Gay, Lebanese and proud: fighting homophobia

Gay, Lebanese and proud: fighting homophobia
Feature: NGOs are fighting homophobia in Lebanon where 80 percent of Lebanese are against LGBT rights, reports Alex Wright.
4 min read
12 May, 2015
Anti-homophobia rally, Beirut, April 2013 [AFP]
Proud Lebanon, a non-profit organisation in Beirut, has released a video showing Lebanese celebrities delivering a message against homophobia, before the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May.

The video calls for an end to discrimination against lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people, and for the country's anti-gay laws to be amended.

The clip also invited viewers to join the group's IDAHOT event to fight against homophobia and support human rights.     

Although Lebanon is known for its open-mindedness in comparison with the rest of the Arab world, the majority of Lebanese people are against LGBT rights.

A 2013 Pew Research Center poll showed 80 percent of Lebanese respondents did not think society should accept homosexuality, a figure that remained unchanged since a similar poll was conducted in 2007.

     Homophobia is deeply entrenched in Lebanese society.
Lebanese laws on homosexuality are vague. Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits sexual relations that "contradict the laws of nature" and punishes such "acts" with up to a year in prison.

This law is not commonly enforced. In 2014, a judge ruled Article 534 inapplicable in the case of an intersex woman charged with having "unnatural" sexual relations with a man.

Lebanon's National Centre for Psychiatry has declared that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not need to be treated - a first in the Arab world, where controversial "conversion therapy" is still common.

In 2013, Lebanese police raided and shut down a gay nightclub in the Beirut suburb of Dekwaneh. During the raid a number of men were arrested and forced to strip naked in the police station, where they were photographed nude.

Other LGBT activist groups, such as Helem, have been active in Lebanon over the past decade, staging several public demonstrations, and organising lectures and fundraisers for Aids education.

"I support the campaign because it is an attempt to show this cause is not only for gays but for everyone. I am happy to see there's a paradigm shift going on. It is important to talk about this issue," said Richard, a 28-year-old gay Beiruti.

Richard said that Lebanese society was deeply divided on most issues, but that homophobia was deeply entrenched in society. However, he said: "As people begin to discuss sexuality in public, homophobia will become more visible, which will inevitably lead to change."

"These days it's more common for the media to discuss issues such as racism, homophobia and other rights-based issues that are not sectarian problems," he added.

Being quite masculine Richard has not been exposed to much upfront homophobia but he was once attacked for holding hands with his ex-boyfriend in a car, luckily they drove away. He has grown accustomed to being called homophobic slurs when defending LGBT rights in discussions with certain members of his family and strangers.

But he remains positive: "Society is becoming more accepting of LGBT people, which is a positive sign, I guess. For me personally, what sexuality is and whether gay identity has the same meaning everywhere is still unclear. What I would like instead, is a society that is more accepting of others, regardless of, for example, their sexuality, gender, sect and politics."  

Translation of the video:

"Did you know that the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights?

"Did you know that in the 21st century, people are still being beaten, stigmatised, arrested and in some cases even killed, just because they are LGBT?

"Being different is not something to be ashamed of, what is shameful is fighting diversity. He could be your brother, your neighbour or your co-worker. She could be your sister, your friend, or even your boss at work.

"If you do not recognise their existence, it does not mean that they do not exist. Protesting this injustice is not enough. All of us must work together to change these unjust laws and replace them with laws that protect all citizens. Because laws are for protection, not discrimination.

"We were all born free and equal. 

"I know it is hard to face society, but at least the law must be just. Democracy is not majority and minority, it is to provide security to all citizens.

"You do not have to be poor to defend the rights of the poor. You do not have to be a woman, to defend the rights of women. You do not have to be a refugee, to defend the rights of refugees. And you do not have to be homosexual, to defend the rights of LGBT.

"Being human is enough. Even if we are different, we should not disagree.

"Meet us on May 17 at Hotel Monroe to take part in IDAHOT."