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In Iran, Google software translates ‘gay’ to ‘f-ggot’

Google, like so many companies, only pretends to be for gay rights where it is profitable for them.

Our Correspondent in Tehran

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Google employees march in New York City's Gay Pride Parade in 2017 // Google Blog

For many LGBT people in the Middle East, the Internet is a safe haven. A space to experience freedom and equality and the possibility of experiencing a parallel life alongside our real-life in homophobic countries. The Internet is our window to see the world. 

In a country like Iran, access to secure Internet is not easy. Restrictions by the government, very low bandwidth, cyberspace surveillance by the Iranian revolutionary guard corp’s Cyber ​​Army, state traps to identify users, and dozens of other risks and obstacles must be passed by users to connect to the Internet.

And remember, the Internet services that we LGBT Middle Easterners receive in countries like Iran are different from what a gay person receives in Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles, for example. Almost no access to international banking services due to the regime’s refusal to accede to international economic transparency treaties means that we are deprived of many services that require access to international credit cards. 

But still better than nothing. It makes us happy to be able to experience the free world for just a few moments. It feels good to be temporarily away from the street harassments, away from the offensive language, away from the danger of being arrested by the so-called morality police, away from the black-clad streets of Tehran, where a picture of a mullah is seen on every wall.

But the optimism that international companies like Google are at the forefront of fighting for freedom and equality and advocating for LGBTQI rights does not last long.

Recently, a friend sent me a screenshot from Google’s English to Persian translation service. He tried to translate a news report by Reuters from English to Persian. To my surprise, Google translated the word “gay” to “hamjensbaz,” the Persian language equivalent of the word “faggot.” This is the same term used to refer to homosexuals by the Islamic Republic of Iran, its leaders, and its homophobic media. 

Image // Outspoken Middle East

When you put the word “gay” in Google Translate, it translates it correctly to the word “hamjnesgara,” but if you try it in a sentence, the translation comes out to “hamjensbaz,” or “faggot.”

It’s understood that Google translation software is not the best tool for translation, but the question is, why this very offensive word exists in Google’s dictionary in Persian? Why did Google coders choose this term at all?

Does Google know how hard Iranian LGBT people fought to replace this insulting word with a more inclusive term? Does Google know how difficult it was to mainstream this new term in a homophobic country like Iran? Does Google know that a large part of this fight took place on the Internet and that we did not have the support of any organization, government, or media?

Does Google understand what negative impact it will cause to the Persian-speaking LGBT community? 

We are suppressed enough. We hear enough insults! But here we have the world’s most powerful company, Google, openly calling us “faggot.” Would Google, which constantly boasts how “woke” and tolerant they are, ever allow this to happen in the West? It seems that Google, like so many similar companies, only pretends to be for gay rights when and where it is profitable for them.

On Google’s own “Pride” website, the company claims, “This year, we’re supporting LGBTQ+ communities with commitments to help fund and celebrate inclusive spaces that foster belonging for all.” If that’s the case, maybe Google should stop calling us “faggots” to our faces.

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