More to Activism Than Just Pride in Lebanon

This year’s organiser of Beirut Pride, Hadi Damien, was arrested earlier this week by Lebanese authorities.

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Damien had to sign a document pledging that all remaining Pride events would be canceled or face criminal or misdemeanour charges for encouraging debauchery and offending public morality. Activities for Beirut Pride started on May 12th and were planned until May 20th.

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While the cancellation of Pride activities is unfortunate, it is a clear breach of article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution, which safeguards freedom of expression and assembly, other LGBTIQ related activities commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) continue.

In reaction to news coverage of the recent Beirut Pride event cancellations, Georges Azzi, prominent Lebanese and Middle East and North Africa regional activist and Executive Director of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) commented,

Beirut Pride is a Pride, it is not a movement, there is a bigger movement happening in the country. There are several organisations working and are still having LGBT related events this week and throughout the year.

Over the last number of years, Lebanese activists have advanced the human rights of LGBTIQ people and there has been continued positive social attitudinal shifts on homosexuality and transgender identity. In an interview today with OutRight Action International, Azzi noted the many advances, including:

  • Events associated with IDAHOTB have been taking place since 2005;
  • LGBT organizations have won many court cases regarding Article 534, which contends unnatural intercourse, with judges having said that the article cannot be used against the LGBT community;
  • A recent survey conducted in the country revealed that 65% of the population favored decriminalization of same-sex sexual acts;
  • 90% of the population is against physical violence against the LGBT community;
  • And just last week, Azzi’s regional organisation, the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE), conducted a series of interviews with candidates running for elections and found that more than one hundred of them wanted to decriminalise homosexuality.

Speaking on the subject of LGBTIQ organising and aspirations, Azzi told OutRight,

The public discourse is very welcoming now and this is why what happened with the Pride events this year came as a surprise for us, and we want to understand where it came from, but at the same time we don’t want people to think there is a crisis in Lebanon. There is no crisis. This incident happened, but the country is not in a crisis. There are organizations that are working and are moving forward and I am really hoping we can work on decriminalising homosexuality really soon.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, called on Lebanese authorities to respect the rights of LGBTIQ activists and recognised the accomplishments of the movement, saying,

Lebanon is a leader when it comes to LGBTIQ organising and visibility in the Middle East and North Africa region. Authorities should respect the right of the LGBTIQ community’s freedom of speech and assembly and ensure that the activities for IDAHOTB go on without interference. Through their perseverance, activists in Lebanon have achieved incredible and inspiring progress.

Georges Azzi is in New York accepting OutRight Action International’s Felipa de Souza award on behalf of AFE. The Felipa de Souza award recognises the courage and activism of grassroots groups and individuals working for the fundamental human rights of all people. Since 1994, OutRight has presented the award to courageous advocates working to advance the human rights of LGBTIQ people.

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