Lebanon’s LGBTQ+ community faces new backlash and struggle for ‘dignity and respect’

The attacks on Lebanon’s LGBTQ+ community didn’t stop there during Pride Month. In a statement, Lebanon’s top Sunni religious figure, Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian, said Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, “would not authorize the legalization of homosexuality or civil marriage. “. A Christian group calling themselves the ‘Soldiers of God’ vandalized a billboard hours after it was set up on June 25 by Beirut Pride in the Achrafieh district, on which a rainbow flag was formed with flowers under the hashtag #lovealwaysblooms. On a Facebook page called “Men of Tabbaneh”, a neighborhood in Tripoli, a post incited violence against LGBTQ+ spaces in the city and against individuals who spoke out against the mufti and his statement condemning homosexuality. Master Chips, a local Lebanese snack company, even announced that it would no longer use rainbow colors on its packaging, so that it would no longer be associated with anything considered LGBTQ+.

The vitriol against Pride Month was so strong that the Lebanese Society of Psychiatry issued a statement clarifying that homosexuality cannot be considered a disease requiring treatment.

“We expected these protests,” Ali said. “We usually have negative reactions from the government. It’s funny because several parties are competing for anything but becoming allies when they have to confront LGBTQ+ initiatives.”

For Bertho Makso, executive director and co-founder of the NGO Proud Lebanon, the backlash also concerned public visibility. “Lebanese society is hypocritical because they would only accept LGBTQ+ events if they are not made public,” he said. In May 2017, the Association of Muslim Scholars threatened Proud Lebanon and other organizations for organizing events during Lebanon’s first-ever Pride Week. But since then, Proud Lebanon has avoided confrontations with conservatives and successfully organized four different LGBTQ+ advocacy events in Lebanon this year, including during Pride Month.

“We were lucky to organize these events,” Makso said. Although LGBTQ+ people have the right to express their ideals, Makso added, he believed the organizers who installed the billboard that was vandalized were not looking out for the good of the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon. “These events have been overhyped,” Makso said. “Why put up a billboard without having any events or activities? It’s not Pride. It’s marketing. These people are looking for attention. public events. We have tried to weigh the words without neglecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.”

A demonstration denouncing violence against women, Lebanon’s LGBTQ+ community and foreign workers, downtown Beirut, July 31, 2022. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

In addition to facing resistance from large segments of Lebanese society, LGBTQ+ people are also targets of legal discrimination. Article 534 of the colonial-era penal code established under the French Mandate vaguely prohibits “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature”, with a penalty of up to one year in prison. Article 521 of the penal code makes it a criminal offense for a man to “disguise himself as a woman”, punishable by up to six years in prison.

Several court rulings in Lebanon since 2007 have stated that Article 534 cannot be used to convict LGBTQ+ people, “because the law cannot identify that non-normative sex is unnatural”, as stated by noted Helem. Yet the NGO also reported that the number of arrests under Section 534 rose from 43 in 2012 to 76 in 2016.

Since 2017, Lebanese security forces have regularly attempted to shut down conferences and other LGBTQ+ events, even though they fall under the rights protected by Article 13 of the Lebanese constitution, which guarantees the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, among others. In 2021, Helem documented over 4,000 cases of LGBTQ+ abuse, ranging from sexual harassment and domestic violence to rape and sex trafficking.

Ali said the likelihood of being bullied because of sexual orientation or gender identity changes depending on where you are in a country largely defined and divided by bigotry and influence. religious. The more conservative areas are, unsurprisingly, less tolerant. “Sometimes the situation can change from street to street,” he said. “You have to consider where you are when you go out. Many LGBTQ+ people in the Arab world have sought refuge in Lebanon because it’s generally freer to express yourself. But, for example, if you live in the suburbs of Beirut, where people are more conservative, you don’t have a lot of freedom.”

In addition to this societal intolerance, the vertiginous economic crisis that has engulfed Lebanon since the end of 2019, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, has considerably worsened the living conditions of LGBTQ+ people. The twin shocks of the economic crisis and the pandemic have severely affected single-person households, which include many LGBTQ+ adults who have often had communication issues with family and had to find their own accommodation. The devaluation of the local currency and the dollarization of the economy – with more and more goods and services being sold in dollars or at the high daily exchange rate – have made the few LGBTQ+ pubs and cafes unaffordable.

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