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Catfishing, Outing, Leaked Pics: Gay Online Life in Guatemala

Dereck Richman

A culture of severe social media bullying is shaking this nation's vulnerable queer community. 

Recent legislation in Guatemala has made it clear that LGBTQ rights are at the bottom of the list of priorities for our politicians and lawmakers. Just last year Congress reiterated its ban on marriage equality and abortion with the Protection of Life and Family Law, which also prohibits public and private schools from discussing topics related to sexual diversity and gender ideology. One would think that in a country working diligently to erase its LGBTQ citizens, our entire community would stand against such injustice in unison; however, in the last few years, there's been an ongoing epidemic of cyberbullying and online harassment that is authored by members of the gay community, with Twitter being the primary platform for its spreading.

There is a growing number of Twitter accounts in Guatemala dedicated to outing gay people, posting nude photos without consent, and in some instances, going as far as doxxing users and disclosing their HIV status. These accounts have in common that they're all private and won't accept new followers unless the requester contributes nude photos of someone to be used for future tweets. Some accounts even request that you send contributions on three different people to allow you access. Among these accounts we have @mencatalogogt, @SantaCataGT, @ElClosetDarkGT, @Uncovered_GT, and the now defunct @GrindrWTFgt and @ViborasGT.

At its most heinous, @ViborasGT's main objective was to ridicule and bully members of the Guatemalan drag community. In 2012, Leonel Rodriguez, whose drag persona was Natasha Rossenberg, was crowned Miss Gay Guatemala. Later that same year, he committed suicide. We'll never know what drives someone to suicide, but @ViborasGT posted compromising tweets about him before his death. The account disappeared shortly after the incident. It is unclear whether its owners deactivated it or if Twitter followed through with a suspension.

Twitter isn't the only platform at fault in this issue. Grindr's weak verification system when creating new accounts is also to blame, as users aren't required to verify their e-mail addresses upon registration, which makes it easier to create multiple accounts. Men are often catfished with the intent of obtaining nude photos, which are later used in the aforementioned accounts. The accounts will then post a tweet with a set of four photos accompanied with a caption asking its followers to comment on whether or not they know the individual, if they have had sex with him, or to detail any experience they may have had. The followers will then engage with the tweet either by posting more nude photos of the subject, describing if the sex was good or bad, and in the worst cases, disclosing HIV status, providing information on where they live and work and how to contact them (real name, Facebook profile, Twitter or Instagram handle, and phone number).

Another form of bullying that can be seen in these accounts consists of posting pictures of men who they consider unattractive. They will add captions along the lines of "He's really brave for posting his face online." and then their followers will reply with an endless train of bullying. If any nude photos of these men are posted, it is only with the intent to make fun of them.

Effeminate men are also a constant target of harassment. They'll be called "pasivas" as a pejorative term, which means bottom, but since in Spanish nouns and adjectives are gendered, they'll use the feminine adjective as an insult. Gay men in Guatemala often pride themselves in being "discreet," which has become synonymous with acting like a man within the confinements of heteronormativity, rather than just being closeted.

I have seen close friends being affected by this. Having to explain themselves to their families. Afraid they may lose their jobs as a result of one of these tweets. No longer wanting to use dating or hookup apps out of fear of being outed or exposed. This is becoming a safety issue. Not only must we be concerned with homophobes being out to get us, but now we also have to be careful of each other. We must learn to treat each other better, instead of tearing each other down.

In a country where we don't have any laws that explicitly protect against online harassment and bullying, all we have left is to count on Twitter to follow through and suspend these accounts. Unfortunately, one can spend weeks reporting these accounts for abuse and harassment, and they will not be deactivated. There will be an automated notification stating your report has been received, but very little, if nothing, will be done. Twitter is too lenient when it comes to pornography and harassment. It is becoming a safe haven for anonymous bullies, and its lack of follow-up will only allow further damage to the LGBTQ community in Guatemala.

DERECK RICHMAN is a Guatemala-based aspiring writer and editor currently studying journalism in college.

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Dereck Richman