Lebanon's LGBTQ Community Proudly Marches on Despite Pride Ban
Lebanon’s homegrown LGBTQ activists are showing the world their commitment to Pride in the face of adversity. Although the small Middle-Eastern country may seem like an unlikely hotspot for LGBTQ rights, gay-friendly nightclubs and cafes have become a mainstay for Beirut’s notorious nightlife. In recognition of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT), advocates punctuated Beirut's Bliss Street with pro-LGBTQ graffiti. Through the help of Helem, the countries first non-profit dedicated to LGBTQ rights, Lebanon’s LGBTQ community has been staging IDAHOT lectures and workshops for over a decade. Last year, Beirut courageously celebrated its inaugural Pride despite intimidation and threats from police and religious extremists. Within the last few months, Lebanon’s LGBTQ community has shown its true colors in defiance of society’s anti-LGBTQ prejudice.
In early March, Beirut celebrated International Women’s Day with a rally inclusive of trans women. Over 4,000 people of diverse backgrounds took to the streets to show solidarity with a wide range of groups including those who suffered domestic violence, migrant workers, displaced Syrian and Palestinian women, and the LGBTQ community. Supporters raised rainbow flags and signs in Arabic and English reading, “Trans women are women too” and “Transgender, Bi, or Lesbian Together Against the Patriarchy”.
On May 12th, Beirut’s LGBTQ community and supporters began celebrating Beirut Pride 2018. Originally scheduled for nine days and to coincide with IDAHOT, organizers intended the event to showcase supportive parents of LGBTQ community members. Planned events included theatre readings, drag shows, legal workshops, and discussions of sexual health.
Unfortunately, the Lebanese LGBTQ community suffered a setback midway through the festivities. Three days into events, authorities briefly detained the organizer, Hadi Damien, for questioning. Facing up to two years in prison for debauchery and offending public decency, Damien’s lawyers advised him to sign paperwork calling off further events. Out of respect for Damien’s safety, the LGBTQ community agreed to suspend further activity. However, Helem continued IDAHOT activities without incident. Within the coming days, a judge is expected to rule if Beirut Pride constitutes ‘incitement to immorality’.
The disruption of Beirut Pride 2018 comes on the heels of a renewed interest in repealing anti-LGBTQ laws. Although same-sex relationships are de facto legal in Lebanon, article 534 of the Lebanese penal code prohibits sexual relationships ‘against nature’. The law has been applied to varying success in prosecuting same-sex relationships. In 2013, the law was invoked to justify the raid and closure of a gay-friendly nightclub in the Beirut suburbs. During the 2018 parliamentary elections, the Kataeb Party expressed support for repealing article 534 and decriminalizing same-sex relationships.
On Sunday, Beirut Pride released an official statement promising to persevere, “Despite recording some disappointment and loss on the short term, we acknowledge this is part of the path. However, and on the medium and the long terms, things are great, and we are stronger than ever. The parties that intended to harm us provided us with unsolicited global attention we received yet again. We profoundly thank you for your overwhelming support and for the outpouring of positive feedback, all of which we will always reflect on to move forward. Together, we strive for a better country in which we live and love to our fullest!”
As America begins to kick off Pride celebrations in June, it’s important to reflect on the growth of our communities. Lebanon’s LGBTQ activists demonstrate the power of solidarity, determination, and bravery in changing society. This Pride, we should all take a note from activists around the world and determine how we can change our own communities for the better.