Lebanon Hosted The First Gay Pride Ever Held In The Arab World

This Sunday, May 21, marked the end of a week of festivities in Lebanon following its first Gay Pride, which was also the first Gay Pride in the Arab world.

It was held in Batroun, in the north of the country, and was the closing event in a series of celebrations and debates in the city’s bars and nightclubs.

While it is a great step forward, it also shows that there is still some way to go in terms of rights for the LGBT community: instead of a parade, the activists from Beirut Pride had to make do with a restaurant lunch.

Lea, a participant, told AFP: “We were not able to hold a real gay pride parade because the Lebanese government would not have allowed it.” Hence the choice of a discreet restaurant: “This is a private place where no one can bother us… we can close our ‘gay pride’ without pressure or threats.”

A country that remains quite conservative
Even though it was rather forward thinking of Lebanon to allow the event to actually happen, the country remains very conservative and still considers homosexuality to be a legal offense.

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code recommends a sentence of one month to a year of imprisonment along with a fine in cases of “unnatural sexual relations.”

The country’s conservatism also limits political demonstrations. For example, a seminar organized in Beirut by the NGO Proud Lebanon on April 13 was canceled due to pressure from Muslim theologians who threatened to protest in front of the hotel where the seminar was to take place.

An encouraging step forward for the LGBT community
The organizers of the first Lebanese Gay Pride want to focus on the positive step forward for the LGBT community in the Arab world, however.

They explained to CNN that the aim of the event was to give the LGBT community better visibility, and to help “transcend labels” that alienate individuals of certain sexual identities.

Hadi Damien, the event organizer, said that the event was the result of several years of working in secret and online. As he told CNN:

“This is an initiative that is coming to denounce – and in very peaceful means – all kinds of hate and discrimination, but we specifically work with sexual identity”

This Gay Pride is part of a wider struggle to combat hatred and reconcile communities in the Arab world, and the project has had good results in recent years.

In 2004, the country finally allowed the gay organization, Helem, to be formed, and allowed them to publish a quarterly magazine. Since 2009, a dozen judges have also refused to criminalize sexual orientation, and the gender reassignment surgery of a trans man was legalized in January.

About ten days ago, Lebanon’s oldest and largest chain of restaurants aired its latest ad campaign, showing a lesbian couple on TV for the first time in the history of the country. The channel’s Head of communications told CNN that their goal was to “to include people we see everywhere around us.”

Hadi Damien thinks this first Gay Pride is “definitely a big milestone.” He considers it “an encouraging sign for the promotion of human dignity and the denunciation of violence based on the diversity of sex and gender.”

by Mélissa Perraudeau
Source – Konbini