Beirut Filled With Pride Flags, Despite The Cultural Terrorism That Lebanon’s Government Allows

Pictures via Helem.

In Lebanon, religious extremism and cultural terrorism are more accepted than basic human rights. We’ve known this for a while, but got another reminder this week when a fringe religiously extreme group with so much political clout managed to get the Lebanese government to force the cancellation of two scheduled events as part of Beirut’s pride week.

The latest event was organized by the Arab World’s first ever LGBT advocacy NGO Helem, and was aimed at raising awareness through actual facts and expert opinion about the LGBT community in Lebanon. It was supposed to be one of the last events to take place during Beirut’s Pride Week schedule, until Lebanon’s security forces “couldn’t ensure the security of the event” anymore, as was relayed to the location that was hosting it. When Metro El Madina, the location hosting the event, resisted, the pressure from official sides in Lebanon’s governance also rose leading to the event’s cancellation.

As I said before, religious extreme group in Lebanon are a cancer in our society, regardless of which religion they practice. They come in all forms and have been given so much power by our political system that they can literally walk all over our personal liberties and the only thing we can do is sit by and watch as they do so, under the guise of various dimwitted slogans that they permeate, mostly about how anything their religious beliefs don’t conform with is a western ploy to destroy our societies and a sin aimed at fragmenting the fabrics of Lebanon’s holy society.

Except it’s exactly their religious extremism that’s the main threat behind everything Lebanon stands for, when it comes to its societal fabric and construct. The fact that they are allowed to perpetuate their sickening beliefs and force them onto everyone else, especially when the people they’re trying to oppress are acting within their legal and constitutional rights, is horrifying. And this won’t change any time soon.

Shame on Lebanon’s government. They’re the side to blame about both cancellations here. They’re the ones who couldn’t put an irrelevant religiously extreme group in its place and allow an event that was planned within the framework of Lebanon’s guaranteed freedom of expression from going through unscathed. They’re the ones who have allowed our rights as Lebanese to be entirely dependent on whether they abide by the moral code of some religious group somewhere. They’re the ones who don’t have the spine to stand up for the citizens they’re bound to protect.

If Lebanon’s government thinks that massive PR overhaul the country needs will only come through articles in American or European media about how beautiful the country is to visit, they’re massively mistaken. It will come through events such as Pride Week that show the world that this country in the Middle East is grossly different than all of its surroundings and that minds are more open and tolerant here, and that maybe it’d be worth looking at Lebanon with consideration.

And yet, despite all of the religious extremism and cultural terrorism that’s permitted by our political system, Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighborhood has its bars filled with the LGBT pride flag, also known as the rainbow flag, in order to celebrate the end of the Arab world’s first ever pride week.

As you can see from the above picture gallery, with pictures taken off Helem’s Facebook page, more than a dozen bars around the area sported the flag on one of their busiest nights of the week as a sign of solidarity. This shows that, against all odds, Lebanon’s youth is coming together to advance rights in the country for everyone. Maybe there is light at the end of that tunnel after all?

It’s truly a beautiful sight to see Beirut, against all odds and all threats, wear those flags in such a high profile area and literally not give a fuck about the police or the government behind the police or the extremists who run our government behind the scenes. Perhaps it bodes for a better future. Perhaps one might be foolish in being hopeful, but for such flags to fly high in the Middle East is, well, unheard of. Beirut literally did that.

Now let’s wait for those religiously extreme people’s minds to blow.

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Dear Lebanese Homophobes

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Over the past week or so, I’ve had the honor to write about two major advances for the LGBTQI+ community in Lebanon. The first was them being represented in an ad for a major company, which you could check out here, and the second was to proclaim how Beirut is the first Arab city ever to celebrate Pride Week, despite Islamists threatening one of its events eventually leading to that one event’s cancellation (link).

Nevertheless, they persisted.

On those posts, be it in the comment section or on my Facebook page, the amount of vitriol homophobic – or more globally LGBTQI+ vomit although homosexuality takes the cake in aversion – was just too ignorant and insurmountable to be addressed in Facebook comments that could, sooner or later, degenerate into shouting rows and manifestations of immaturity that one can’t come back from.

So I decided to write this instead, coupled with a great documentary by HELEM about some key facts regarding the LGBTQI+ community in Lebanon, which you can watch at the end of this post. It’s worth the 22 minutes of your time.

Without further ado, here I address some of the more recurrent “opinions.”

Opinion #1: Homosexuality is against nature:

This is factually incorrect. If you’re going to use the nature argument, you can’t disregard the fact that all species on Earth exhibit homosexual behavior. From penguins to dolphins to a ton of species in between them, almost all species walking the Earth exhibit homosexuality. And yet, the only species that has homophobia is humans. Food for thought.

Opinion #2: Anal sex is the root of all STDs:

This is factually incorrect as well. I mean, if you’re going to talk medicine, you should really back up your claim with hard medical data not what your local priest or sheikh told you once upon a time.

It is statistically significant that HIV has a higher rate of transmission through anal sex compared to vaginal sex, yes, but that doesn’t mean that anal sex created HIV or other STDs for that matter or that “doing it from behind” (as one comment said) is “scientifically proven” to be the root of all sexual diseases. You see, there are more STDs than HIV, and the key to combatting all of them – regardless of the genitals you’re sleeping with – is to practice safe and clean sexual habits.

If you’re straight, bisexual, gay, trans or intersex, regardless of whoever you sleep with if that person is not a long term partner whom you are aware is healthy, safe sex is a key towards prevention of all major STDs.

Opinion #3: If homosexuality is okay, then why do they have a high prevalence of HIV?

While anal sex is proven to have a higher risk of transmissibility compared to vaginal sex, due to the type of cells in the anal mucosa and the viral load in penile secretions, that is not the full story. The reason why HIV has a higher prevalence among homosexual and bisexual men is because of the stigma that their community faced over the years, leading them not to have access to healthcare or needed awareness that is needed.

It’s almost ironic that an argument whose answer is discrimination is used to defend one’s bigoted views about that which you’re discriminating against. Instead of fostering a world of non-judgemental healthcare, you are discriminating against someone based on the disease they contracted. This is not okay in any day and age. To quote a dear friend: Epidemiology ALWAYS has social reasons. Now that is a fact.

Opinion #4: Kids brought up by same-sex parents will grow up to be gay:

No, this is incorrect. All psychologic studies to this date have not shown this to be accurate. Being gay is not a matter of upbringing. It’s a complex interaction between genetics, hormones, environmental factors, etc… Science has not even fully understood why homosexuality exists as the issue is that complex, but I’m glad you can reduce it to someone’s upbringing. It sure saves every scientist a lot of effort and future accolades into the study of human sexuality.

And yet, despite all of this, the science is clear. Not only are children brought up by same-sex parents not at an increased “risk” of not being straight, but they’re also not at a disadvantage when it comes to life (link).

Opinion #5: Same-sex couples have higher divorce rates:

Literally incorrect. The biggest study on the matter surveyed 150,000 married same-sex couples and found their divorce rate to be at 1%/year, whereas it is 2% for opposite-sex couples.

Yet again, if you’re literally telling someone they can’t love another person because of that person’s gender, I would assume it’s unfathomable for you to believe that two people who love together can stay together.

Opinion #6: If you like homosexuality, why don’t you approve of beastiality or pedophilia?

It’s actually quite simple. The whole point behind Lebanon’s Pride Week is to advance the mantra of “live and let live,” which is to say it’s none of anyone’s business who people love and why they love them.

How the hell is sex between two consenting adults, regardless of their gender, the same as when someone forces oneself on a helpless animal who doesn’t possess the agency nor the mental capacity to give consent to what they’re being forced into?

Or even worse, how is a sexual relation between two consenting adults the same as when one adult forces themselves on a child who doesn’t possess the agency or legality to give sexual consent?

The only resemblance between beastiality, pedophilia, and homosexuality is, you know, the fact that both involve sex, which – gasp – also applies to heterosexuality.

Opinion #7: It’s a Western ploy to ruin our societies:

You’d be surprised to know that Arab society was much more open to homosexuality and other manifestations of human sexuality than it is today. Abu Nawwas, the famous Arab poet whose works on love and wine and even sex are taught in schools and universities today, was an open bisexual. He was embraced by society, because his “behavior” was more accepted back then.

In fact, homosexual behavior can be traced back to earlier civilizations that existed in these parts of the world and our neighboring countries and regions. There’s literally nothing Western about it. If anything, our regions “exported” it to the West when we started emigrating from our own countries to the New World.

Regardless of what politicians want to tell you or what your own “we’re better than the West” mantra, human behavior is very similar across the Earth. This is why we can find common ground between two individuals who are worlds apart. And yet, it sure is telling that anything that Arabs find to be at odds with what they know gets attributed to the “West.” It’s a major shortcoming of our own societies, if anything.

Opinion #8: I don’t know any gay people:

Yes, you do. 10% of the population falls among the LGBTQI+ spectrum at the most conservative of estimates. Your class of 20 people in Brevet had at least 2 people among your classmates, and maybe even your friends, are LGBTQI+. That 300+ biology course you took in university has around 30 LGBTQI+ people, maybe even that person sitting next to you. Your family and extended family has a couple people or more who are too afraid to be who they are because of you.

Don’t live in denial. Embrace others and be open to the people you love for them to find a beacon of safety in you.

Opinion #9: Medicine says it’s an illness:

This is not true at all. Psychiatry has declassified homosexuality as a disease for over 50 years now. The Lebanese Psychiatric Association declared it not an illness more than 4 years ago. The Lebanese Order of Physicians has restricted its physicians from practicing any anti-LGBT medical practices and, if a physician was found doing such illegal practices, their license could be revoked.

So if you find a “doctor” who’s giving a “lecture” about why homosexuality is bad, know that that doctor is a fraud who is not practicing medicine. Hocus pocus would apply more in that case.

Opinion #10: When will we have straight pride week?

Straight people in Lebanon are not being persecuted, discriminated against, put in jails, and subjected to all kinds of human rights violations against their bodies just because they happened to have that particular sexual orientation.

No one’s walking around the street telling people they like vagina or penis or whatever other body part you seem to have a problem with people liking. The point is them asking you not to point your finger at them and judge them and call for them to be shamed and persecuted because they like to sleep with people who have that body part.

Bonus opinion We have other issues to worry about:

Yes, we do. Electricity, internet, water, ISIS, Hezbollah, elections… We can name them for months. But that doesn’t mean we can’t focus on other things, too.

Bonus opinion 2.o: Fuck you, faggot lovers.

It may be hard to fathom, but there are people in this world – such as me – who will always stand with human decency, and support a person’s right to be who they are, love whoever they love and be comfortable in their own skin without worrying about simply existing.

I leave you with Helem’s documentary:

 

Lebanon’s Cancerous Islamists & Other Religious Extremists Didn’t Win: Beirut Celebrates LGBT Pride Week

One step forward, a bunch of steps backwards thanks to cancerous religious extremists whose political reach is always overreaching; this is the story of modern Lebanon.

A few days after Crepaway’s left field ad which featured a same sex couple cuddling by the shore (link), Beirut was in full gear to celebrate its own version of Pride Week, as part of the Lebanese International Day Against Homophobia.

Multiple LGBT NGOs have scheduled multiple events throughout the week for the occasion, from storytelling nights featuring Mashrou’ Leila’s lead singer Hamed Sinno, to a conference on Saturday by HELEM about fighting homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in Lebanon.

Yesterday, however, Lebanon’s establishment dealt a setback to the organization Proud Lebanon which had planned an event this week as part of Beirut Pride Week. The reason was that a Lebanese Islamist organization – hay2at al 3oulama2 al muslimin – decided that such an event was in violation of their own fragile self and what they believe in, which led them to pressure the ministry of interior which prompted the hotel to cancel the event under the guise of them “not being able to keep the participants safe.”

It’s intriguing, isn’t it, that a conference about basic human rights in 2017 cannot be kept safe somehow by security officers. You’d think that they’d be capable of doing the most mundane of their jobs: assign a few officers to the hotel in question, in order to guarantee the well-being of Lebanese citizens who are expressing their constitutionally given right of freedom of expression, but no.

It’s not that they can’t guarantee the participants’ safety, it’s that they don’t want to. Our system is too afraid of irrelevant snowflake Islamists whose entire existence these days is about making sure nothing about this country moves forward in any way that threatens their power. Our system is too terrified of the advances that Lebanon’s LGBT community is making, be it in fighting homophobia to court victories to Lebanon further being the lead Arab country in such issues.

It should come as no surprise that those same Islamists wanted a Coca-Cola poster taken down in Tripoli because it was too “obscene” for their taste. Spoiler alert: it featured two people standing very close to each other. Those same Islamists also objected to a lingerie ad in Beirut under the guise of it being too close to a Mosque. That same ad had been approved previously by the same authorities that were forced to remove it.

The problem is that we have authorities that keep listening to such pests. When will this country stop listening to such cancerous infestations that are hell-bent in keeping everyone in their own dark ages? I guess we’ll never know.

However, those Islamists and other religious extremists who have terrorized the country with their horrendous thought don’t know that the years of struggle that Lebanon’s LGBT community has and is enduring has made them resilient to the hate and discrimination that infests their being.

As such, Beirut’s Pride Week is still underway, and if there’s anything to be proud of, it’s the fact that Beirut is the only Arab city to have such celebrations, in spite of Islamists and religious extremists, and in such an open way. L’Orient Le Jour published an article earlier saying that obscurantism had won. It may have prevented one event from taking place, but that hasn’t stopped the rest of what was planned from still being underway.

Lebanon’s extremists did not win. Their hate won’t win, and it sure as hell won’t find ground this year.

You can check out some of the events at this link. I will be updating this post if any other events are brought to my attention.

A First For Lebanon: Crepaway Features Same-Sex Couple In Their Beautiful New Ad

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Earlier today, Crepaway released a new ad to celebrate them turning 33 years, along with their famous tagline: #ComeAsYouAre.

The ad is exactly what you’d expect from the phrase “Come As You Are,” except it’s taken to a whole other level with some Lebanese taboo-breaking as Crepaway features a same-sex couple for the first time ever in an ad made for a Lebanese company. It’s also just in time before Lebanese LGBT NGOs start a week-long campaign to fight homophobia in the country.

Some people might gullibly think that the two women in question are just best friends and brush it off, but it’s far from the case. The voice over says: “And here’s to never hiding your love-bites,” as two women cuddle by the sea, come sunset time.

I was completely taken off guard by them including such a moment. I never expected a high profile company like Crepaway to go there, but I’m glad they did because it raised the quality of their ad’s message so much more.

The ad itself is as “woke” as that moment which is bound to have some people talking in the next few days: it is inclusive, features all kinds of kinds of Lebanese people you’d encounter on a daily basis, and celebrates all those differences that make each one of us, us.

Crepaway, I salute you for the courage you’ve put forth into making and approving such an ad to be how you represent your message in 2017, as you turn 33.

Check out the ad here:

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No, In 2017, Being Gay Is Still Not Legal In Lebanon… But We’re Getting There

lgbt_lebanon-metn-ruling

Lebanon, rejoice. A judge in the Metn area has issued, according to the legal agenda, what most Lebanese would consider one of the more liberal decisions to happen in the country in a long time by declaring that “homosexuality is a personal choice, and not a punishable offense.”

Of course, people were quick to start the celebrations. The ruling, which was championed by LGBT-rights advocate NGO Helem, is a step forward without a debt. But it remains, more or less, symbolic in a country where the actual constitution still stipulates that consensual sexual relations between two consenting adults who happen to be of the same gender unnatural is still there. This judge’s decision is limited to the jurisdiction of his court and could be overruled by Lebanon’s supreme court if they please because of the presence of the aforementioned article 534 in Lebanon’s penal code.

This is also not the first time that a Lebanese judge issues a decision regarding homosexuality as not being “unnatural.” The first time – and the actual pioneering step in this aspect – was through a judge in Batroun (home state pride!) in 2009. The second time was also in the Metn area, back in January 2014. The third time was in January 2016 when a judge allowed trans-people to legally change their genders. 

Another milestone was a 2013 decision by the Lebanese Syndicate of Psychiatry to remove homosexuality off the list of mental health disorders, which has been the case in scientific literature since the 1970s. 40 years late, perhaps, but the move was still the first in the entire Middle East and Northern Africa region.

The common denominator for all previous three rulings is that they remain limited to what the judge in question decreed, because the penal code is unchanged and, thus, homosexuality is still a “crime” in 2017, in the Middle East’s most liberal country.

The ramification of that is that, despite how excellent and pioneering those rulings are, the state and its backwards policemen can still target LGBT people using article 534 and subject them to all kinds of human rights abuses.

And while the ruling is to be commended, the language it uses further perpetuates the commonly-held stereotype, even among LGBT-friendly individuals, that homosexuality, or any non-heterosexual behavior, is a “personal choice.” It’s not a choice. It’s how someone is built. One does not choose their sexual orientation the same way one doesn’t choose the country they’re born in. It’s really that simple.

One of the main problems facing further changes in mentalities towards the LGBT community today in the country and the region is the fact that education about the topic is severely lacking, many people believe the religion they were born into is enough reference about the particular topic and politicians that we vote for couldn’t care less about the issue to begin with.

Exhibits from Facebook comments on the latest posts about the Metn judge’s ruling:

Moving forward, we have to enable more LGBT-friendly parliament members to get to power by showing them that Lebanese progressives are as active voters as the conservatives they wish to court every single elections. And we cannot be content with important but essentially trivial rulings that can be overruled at any moment when our constitution still thinks being gay is an abomination. The core is rotten, and that’s what needs to be fixed still.

Lebanon Pioneers In The Middle East: Allows Trans People To Legally Change Gender

In the grand scheme of things, today was quite a bad day for Lebanese law. Letting a confessed terrorist go out on bail is not only a mark of shame for the entire country, but for any legal system that allows such a thing to happen. But this is not about Michel Samaha.
This is about a lesser publicized decision in Lebanese courts today that has set motion in the region’s most liberal countries to strengthen its role as such: changing one’s gender can be legally done in Lebanon because it pertains to personal liberties, as per a Lebanese court.
Published in The Legal Agenda earlier today, the details are as follows.

In 2014, a transman submitted an official request to Lebanese courts in order to legally change his gender from female to male. The court at the time refused. So this man took it to Lebanon’s Appeal Court (Este2naf) which took an unprecedented and saw that the change in question was not only allowed, but it fell within the rights of the man at hand, saying – and I quote: “A person’s right to receive treatment for ailments both physical and mental is fundamental.”

Lebanon’s Appeal Court decision comes after consulting with experts on the matter of sexual identity and sexual disorders, psychologists and psychiatrists, after which it reached the aforementioned conclusion noting that “the treatment the plaintiff went through, both hormonal and surgical, is his right as a human being and cannot be taken away.”

Of course, this does not make the decision final as Lebanon’s Supreme Court can still nullify it, as they did with the infamous Captagon decision several months ago. But this precedence in question is one of which I believe we as Lebanese should be proud.

Why? Because we are the only country in the region as of now where Trans rights have risen to such prominence, and have even reached legal victories.

Because even with our dysfunctional parliament that can’t legalize to protect the citizens it’s supposed to govern, our legal system has taken it on itself to try and do so in some aspects, and it’s doing so as the best countries in the world would do. 

There’s a long way to go still.

While this is indeed great, it remains an isolated court ruling that, in order to become law, has to be passed by parliament into one, and we all know how good our parliament is at passing laws, let alone controversial one. 

We have huge portions in our country whose rights are decimated. Our women are still fighting for their rights. Gay people are still fighting for their rights. Any minority that is not stereotypical Lebanese male is fighting for its right, but this is a victory to one of those minorities and as such it’s a victory for them all.
There’s a long way to go when it comes to changing stereotypes too. I can imagine the many rolling their eyes as they are reading these lines. The notion that individual rights are not a matter of collective opinion is paramount and in my opinion should be the law of the land everywhere and anywhere.

But today, despite all the negatives, this is a tiny beam of hope in a land that is going backward day by day. So maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for civility in the jungle after all. 

The Closing of Ghost & Lebanon’s LGBT “Crust” Activism?

“Gay people should not exist. They are an abomination.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard this countless times in your life.

It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is. Homophobia is entrenched in Lebanese society and pretending it doesn’t exist because you live in a more “liberal” place in Beirut doesn’t mean it’s not there.

People see someone wearing something they may not fancy and they say he’s gay. People see a girl with super-short hair and not-so girly clothes and she’s a lesbian. People see two close friends from the same gender walking on the street and they’re automatically dating.

And sometimes, when someone has enough power, they act out on their homophobia. It’s very easy to freak out how someone as homophobic as the mayor of dekwane, the newest a place to close down a gay pub, made it to office. But is it any surprise?

Is it any surprise really and honestly that your security task force, which has no problem wolf-whistling your women on the streets, also has no problem in violating people that your law considers as “unnatural?”

I had no idea what “Ghost” was until today. I asked a few LGBT friends the following question: if it had been a hetereosexual place, do you think it closing would have been justified if the same stuff were happening in it?
They answered yes. The question begets itself: is it okay to do whatever people did at Ghost just because it’s a gay place?

Of course, Ghost closed down because it broke one particular Lebanese law, not the many others that, in any normal setting, should have counted. Of course the mayor wanted to protect his city against the “louwat” and whatnot. And you know what’s also interesting? For everyone person outraged by what happened and by what that mayor said, there are many more others who were just convinced to re-elect that mayor. No amount of Facebook sharing and Tweeting will change what people believe in deeply, surely and resoundingly: gay is not right and should not exist.

You know what’s the best way to tell a homophobic official to go to hell with his decisions? To have the law on your side to protect you, to have a law that doesn’t label you as an inferior human being just because of who you want to sleep with.

Until a time when closing down pubs because they’re gay-friendly becomes illegal and raiding cinemas because someone thinks “unnatural” things are happening there becomes not allowed, isn’t getting up in a fit because of those events happening while forgetting the base of the issue sort of like crust-activism whereby the small victories that might result are celebrated but the underlying cause for the struggle leading to those victories remains?

Until a time when homosexuality is removed form Lebanon’s penal code and homosexual men and women are not considered in law with a prefix, pubs will keep closing and cinemas will keep on being raided and activists will keep on panicking. It’s a cycle that will repeat itself indefinitely – until Lebanon’s LGBT community manages to get LGBT-friendly officials on their side in order to advocate for their rights and make laws that can be shoved in the mayor of Dekwane’s face.

I don’t see that happening anytime soon.