LGBT rights in Lebanon

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LGBT rights in
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Illegal
Gender identity/expression -

Homosexuality remains a crime in Lebanon, but the country is unusual and unique among Arab-majority nations in that it has a small internal gay rights movement.

Laws against homosexuality

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits having sexual relations that are "contradicting the laws of nature," which is punishable by up to a year in prison. This prohibits homosexuality, along with adultery, sodomy and fornication.

As a practical matter, enforcement of the law is varied and often occurs through occasional police harassment and arrests. In 2002, the police broke into a woman's house after her mother claimed that her daughter had stolen some money and jewellery. Upon entering the house, the police found the woman having sexual relations with another woman and charged them both with the crime of sodomy.[2] Other arrests of gay couples, or police raids of nightclubs where gay men patronize, are frequently reported in local newspapers.

On December 11th 2009, the Lebanon-based LGBT organization Helem launched a report that would target the legal situation of homosexuals in the Middle East and North Africa. In a historic moment, counted among the top 5 LGBT achievements worldwide in LGBT by [3], a Lebanese judge in Batroun ruled against the use of article 534 to prosecute homosexuals. [4]

Laws against free speech

Aside from the criminal law, gay Lebanese civilians have been charged with violating censorship laws regulating free speech and free press. In 2000, the webmaster of faced military charges for maintaining a website for gay and lesbian Lebanese.[5]

Living conditions

In 2003, Lebanese media reported that the Lebanon Dunkin Donuts store refused to serve customers that looked gay. The policy was defended by the general manager, "We have kids of all ages coming to our shop, and I want the parents to be assured that when their kids come here they are being taken care of,” she said.[6]

In 2003, the Lebanese drag queen entertainer named Bassem Feghali temporarily gave up his cross-dressing career in order to serve one year in the military, a requirement of Lebanese law at the time. After his military service, Feghali returned to his successful career of impersonating female celebrities.[7]

In November 2005, the Lebanese police raided "Acid Nightclub" in Sin el Fil, and arrested a group of gay men including Roukoz Eid known by "REID el Zahlawi" the head of the group, who remains in jail.

Also in 2005, a group of Lebanese gay men fled to the Netherlands, seeking asylum. They argued that, because homosexuality is a crime in Lebanon, they would be treated as criminals if they returned to Lebanon. Canada has given some Lebanese homosexuals asylum.

Lebanon is the only Middle East country besides Israel and Turkey which showed the film Brokeback Mountain. Circuit Planete started showing the movie on March 23, 2006 and ran it for a month. In Lebanon, the movie’s duration is 2 hours and 10 minutes which is only 4 minutes less than the original uncensored movie. This lead to speculation about whether the movie will be censored or kept as it is.

2006 also witnessed the opening of more gay-positive venues in Beirut. In addition to the famous gay-friendly clubs Acid and X-OM (Acid was the first gay nightclub in the Arab World), the club UV reopened in May after a long absence. The gay-owned Walimat Wardeh bar has become increasingly popular, and has been joined by a new bear bar Wolf. Wolf has received criticism, however, for its discrimination against "feminine" gay men.

Since June 2007, an international Bear Arabia Gathering has been held in Beirut, and many foreigners came to participate.[8]

LGBT rights movement in Lebanon

In 2002, a gay rights organization was started in Lebanon. The group, known as Hurriyyat Khassa or Private Liberties seeks to reform Article 534 of the criminal code so that sexual relations between consenting adults in private are no longer a crime. Another gay rights organization in Lebanon is called Helem (, "Dream" in Arabic and an acronym for the Lebanese Protection of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community). These organizations have staged a few public demonstrations, lectures, fundraisers for AIDS education, charitable events and exhibitions of films and have been interviewed by the Lebanese media.

Helem is an entirely legal organisation under Lebanese law. As explained in the Helem website[9], "according to the Lebanese law of association, any non-government organization can register through providing public notice ("3ilm wa khabar" in Arabic) to the Lebanese Ministry of Interior. Contrary to popular opinion, organizations do not need "permission" from the Ministry in order to be considered legal. Furthermore, the Ministry is obligated by law to issue an immediate receipt with a registration number to the organization submitting its public notice. The only legal reasons justifying a rejection of public notice are: (a) The documentation provided in the public notice is incomplete (b) The organization's field of action and principles violate or compromise one of the following: National security, the sovereignty of the state, Public morality"

As of yet, Helem has not received its receipt of registration from the Ministry of Interior, which is a clear violation of the law and has no bearing on the legality of Helem, says the Helem presentation.

It goes on to explain that Helem does not violate public morals. None of Helem's activities violate any existing laws, including the law of public morality. In 2006, a lawsuit was filed against Helem accusing it of "public indecency and corrupting the youth", but after investigations failed to corroborate this claim, the lawsuit was dropped.

In 2004, gay rights supporters hosted a showing of the 1961 British film Victim at the American University in Beirut. After the video, a heated discussion followed between advocates for gay rights, and those who felt that homosexuality should remain illegal, based on traditional religious moral values.[10]

Also, in 2004, the trendy fashion shop Aishti sponsored a series of advertisements on Beirut billboards with three men and three women embracing. The six were fashionably dressed in different color tops representing the gay rainbow flag. The billboards read: "Vote For Tolerance".[11]

In 2006, Helem celebrated the International Day Against Homophobia in Monroe Hotel Downtown.[12][13] The event shocked the majority of the Lebanese. Lebanese Police was protecting the hotel during the event.

In August 2007, a lesbian NGO named Meem was founded to support lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning women in Lebanon. The group offers community support, psychological counseling, an activity center, legal support, social events, and the opportunity to work on social change.[14] Meem also hosts a Womyn House that serves as an activity and resource center in Beirut.

In February 2009, an estimated two hundred people gathered in Beirut for what is believed to be the first public LGBT rights protest in the Arab world. The group also condemned discrimination against women, children, and domestic workers.[15]

While these organizations have been permitted to exist, and gain some degree of publicity, they have little public support. According to one of the founders of "Private Liberties," the organization has some support from lawyers, doctors and journalists that have worked on human rights issues, along with some left-wing members of the "Khatt Mubashir."

LGBT in Lebanese politics

None of the political parties or factions have publicly endorsed any of the goals of these human rights organizations. On May 29, 2006, ran a piece in which Beirut municipality council member Saad-Eddine Wazzan publicly called on Lebanese PM Fouad Sanyoura and Minister of Interior Ahmad Fatfat to shut down Helem.[16] The June 16 Friday sermons in the mosques of Beirut condemned homosexuality and pointed to the fact that Beirut has a licensed LGBT organization called Helem. The sermons also called on the government to provide explanations. The following day, Lebanon's acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat denied charges by conservative Muslim clerics that the government had approved a gay rights group.[17]

LGBT Publications

Lebanon is the first Arab country with its own gay periodical. Entitled Barra (Out in Arabic). A trial issue was published in March 2005 with two full issues that followed in Summer 2005 and Spring 2006.[18]

Helem also has its own website including a regular online newsletter publication. Helem Montreal has started publishing Juwwa (Meaning "In" in Arabic) reflecting its own activities.

In May 2006, Helem and La CD-Theque published the first book in Arabic about Homophobia. On May 19, Helem organized a book-signing event in the presence of the Lebanese media. Homophobia: Views and Positions (رهاب المثلية: مواقف وشهادات) is the first book of its kind in Arabic in the region. Bringing together some of Lebanon's most gifted writers as well as a host of local intellectuals and activists, Homophobia is a book that challenges and sparks much needed debate about the violence that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals face and the silence that protects and condones it.[19]

In 2009, "Bareed Mista3jil" is a book published by the Lebanese lesbian Meem organization in Beirut. Available in both English and Arabic versions, the book is a collection of 41 true and personal stories from lesbians, bisexuals, queer and questioning women, and transgender persons from all over Lebanon.[20]

HIV/AIDS issues

Lebanon was one of the first countries in the Middle East to launch a National AIDS Program (NAP) in 1989,[21] and the first in the region to offer free AIDS treatment to its citizens.[22] The first reported cases of infection were in 1984, and misinformation about the virus is still commonplace. The Lebanese AIDS Society, The Lebanese Red Cross Youth, and Helem are all non-governmental organizations providing education and treatment options.

The Lebanese government reports that 756 infected persons are living in Lebanon, but most public health advocates believe that the actual number is much larger, possibly in the several thousands. The United Nations estimates that around 2,900 are infected.[23]

Lebanese GLBT movement in the Diaspora

Lebanese communities in the Diaspora (Europe, North America, Australia) have also established visibility and presence through Helem GLBT affiliates in various cities with big Lebanese presence including Montreal[24] (where Helem has obtained legal registration), Paris,[25] Los Angeles, and Sydney.

See also


  1. [
  2. Sodomy reporting on Lebanese media coverage on arrest of two lesbians
  3. [
  4. [
  5. George Achi article on gay protest march in Beirut
  6. GayMiddleEast reporting on Lebanese media coverage on the Dunkin Donuts affair
  7. Bassem Feghali fansite
  8. BearArabia website on Mr. Muscledd M.M. Beirut, a pan-Arab bear event
  9. Is Helem Legal?: A presentation of the legal status of Helem
  10. news item: Lebanese Gays Push for Law Change
  11. Gay MIddle East site on the Aishti Vote for tolerance billboard campaign
  12. BBC report in Arabic about Lebanese gays
  13. BBC report by Kim Ghattas: Landmark meeting for gay Lebanese
  14. Meem Website
  15. MrZine George Achi article: Peaceful Rally for Gay Rights in Beirut
  16. Al Arabiya report on protests against gay organizations in Lebanon
  17. The Daily Star report on Minister Fatfat's reaction
  18. Barra magazine page on Helem website
  19. Helem and La CD-Theque publish first Arabic-language book on homophobia. Helem (2006-11-24).
  20. Bareed Mista3jil Official book website
  21. World Bank. World Bank’s Fight against HIV/AIDS Spreads to MENA.
  22. International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Lebanon #2.
  23. UNAIDS report on Lebanon
  24. Helem Montreal page on Helem website
  25. Helem Paris page on Helem website

External links


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