent publications one that came out and talked about every day pornographies, they seem to think there is an absolutely singular use of porn and I am going to talk briefly about why I think that's a problem in a minute.

What is pornography? We can not know just simply by looking at it

We have got an explosion of online sexual communities and new forms of sex work that are being facilitated by the internet and there is also a proliferation of pornography. It is possible to find anything sexual online, from clown porn to pushy to queer to fluffy and plushies, to queer as people would understand that in terms of gay and lesbian. One of the things that's quite interesting about plushy porn is that people dress up as animals and there may be no signs of genitals or indeed anything that's recognizably sexual in the imaginary, but it clearly functions as some form of pornography if what we take pornography to be material that is for sexual excitement. So I am not just using the term to show that I know the outer reaches of the internet better than anybody else, but actually it is an indication of the ways in which we can't know what pornography is just simply by looking at it. There are ways in which it speaks to particular sets of interest, particular sets of communities and that may well be very opaque to outsiders who don't understand anything about it. So, it becomes increasingly problematic to think about specifically the ways in which regulation is now talked about.

It is about protecting people from things that they clearly don't understand or protecting children, protecting the family, ways of life, et cetera, et cetera. These all become ways in which you want to identify a particular problem in particular ways and pornography is, of course, a very easy scapegoat for all kinds of problems.

Pornification and sexualization: something vague and obscure

Very much linked it seems to me to questions around sexualization which have become increasingly popular in American, Australian and UK discourse (and I am sure that it is going to leak everywhere else), pornography has been hooked to questions around violence for a long time but sexualization is also being hooked up to that too. What is sexualization? It is the process apparently by which we have all becomes sexualized beings.

We talk about people's progress from childhood to adulthood. But the way it has been taken up up by the APA, the American Psychological Association, and also within the Australian counterpart and in the UK, there are real problems about what sexualization means – and they don't have a definition of sexualization because it suits them very well not to have a definition and instead having something vague and obscure which you can just apply to the internet and say this is the problem.

Who is using it, who is producing it and why

I would also like to say that actually most of the alarm around “pornification, sexualization”, is that the use of these terms is actually very prejudicial. I am going to talk about pornography. I think the desire to regulate pornography is an issue for everyone who is interested in any notion of sexual rights, but that is not to say that I am uniformally pro-porn - and the very fact I have to say that is the indication to how these arguments have become so deeply embedded. There are lots of things that I don't like, but these may well be things I don't like for many different reasons from anybody else in this room and I am not going to go in to those at this moment.

So I think one of the key problems that we have when people are talking about pornography and other sexual explicit materials online, whatever these are, is that there is a failure to actually engage with who is using it, who is producing it and why. The assumption is that it is produced for profit, produced for men and that it is produced for sexual excitement.

Actually we don't in fact, know that. Certainly, there are companies out there who are producing pornography for money. They are producing it with a male audience in mind and there may be predominately male employees in the particular business, but that would be to take one area of pornographic production and apply it to every form of pornographic production - and there are myriads of pornographic productions, some particular to reach particular audiences, and this is something that's conveniently ignored in the debate about whether or not “something should be done about pornography”.

I would also like to argue that it has actually been capitalism and interests making money that have produced all kinds of things that we can say have been really important to people in their every day lives, in their sense of self and their construction of communities, et cetera. The fact that money is made does not necessarily mean that it is a problem, and that it is made by men does not necessarily mean it is a problem, or that it is directed to men.

Media and consumers: Interest and pleasures are myriad

But equally online, when I first started researching pornography, which was in about 1992, there was very little available for women even in the UK. In the UK case, there was six magazines launched in 1992 which targeted women. By the end of 1993 only one of them had survived. There didn't seem be to a market for them. Institutional problems meant that they went out of circulation. But one of the things is very key about those magazines was that they were produced by male pornographers within a capitalist system, but read by women.

That's one of the problems: we have been talking about pornography and who makes it as though there is a singular pornography. One of the problems, as well about debates, that we have around pornography and sexually explicit detail, is that there is very narrow conceptual understanding of media and consumer interest. Interest and pleasures are myriad, there is no one kind of pornography that might appeal to women and once you start to talk about other identifications, for example, sadomasochistic lesbian women, then you are not going to find a particular pornography that appeals to them in terms of necessarily their gender. There is no one way of responding to this material.

Sexual excitement or interest is not limited to materials which are overtly targeted at sexual relations. For example, just because something appears to be educational doesn't stop someone finding it potentially sexually exciting because, of course, it may open up ways of thinking about sex that someone hadn't thought of before. So something that seems to be entirely premised on the educational can become in and of it erotic.

One of the problems about regulation is that it doesn't understand that this is a sense of expression -sometimes difficult and problematic and vocalizing of emotion that sexual discourse allows and is really important to people. It is not about bad attitudes or learning to see women as sexual objects, for example, which is one of the key claims or that it is going to reproduce acceptance of rape myths.

Women's use of pornography

So what did I find in terms of research, that women expressed in terms of their use of pornography? Various things. Sharing with other women, like-minded women, women who are exploring sexual interest, sexual excitement, fantasies and the possibilities of exploring in their company. A shared sense of experience. Yes, I had that experience, too.

The confessional quotation earlier was a really good example of that sense of wanting to find a shared story of coming out, for example, but it doesn't have to be a coming out story. It could be the first time I was kissed or the first time I had an orgasm and that expression of sexual feeling that one has with other people. Testing one's self is a clear pleasure that people talk about in terms of their use of sexual materials. Would I like to do that. Would that feel good to me. Ooh that looked hideous. Finding out about other people.

It was not always entirely positive and I am going to show a short video clip, that shows some of these emotions. It can be about acquisition of knowledge. About imagining sex. Imagining sex happening to other people. Happening to one's self. Watching other people doing it. Takes risks imaginatively.

The relationship between views and pornography are much more complex than anti-porn activists would argue

Discussions around porn have mainly come from activists against pornography. The relationship between views and pornography is probably much more complex than anti-porn activists would argue, it is not simply enacting violence against women. There is the possibility of taking risks imaginatively. This is an important element of pornographic use and definitely comes through when you talk to gay and lesbian viewers. Taking that first step to the possibility of engaging with another person of the same gender, same sex so that you are moving outside of the norm. All pleasures of looking at men's bodies, women's bodies and sharing that look with other people and being turned on. Many women who talk about looking at pornography and sharing in women's liberation and I have the right to look and I want to seize that right to look, and I don't want to lose it to anybody else.

So what does this mean? I think in terms of rights, for example, the key issue at the moment especially in the UK seems to be around children and what they should be able to see. And I think that there are very real problems about what children may stumble across, what they may be looking at inadvertently and don't want to see and, of course, there are questions we need to ask about children's intentional uses of sexual material and pornography. What are they looking for? A lot of it is information. Children need to have as much good sex education as they can and I certainly don't want to argue that it is not important. We need to be asking them the questions what is it you are doing, and for many I think we will find that they are doing things that we don't expect they are doing. For example, research that was done two years ago. An awful lot of people look at pornography that looked at urination. There was an awful lot of outrage from parents, the argument being that this is teaching young people that scatological pleasures are normal pleasures that everyone ought to be engaged in. Unfortunately the research didn't pay attention to what they were looking at which was two girls and one guy.

This is a reaction videos to this particular video Spankwire, which is also the name of a Web site. It is a porn site and this video is an extremely bizarre video. It was the subject of a court case under the Immigration Act last year, which seeks criminalize the possession of what it terms extreme pornography. The Spankwire video comes along, with two and a half million other people who have viewed it, the prosecution tried to argue that the guy had watched this video, had downloaded and had it in possession for the purposes of sexual gratification. He may well have, but it hinged on whether or not the video could be judged obscene, and the view was that it is.

What is interesting about this video (, the reaction video, is that it shows that children are accessing pornographic material but what we are seeing here is a form of self-scaring and of taking risks in group situations, because a lot of these videos are group situations. It is about joining and participating with other people in ways that the internet has made possible. Something they might have done in corners of playground but now you can share this over the internet.


Joy Liddicoat has worked for sixteen years as a lawyer across the public, private and community sectors. Specialising in human rights law, with particular emphasis on violence against women and children, she is also an expert in constitutional and public law.

I am going to talk a little bit about sexuality, gender and regulatory systems, giving examples of forms of engagement as a New Zealand Human Rights commissioner. We have a sexually diverse country, with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. And so there is a huge diversity of sexual and gender minorities. The Human Rights Commission is accredited under the United Nations principles in general terms, but where we are hitting is way beyond the constructs, the binary constructs of sexuality and gender. Beyond male, female and into sexually diverse people who conform to neither one sex nor the other, and therefore also beyond constructive binary constructs of gender.

'To be who I am': the day-to-day lived experiences of transgendered people in New Zealand

We are currently consulting on the human rights status of sexual orientation and gender identity in New Zealand. The first example of dialogue I want to talk to you about is 'To be who I am', which was an inquiry that we conducted into the day-to-day lived experiences of transgendered people in New Zealand. We began this inquiry because in the course of the work we did, transgendered people challenged us about the reality of their lives and the fact that they were marginalized and subject to violence, to harassment and unable to get health services they needed. They wanted someone to take a closer look, so we began our inquiry with a clear message about transgendered people - and the headline in the media said they were circus show freaks.

So we asked the simple question, do trans people experience equality and dignity and security at least to the same extent that other New Zealanders do. We had about 200 submissions from very diverse trans people, from health professionals from law enforcement officers and civil society groups. Four out of five submissions highlighted discrimination against transgender people, and we were quite shocked at the high level, the prevalence and depth that a transgender person faces. They basically come to accept discrimination as part of daily life. Examples include, “I know if I walk out of my house to go to the library or go to buy food I am going to be spat at and assaulted and people are going to cross the road to avoid me. In terms of accessibility of health service I go to my doctor and I get laughed at. The doctor won't see me or tries to cure my problem by reading from the bible.” This really worked to resonate with trans people and talk about constructive pathways forward.

Sexuality and gender: regulatory systems already exist everywhere

The second example I want to talk to you about an is a dialogue we did called 'Voices'. Modeled on the work of queer movement which is talking about sexuality and gender and human rights, and the conversation they are having. We did this by collaborating with other sexual, human rights and gender organisations. Essentially what we found in terms of our overview of sexuality and gender regulation was that regulatory systems already exist everywhere in relation to sexuality and gender. They are cultural and religious and anti-sexual - and that's before we get to law. So they all start at birth. And there are regulatory systems that are also illegal. It is a combination of either under regulation, in other words, there is nothing in the law books in New Zealand about lesbians. It is just a complete absence. I am not saying there should be anything, but there is an absence. And then we get over regulation. Prescriptions from around colonial times what people could wear when they went out, those sorts of things. Or poor regulations, such as sweeping identity laws around putting F or M on your passport; and also obviously restrictions and violations and human rights.

Dot NZ: bringing together the internet administrators with human rights advocates

The third area of dialogue that we focused on is in to relation to .nz and the statistics about internet users in New Zealand, and the interesting thing is that we have got a significant but small proportion of user who are ex-users of the internet. My thought was why not bring the internet administrators together with human rights advocates. This happened just a month ago. And this is just an example of some of the sorts of issues that bubbled in areas of mutual interest. So one of them, for example, was the proposals for ISP filtering for child pornography. What was remarkable was the huge amount of overlap of interest between human rights advocates and internet administration - and internet administrators were using the language of rights around their policy issues.

So some of the things that came out was that there is tension around human rights and administration, but the internet administration is not a moral vacuum. There were some particular pathways forward that we thought would be useful in our domestic context.. Let's try and articulate the human rights of the internet and get some consultation about that, challenges and opportunities to promote the idea of digital citizenship. Instead of looking at protecting people, look at protecting their rights and look at technology and neutral application of human rights standards.

Developing regulatory systems: the human rights approach is key

So, let's look at some of the regulatory implication and then I will get to some IGF implications and some practical actions. First, don't simply graph existing modes of regulation onto the internet environment. Social, political, religious, economic and other regulatory models haven't worked. There is a poor history at best with legal systems of regulation. Don't simply translate over. We need to be creative and we need to think laterally. But human rights do apply to the process for developing regulatory systems. That's why I want to know, as human rights activist are saying, if law enforcement officers say they want to shut down a site and I say no, I want to get a court order. Who is monitoring, for example, the filtering systems and what are the forms of accountability that exist. In our view, the human rights approach is key.

In other words, the process by which you go about developing human rights processes is equally important as the outcome that you are trying to achieve. The system of mutual cooperation on which the internet is based needs counter weights. There is no single body with control or autonomy and we think in terms of our context we need to create forums that fit us. So don't look at template models, not very many ones that will fit.

IGF: We need to ask whose security and whose rights we are balancing

The implication for the IGF is that the human rights approach is critical. But if we are going to ask about balancing security and rights, then whose security are we talking about. Are we talking about the fact that parents feel better if they think their children are not going to accidentally stumble on pornography. And the situation, the experience of sexual and gender minorities in democratic participatory systems is that marginalized groups have less access to power and to exercise those rights than the majority do. We need to ask whose security and whose rights we are balancing.

In terms of practical actions, I think that first it is that all states must ratify all core human rights instruments. We have members of the UN, member states, who have not ratified all international human rights instruments or have reservations to them and that goes to the heart of the matter. We are thinking about developing a New Zealand governance and internet report, engaging with critical internet resources to promote the rights of transgender and intersex.

We need to critically review internet administration and build alliances, learn off each other and publish the findings. And in terms of movement building, bringing human rights and sexual gender minorities together as part of thinking about movements, there is talk about a Pacific region IGF that may happen next year. One of the processes that's going to happen before that there is an Asia Pacific human rights conference that I encourage you to register for, we have some amazing speakers. We are going to be looking at practical action that can be taken across the region in relation to the rights of sexual and gender minorities. I suppose in reflecting on this panel and trying to bring it together for us, there may not you be a clear path way forward but we can walk backwards to the future and know what in the past has worked and at least learn from that.

[1] Fullname of panellist protected for security reason.

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