The Middle East and the LGBTQIA+ Community: Cancellation of Beirut Pride

The month of June has been an outlet for pride and acceptance among a large portion of the LGBTQIA+ community. While this period of time calls for celebrating, it is also a critical point in time to recognize the inability to do so for many, so that we can find ways to assist those within their respective contexts. Taking a look at the Middle East, LGBTQIA+ activists in Lebanon have been fighting for representation and equality. Despite their persistence and hard-work, obstacles are constantly halting progressive actions.

Lebanon was the first Arab country to host a pride week just last year. This exemplifies the rampant silencing of the LGBTQIA+ community across the region since there is no opportunity for expression nearly anywhere in the Middle East. While this event attempted to give the LGBTQIA+ community the voice it deserves, it was quickly brought to down to a hush. The very first pride week held in Lebanon was canceled due to threats of violence. Despite the setbacks faced in 2017, another pride week had been scheduled to run from May 12 to 20 of this year; this would be Beirut’s second strong attempt in hosting a pride week. Some of the activities included social and educational events that discussed hate against members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Lebanon. A majority of events were planned to take place on May 17, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. With just a few days into Beirut Pride, Lebanon’s Censorship Bureau took in the founder of the event, Hadi Damien, for detention and interrogation.

Damien was soon made to sign a pledge to suspend all Beirut Pride events by canceling the rest of the events held for that week. Damien declared this an “abuse of power” as the person(s) filing the complaint against the event was identified only as a “religious figures association” stating that the Beirut Pride threatened “public morals.

Even though the events of Beirut Pride were shut down, other organizations that had no association with Beirut’s pride week hosted their own events that addressed healthcare, legal counsel and political representation for the LGBTQIA+ community.

The LGBTQIA+ community in Lebanon has undoubtedly faced many setbacks. While Lebanon retains an image as “more socially liberal than most Arab countries,” this belief is misleading because there is still tremendous amounts of progress that must be made. Overall, the LGBTQIA+ presence in the Middle East needs more attention. By becoming more aware of the current actions taken by and against the community, we can foster better understanding and grow support for those that do not have the opportunity to do so. One way to provide aid is to simply become more aware of the socio-political climate in the Middle East because it is oftentimes forgotten. For instance, May 2018 was also a huge turning point in Lebanon’s elections despite the many obstacles that further marginalized the community. Nearly 100 candidates support changing article 534 (a law dating back to French colonization which banned “unnatural action”) and became the first Arab country with candidates campaigning for LGBTQIA+ rights in the national election. The LGBTQIA+ community and its allies can aid one another cross-culturally through paying attention to the political climates of other regions in the world, spreading awareness, and supporting activists/political figures/LGBTQIA+ organizations such as Helem and the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, breeding more inclusivity and fostering respect for human rights in all parts of the world.

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