Despite Win in Courts, LGBT Community Suffers Discrimination, Abuse in Lebanon
The highest administrative court has suspended a ban on queer events while gays, lesbians, and transexuals fight against poor socioeconomic conditions
[Beirut] Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transexuals in Lebanon are among the most marginalized and excluded groups in society. Any person who tries to live outside heteronormativity is forced to have an existence full of difficulties and discrimination by society and the institutions in the Mediterranean country.
A new study by the nonprofit organization Legal Action Worldwide shows that members of the LGBT community are regularly subjected to “systemic discrimination, stigma, and abuse at home and across public settings, ranging from housing, health care, and employment, to education, hospitality, and shops.” Despite Lebanon being portrayed as a haven for queer people in the Middle East, Lebanese still must deal with homophobia and transphobia in their daily lives.
But at least now LGBT individuals can gather with a little less fear. The State Council, Lebanon’s high administrative court, decided to suspend the execution of Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi’s decision banning any meeting or gathering related to the community. On June 24, Mawlawi sent a letter to General Security and Internal Security forces in which he instructed both institutions to prevent gatherings that promote what he called “unnatural sexual relations” and “the phenomenon of sexual deviance.”
This ban came after religious leaders, especially Sunni, Shia, and Druze representatives, condemned celebrations organized by the LGBT community during Pride Month. “Freedom of expression cannot be invoked in this case, since it is a violation of the habits and traditions of our society, contrary to the principles of monotheistic religions,” said Mawlawi at the time, allowing security forces to arrest anyone involved in LGBT events. But this did not stop organizations The Legal Agenda and Helem from filing a lawsuit against the decision.
Such a lawsuit challenged the Minister’s decision on grounds of infringing on constitutional rights and inciting violence and hatred against marginalized communities, which should be protected by the State. For now, the State Council’s decision is a temporary suspension until it issues its ruling on the lawsuit.
“In this context, the judicial decision comes as a positive step towards protecting marginalized communities in Lebanon and builds on precedents in which the State Council strengthened the public freedoms of marginalized communities, including freedom of speech and participation in public debates related to queerness,” celebrated both The Legal Agenda and Helem in a joint statement.
Tarek Zeidan is the director of Helem, which means “dream” in Arabic, and is one of the leading organizations in the region fighting for queer people’s rights. “It has been very difficult because this decision came in addition to all the existing difficulties the community is facing since we are incredibly vulnerable when it comes to socioeconomic conditions,” he told The Media Line.
For the past three years, Lebanon has been facing one of the worst economic crises in the last 150 years, according to the World Bank. “Queer people are being used by the state to move attention away from the socioeconomic problems the whole of the population is facing,” Zeidan added.
These kinds of governmental decisions use the LGBT community as “scapegoats,” said Rasha Younes, a senior researcher with the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch who focuses on the abuses of the queer community in the MENA region. “They are targeting their activities to affirm that they as institutions are doing something, even though we have seen how they have been failing to implement reforms,” she told The Media Line.
In Lebanon, Article 534 of the Penal Code, which condemns “any sexual intercourse that contradicts the laws of nature,” has been historically used to prosecute people for same-sex relations. But in recent years, judges from lower courts have started to decline to convict homosexual relations as they don’t consider that they go against nature, setting a legal precedent for the whole community.
Despite this, security forces are still using this article to arrest people for their gender expression, especially trans women. From 2012 to 2016, the number of arrests under article 534 jumped from 43 to 76, according to Human Rights Watch. “In spite of Lebanon being seen as this safe space for queer people, we have witnessed how LGBT rights are not respected,” Younes told The Media Line.
The community has been celebrating the State Council’s announcement on November 11, but they know this is not the final victory. “We have to remain more vigilant about how the entire system is being maneuvered to regain control, not that much about police entering in queer spaces,” said Zeidan.
After the State Council announced its decision not even two weeks ago, Mawlawi has already banned two LGBT events bypassing the highest administrative court’s temporary suspension of his June ban. “The fight continues,” Zeidan concluded. “We are all targets, so we have to fight for everyone,” Helem’s director added.