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Homophobic petition defending PSG footballer is pulled – after 50,000 sign

The petition for Idrissa Gueye, who opted out of an anti-homophobia match in France, is deemed ‘hate speech’

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Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu Lydia Namubiru
23 May 2022, 4.44pm

Idrissa Gueye playing for Paris Saint-Germain, April 2022

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ANP / Alamy Stock Photo

Change.org has pulled a homophobic petition in Senegal that had garnered 50,000 signatures in five days as anti-gay violence raged on the streets of the capital, Dakar.

The petition – which change.org took down following questions from openDemocracy – was set up in support of Idrissa Gana Gueye, a Senegalese footballer who plays for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) as well as Senegal’s national team. He played in the UK, for Aston Villa and Everton, before joining Ligue 1 side PSG in 2019 for £30m.

Gueye withdrew from a PSG match on 14 May in which players were expected to wear jerseys with rainbow-coloured numbers in solidarity against homophobia.

He was accused by the French football federation of “validating discriminatory behaviour” – but the intervention sparked an anti-LGBTIQ backlash, with Gueye’s backers claiming he was a victim of so-called ‘heterophobia’.

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The game between PSG and Montpellier was intended to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

Football fans and politicians, including Senegal’s president Macky Sall, rallied behind Gueye following his withdrawal from the match. “I support Idrissa Gana Gueye. His religious convictions must be respected,” Sall tweeted on 17 May.

For several days, #jesuisidrissaganagueye was trending for Twitter users in Senegal, with many of the tweets expressing explicitly homophobic views, such as “f**k LGBT” and “f**k your fake rights”.

Gueye cited only “personal reasons” for his withdrawal from the match against Montpellier. But both his critics and supporters interpreted the decision as a refusal to participate in French football’s anti-discrimination campaign.

Since 2019, French football teams have been wearing rainbow designs on their shirts in matches that fall around 17 May, the official date of IDAHOT. Last year, Gueye missed a similar fixture, citing illness.

As well as the intervention by the French football federation, Rogue Direct – a French group that advocates against homophobia in football – called for Gueye to be sanctioned. “Homophobia is not an opinion but a crime,” they said.

Petition against ‘heterophobia’

On the streets of the Senegalese capital, anti-gay sentiments appear to have spilled into physical violence. Days into the controversy, a video surfaced on social media appearing to show a mob in Dakar’s HLM municipality beating up a man who was said to be gay. Senegalese police, who are investigating the incident, confirmed to the AFP news agency that a man was taken to a police station with injuries.

The now-deleted change.org petition, headed “For tolerance, in support of Idrissa Gana Gueye”, was part of the Senegalese reaction to Gueye’s decision and the criticism he is facing in France. Created on 16 May by four people, including a journalist and a member of the organisation that unites Senegal’s main Muslim brotherhoods, it opened with “collectif non à l’hétérophobie” – which translates as “collective no to heterophobia”.

It claimed that “attacking anyone who does not take part in the promotion of the LGBT cause could be considered as a kind of heterophobia”. Unlike homophobia, which is recognised by international human rights frameworks for being prejudiced against members of minority LGBTIQ communities, there is no formal recognition of “heterophobia”.

Western tech giants have faced criticism for being slow to respond to hate speech in non-English languages. The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism revealed earlier this year that Amazon, Google and Facebook were turning a blind eye to posts about anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’ in languages including Swahili.

Change.org, headquartered in California, told openDemocracy that as an open platform it allows anyone to set up a petition on an issue they care about.

But, it added, the petition defending Gueye was removed on 20 May because it did not comply with its “community guidelines”, which include not platforming misinformation and hate speech.

PSG football club did not respond to openDemocracy’s request for comment.

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