Lebanon 'Liberal' for Mideast, but Gays Still Targeted


Lebanon has a reputation as the most liberal country in the conservative Middle East, but even a night on the town for gays can end in arrest and humiliating sexuality "tests".

They might be less persecuted than elsewhere in the region, but outside a few areas of the capital Beirut, Lebanese homosexuals are largely stigmatized and discriminated against.

"If you want to be gay in Lebanon, then you'd better be powerful like Yves Saint Laurent. That's what someone told me when I was young, and the words have stuck with me ever since," said "Marwan", a gay man in his mid-40s who preferred not to give his real name.

A self-made and successful businessman, his "goal in life is to lobby and overturn Article 534 of Lebanese law" which punishes "unnatural sexual intercourse" by up to one year's imprisonment.

At a time when gay marriage is winning approval in France and New Zealand, Lebanon's gay community feels "light years" behind.

"Can't we just decriminalize homosexuality for now?", wrote the "Gay in Beirut" blog after the French gay marriage vote.

"At work, if they know that you're gay or lesbian, you can be fired without any right to protest," said Ahmed, a member of the Beirut-based group Helem that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The group is the first of its kind in the Arab world and works in an environment in which gays are often the focus of jokes and ridicule.

As a result, members of Lebanon's LGBT community tend to keep a low profile, restricting their love lives to darkened cinemas and a handful of gay clubs.

But there they are often the target of sometimes brutal police action.

On April 21, police raided a transvestite bar in Dekwaneh.

"The police beat and arrested several people," said Rami, who was there at the time.

"All we want is to be able to go out for the night like anyone else."

Some of those arrested in the operation were made to strip and were photographed, with officials saying this was necessary to determine their sex.

Dekwaneh residents put up banners praising the raid, but a group of gay Lebanese protested outside the justice ministry.

"The law is so vague that it is used at whim," said Marwan. "It is often used by policemen looking for a quick, hefty bribe."

"I was once stabbed 12 times. What the gang wanted was to steal my car. Because they knew I was gay, they could safely assume the police wouldn't protect me."

Alexandre, a 31-year-old dancer at the protest against the Dekwaneh raid, said: "How stupid is it to criminalize people's love? Live your life and let me live mine."

Dekwaneh Mayor Antoine Shaktoura is an example of Lebanon's sometimes ambiguous approach to its gays.

"I'm not against transvestites, everyone is free, I'm not against gays... I have a modern mentality," he told Agence France Presse.

"But there's a society which sometimes rejects these things and... there are some things that the eye rejects," he added.

In addition to police raids, gays have also experienced the humiliating practice of anal "tests" which officials claim can determine sexual orientation.

In July 2012, 36 men arrested at a gay cinema in a working-class Beirut neighborhood were subjected to the test, prompting protests.

Human Rights Watch, calling the examinations "tests of shame", urged the justice ministry to end the practice.

But despite the obstacles they face, some gays in Lebanon remain hopeful.

"In 10 years, things have changed," Ahmed said.

"We can talk about the issue. There is greater sensitivity and the media doesn't use the word 'deviant' to refer to a homosexual."

Bassem, another gay man, is also positive.

"We are far away from the stage where we can even aim to have gay marriage legalized, but I believe we will eventually get there. It's a question of evolution," he said.

Lebanon's famous diversity creates room for freedom, he believes.

"It's the only country where there are no minorities," he said.

"If you're Christian or Muslim, man or woman, veiled or unveiled -- you're never the dominant. There is no 'other' here."

Comments 8
Thumb geha 08 May 2013, 13:28

shame on Antoine Shaktoura for what he did in taking pictures of naked people and sending them over from his mobile after forcing them to get naked.
this is totally illegal and he had no right to do so.

Thumb benzona 08 May 2013, 15:05

Franchement, on a déjà assez de problème que pour se tracasser pour un de plus.... One day maybe !

Missing lebanon4ever 08 May 2013, 15:10

Can someone give me a non religious reason why gays shouldn't be allowed to marry.

Please don't say its unnatural and Don't say it's about procreation, it's not, we allow people who are unable or unwilling to procreate to marry (no country on earth forces married couples to have sex or to marry solely with a view to procreation).

Lebanon is in desperate need of separation of state and religion. Christians can't marry Muslims, Muslims can't marry Druze, Druze can't marry Jews. A gay man can be arrested and subjected to degrading and shameful tests yet a man raping his wife is classified as "man exercising the least of his marital rights". We should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation.

Thumb lebanon_first 08 May 2013, 22:02

free spirit you misunderstood "password".
He meant his comment as being "it is your body and your business, your choice, noone elses, (and certainly not the municipility chief). He didnt mean it the way you thought he did. But your comment is head on as an answer to any homophobic comment which weirdly wasnt posted yet.

Missing eurybaric 09 May 2013, 02:02

It's nice to see that commentators till now are proving that, politics and stupidities aside, we can still be rational, and open minded. Faith in Lebanese 10% restored :P

Thumb LebCynic 09 May 2013, 08:19

God created Adam and Eve NOT Adam and Steve!

Thumb lebanon_first 09 May 2013, 16:01

Distructive... You seem to know a lot about God... Were u there when this happened?

Default-user-icon Bear (Guest) 09 May 2013, 12:48

Aya God Distructive?what about those who does not believe in "your god" ?
dissolve them in Acid?who gave you the right to decide what is wrong and what is right?who are you to tell ppl how they should live their lives.
I am Gay and i am proud of it.
keep "your god" to yourself,i respect all religion,i respect your faith and wish you luck ,i hope you can live and let live .