Lebanese 'safe space' salon opens doors to LGBT community
Kim Mouawad, the owner of Out Beauty Boutique, said she launched the salon to ease the lives of those facing discrimination and judgement across the country.
"Before opening Out, many of my friends from the LGBTQ community told me that getting certain things done were extremely awkward. They often felt judged and were sometimes refused service. Many salons in Lebanon will not wax men or offer nail extension or polish services," Mouawad told StepFeed.
Despite Lebanon’s general westernised worldview, it remains a climate where LGBTQ+ activism is institutionally shut down - homosexuality is an offence and those caught engaging in the act face up to one year in prison.
Last summer, organisers of Lebanon's first gay pride festival vowed to proceed with the celebration, despite religious figures forcing the closure of pro-LGBT events.
But Proud Lebanon director Bertho Makso said that Beirut Pride - which kicked off in May with an exhibition on gender fluidity in fashion - would go ahead in spite of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon declaring "war on homosexuality".
Before that, organisers had to cancel a seminar on discrimination against the LGBT community for "security reasons" after Islamists threatened to hold demonstrations outside the event.
"My older brother, Joey, was a closeted gay man for the first 24 years of his life. He grew up in a Lebanon that had absolutely no tolerance for homosexuality and held onto his 'shameful' secret for years, afraid of being judged and shunned by the people who love him the most," Mouawad said.
"At 22, Joey moved to Boston in the United States to pursue a master's degree, and he finally felt secure enough to be himself. When he came out to his family two years later, we were stunned to say the least," she added.
"We couldn't believe how well he had hidden his secret or how hard it must have been for him. He was trembling as he told us how much shame he felt. I was so upset by what my brother had to endure growing up in Lebanon, and for years I brainstormed ways I could help young people similar to Joey feel like they belong, and that there is room for them here."
After months of planning, Out Beauty Boutique was born amid an array of concern from family and friends.
"Before we opened, almost everyone told me not to do this! They said it was too risky and that I could even get hurt. I was a little worried about vandalism at first, but then I decided that this society would not intimidate and scare me the way they did my brother," she said.
"Individuals in the LGBTQ community need to have places, other than bars and clubs, that are outlets for self-love and expression."