Meet a Grantee Partner
Behind the Mask
Writers for the Johannesburg-based website, Behind The Mask, do more than report on the LGBT community. They help build it.
Chronicling developments of the LGBT movement across 36 African countries, www.mask.org.za is a site unlike any other. Click on the homepage and meet a lesbian activist from the notoriously homophobic state of Uganda; read an update on the trial of two Egyptian men suspected of being gay; or skim a summary explaining the new African Court on Human and People's Rights. Surf the bulletin board and you'll observe a community connecting on topics ranging from AIDS to queer youth to lesbian visibility.
Homophobia is rife throughout the continent, and with the exception of South Africa no other African country offers protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Hungry for information and links to community, Behind The Mask has become an accurate and safe haven for thousands in Africa and around the world. Unlike print media, its content can't be banned, intercepted, or censored. The Internet is by far the most cost-effective way to enact Behind The Mask's mission of disseminating information, mobilizing activists and encouraging mainstream media to present a more balanced approach to LGBT issues.
When first launched in 1999, Behind The Mask's founders were determined not to fall into the trap of marginalizing women, as was so often was the case in the LGBT movement. Four years later they've made good on their promise- the site's commitment to lesbian issue is extensive. The Women's area is a potpourri of activism, artwork, poetry and interactive communication. The Gal Next Store section highlights the lives and work of women-artists, activists, professionals and sportswomen; and Janelle's Journey features reporting from a BTM staffer on the disturbing increase of hate crimes committed against black lesbians living in outer townships.
Keenly aware of the digital divide that's pervasive in Africa, the seven staff and five board members of Behind The Mask have created offline programs to reach those without Internet access. The Journalism Training Program helps develop skills of budding journalists from the black lesbian and gay community. A former office cleaner sat in on one of their journalism classes. Unbeknownst to her, she had a flair for writing, and today she serves as a senior reporter for the site.
The Women's Computer Skills Program was specifically designed to serve community Janelle writes about. Many have been have survived wrenching verbal and physical abuse, and many have been denied an education. So in addition to technical training, classes include life skills training: how to be self- motivated, manage money, and find a job. The Beadwork Program is an offshoot of the training and helps students gain some financial sustainability during the course. Four classes have graduated so far-and every graduate has gone on to find employment.
Behind the Mask (Johannesburg, South Africa) publishes an independent website magazine on LGBT affairs in Africa. BTM also operates an array of offline communication projects to empower the LGBT community, including a Computer Skills Training Program for lesbians denied formal education. www.mask.org.za