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.