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Lebanon's LGBT Community

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Gay and lesbian advocacy group lowers political profile amid growing tensions on national scene
Helem keeps up counseling and publishing efforts, but legal and media advocacy take back seat for now

By Paige Austin
Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

BEIRUT: Helem has undergone a subtle transformation in recent months. Lebanon's pioneering gay and lesbian rights organization has scaled back its advocacy efforts in quiet acknowledgment of politicians' preoccupation with other issues - and its own potential for igniting backlash. Helem's full-time coordinator, Georges Azzi, says the shift is in part a reflection of the political turmoil in Lebanon in the aftermath of this past summer's war with Israel.

"Every organization in Lebanon working on advocacy now is stopping because nothing is happening," he explains.

Instead of legal advocacy, he says, Helem has shifted its focus to providing more services for its members - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Lebanese men and women. By the end of this month, Helem's office in Hamra will offer appointments with professional counselors two days a week. In keeping with its long-time tradition of firsts in Arabic-language publishing, the group will launch a landmark book on gay and lesbian health on December 1. In January, a first-ever Arabic-language pamphlet for families of gays and lesbian will follow.

Legal and political advocacy, meanwhile, has taken a backseat, for several reasons.

"Before the war, Helem fit in very nicely with the new discourse of 'freedom and democracy,' and [was] trying to take advantage of that," says Rasha Moumneh, a former Helem member who was involved with the group's advocacy work.

But with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet teetering on the edge of crisis, its opponents promising to hold large-scale demonstrations and now the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel on Tuesday, lawmakers' attention has shifted from potential reforms to the penal code.

"It's just not the time for advocacy and it's not the time for lobbying," says Moumneh.

The trend is likely to find echoes across Lebanese civil society. But in the case of the gay rights group, the war and the present political turmoil are only the latest in a series of events that caused the shift.

Last May, more than a month before the war began, Helem found itself in hot water when an event that it organized to mark the International Day against Homophobia drew over 400 guests - and some highly negative press coverage.

According to a letter Helem published on its Web site on June 9, Al-Arabiyya television led a "smear campaign" against the group by chronicling the anti-homophobia event under the headline: "Perverts Announce their Activities and Screen Sex Films in a Beirut Hotel."

Helem's letter complained that the characterization was grossly inaccurate: The films were "social in nature" and featured no sexually explicit content, much less anything "pornographic." (There are also longstanding issues about how the popular press translates the word "homosexual" from English to Arabic - with literal meanings ranging from perverse or irregular to gay to sexual likeness.)

The police paid a visit to Helem's offices a day after the anti-homophobia event, recalls Azzi. It was one of three house calls the police would make to Helem this year.

The hailstorm continued the next month when two members of Helem appeared on a talk show on New TV.

In the media aftermath of that appearance, acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat publicly declared that - contrary to several reports that the group, which is registered as a non-governmental organization in Canada, would be able to attain similar registration in Lebanon - he had never given Helem a registration number. Already, several months earlier, a member of Beirut's municipal council had lodged a complaint against the organization, "accusing it of endangering society and public morality and of trying to impose Western values," according to the June 9 letter. An investigation into the charges, the letter noted, was dropped due to lack of evidence.

The backlash was to be expected, says Azzi, given how the group's profile has risen since it was founded three years ago. But it still sent a chill down the collective spine of Helem's 30-odd active members, making them wary of what Moumneh calls "over-exposure." It was in response, she says, that they adopted this less political platform for the near term.

"[It is] a sword on your neck, basically," says Ghassan Makaram, the co-chair of Helem's legal committee. "It's something you are always afraid of, that the state will take legal recourse if you are lifting your head too high in terms of events, being too public, asking for too much ... We have to be careful."

Anyway, says Makaram, the group's efforts to head off harmful changes to the penal code had not amounted to much in recent months. A coalition of civil society groups, including a close ally of Helem's, the now-defunct group Hureeya Khasa, successfully beat back one such attempt in 2003.

Included in the reforms these groups rallied against was a proposed expansion of Lebanon's ban on "unnatural intercourse" to prohibit all "unnatural relations" - wording that Helem members say would be subject to dangerous leeway in interpretation. After the new law was abandoned, says Makaram, two representatives from civil society groups were given seats on the Parliamentary sub-committee in charge of future reforms. But until a new slate of reforms is proposed, he adds, civil rights advocates like Helem are playing "a waiting game."

Still, the Parliament's acceptance of any input from civil society at all has given Helem's leaders reason to hope. According to Azzi and others, one of Helem's great assets is the wide support it has among other civil society organizations. And besides, they agree, when it comes to advocacy, it is important to stay in tune with the times.

"For us, it's quite important to convince society and not just [work] through a direct lobbying campaign against the government," says Makaram. Bringing the issue to a head too early, he explained, could backfire on the group - as it did on advocates of civil marriage in the 1990s.

With that in mind, Helem's leaders say they plan to continue long-term awareness-raising activities, giving presentations to university students and other groups, as well as publishing books and short pamphlets.

Yet pending a sea change in Lebanon's political climate, the organization will remain more a service provider than an advocate, at least for now.

"At a certain point, our strategy was more about media - to get credibility. Now that we've got that, it's time to focus more on services," says Azzi.

After all, he adds, when it comes to providing services for Lebanon's gay and lesbian population, "there is a lot of work to be done."
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Lebanon's (LGBT) thread

This Thread is dedicated to The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in Lebanon ,it's NEWS,EVENTS and other Issues.


The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in Lebanon face complex layers of oppression, where legal, economic, and social factors contribute to long-ingrained historical marginalization. Cornerstone in this is the explicit denial of LGBT rights in the Lebanese Penal Code?s Article 534, which is interpreted by law enforcement and the judiciary as criminalizing homosexuality and legalizing heterosexism.

Thus was born Helem, a voice calling for tolerance in Lebanon. Since its official creation in 2004, Helem has quickly become a regional reference for LGBT rights and a safe haven for persecuted individuals in need of support and services. Before we can call for a change in the legal system that would abolish Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, we must first rally enough public support. To achieve public support in a society that still condemns homosexuality as a shameful crime and taboo, we need to conduct large-scale awareness campaigns that would carry gradual messages of tolerance and diversity.

For the third consecutive year Helem is organizing the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) on the 12th May 2007 At Masrah al madina, Hamra, Beirut at 2.00 PM

Event Details

Supporters Expo

We are inviting a number of human rights, women?s rights, and other civil groups to exhibit their projects in Masrah Al Madina in Hamra on May 12th. These NGOs will voice their support of and collaboration with Helem?s goals of anti-tolerance and discrimination.

Poster Competition

Graphic designers and design students are asked to design posters depicting homophobia or the fight against it. A jury of experts will pick the winning design which will be offered a prize. All posters will be exhibited at the Masrah Al Madina.


Three discussion panels will be presented on May 12th during the International Day Against Homophobia expo. These will cover the subjects of:

1-The culture of discrimination.
2-Fighting Homophobia in the context of development.

Distinguished panellists who are experts in their fields will be speaking.

Movie Screening

Mithly methelkon: by Helem (45?)

Affinity: Corine Shawy (30?)
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Everything you need to know about Homosexuality in Lebanon.

National laws surrounding homosexuality:

The country has a sodomy law. Punishment is imprisonment not exceeding one year. However, this law is rarely applied, and hasn’t been used for quite some time now. Homosexuals are brought down through public decency laws instead.

The country has a very active gay community, with a vibrant night life and an equally expressive day one. Compared to other Arab countries, Lebanon can brag about its position. The local gay rights institutions are currently lobbying to get the laws changed, despite the society’s rigidity regarding this issue.

Back when the compulsory military service for males was not yet abolished, a special product used to be added to their meals and to the tea served, in order to reduce their sexual appetite and limit potential homosexual behaviour. They would also be regularly reminded by officials during seminars that “liwat” was not allowed and would be penalised.

Gay friendly neighbourhoods, bars, clubs, hangouts, hammams, etc…:

For some reason, most hangouts that gain a gay reputation in Lebanon always end up attracting even larger heterosexual crowds! The country is very small and many gays who don’t feel comfortable bumping into their next door neighbour in a suspicious situation, avoid hanging a lot where the gay scene is. In recent years, Lebanese homosexuals have become excessively visible, and are known to hover in great numbers around any trendy or newly opened places. So much, that one would think being gay is a new booming fashion. Most Coffee shops around Beirut such as Dunkin Donuts, Cinzzeo, Second Cup, Starbucks, and Columbus, are discreet meeting places for gays.

This is also the case of Gemmayzeh, an area in Beirut, which has seen in the recent years many restaurants, bars and clubs mushrooming all over. Places such as Torino Express, Biba, Treesome, Club Social and Khan al Gemayzeh are part of the Lebanese LGBT scene. Crowds build up around 22h-onwards. Monot Street in Ashrafieh is also known for its nightlife.

717, standing pub on Monot street. Opens Tuesdays-Sundays 18-1h, closes on Mondays.

BOA, pub on Monot Street. Opens Tuesdays-Sundays 18-1h, closes on Mondays.

Wolf Lounge, on Mankhoul Street, Hamra, Beirut, Near the American University and St Mary's Orthodox Church. Supposedly a bear bar and hangout. Opens daily19-2h, closed on Mondays.

BARDO, pub restaurant on Clemenceau Street in Beirut, opposite Haigazian University. Opens every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Acid nightclub, Sin El Fil, Horsh Tabet, Beirut, near the Futuroscope Exhibition Center, and not far from the Metropolitan and Habtoor hotels. It comprises a big dance floor, with a large bar. The quality of drinks is bad. Excessive same sex affection and body contact are not tolerated. Opens on Friday-Saturdays 23-5h. Entrance fee for men on Fridays is $13 USD before midnight and $20 USD afterwards and on Saturdays.

X-OM nightclub, Sin El Fil, Beirut, next to Beirut Hall. Opens on Thursdays and Sundays at 23-3h.

B-018 nightclub, Forum De Beyrouth street, in Quarantina Beirut. It comprises a big underground dance floor, a big bar and a cosy sitting area. Single men are sometimes not allowed to enter, especially on Saturdays. Good quality drinks, but expensive. To be visited on Fridays and Saturdays from 3h-onwards.

Basement nightclub, at Port De Beyrouth, Beirut. Mostly frequented by lesbians.
Tantra nightclub, in Kaslik, Maritime Road, Jounieh, opposite Samaya Resort, 20km from Beirut City. To be visited on Thursdays and Sundays 23h-onwards. Nice music is played and cruising is possible. Opens Thursdays and Sundays 23h-onwards.

Al Sheikh, in Cola - Musaytbeh Area, Mar Elias buttina Street, Beirut. Clean and modern bathhouse, with traditional Turkish bath, Jacuzzis, and professional masseurs. Discreet massage , scrub-down with peeling, an oil massage, acidification massage, and a salt massage. Cruising possible amongst customers. Opens 24hrs.

Chahrazade, in Bourj Hamoud, Beirut. Clean and modern style bathhouse with cruising amongst customers. Good massage. Be discreet.

Hammam al Nouzha, in Zkak Leblaat, Beirut. Newly renovated traditional bathhouse, with newly added floor for oil massage. A bit expensive. Opens 24hrs.

Lebanese Blue cinemas, with the reputation of being frequented by homosexuals:

Khayyam, Jeanne d'Arc, Hamra, Beirut. Mostly on Sunday afternoons.

Cine Plaza, Mar Doumit str. Sin el Fil – Nabaa, Beirut. Best on Sunday afternoons.

Morocco, Mar Doumit str. Sin el Fil – Nabaa, Beirut. Upstairs seating and bathrooms.

Gay events, parades etc...:

Although still at its infancy stage, the shy celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia usually takes place in Down Town Beirut. Lebanon is the only Arab country with a gay pride.

Gay support systems:

Helem, a non-governmental non-profit organization advocating for prosecuted LGBT individuals and lobbying with other human rights organizations for the advancement of human rights and personal freedoms in Lebanon.
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Being gay in Lebanon is less of a taboo

As factional feuds preoccupy leaders, homosexuality is being more openly discussed in the media, and nightlife is thriving.

By Raed Rafei, Special to The Times

5:49 PM PDT, June 23, 2007

BEIRUT -- The Lebanese soldiers at the checkpoint peered through the barbed wire.

Across the street from these men in their fatigues and combat gear, another group of men had arrived — revelers in hip-hugging pants and tight shirts on their way to Acid, an openly gay nightclub in east Beirut.

The soldiers barely flinched.

In Lebanon, homosexuality is becoming less of a taboo. It is discussed with much greater candor on TV and radio talk shows.

The Arabic word widely used in reference to gays means "pervert." Now many leading newspapers have begun using a more neutral term.

New gay bars have sprouted up, joining mainstays such as Acid, creating a flourishing nightlife that is attracting locals and foreign tourists alike.

"It's not that the political class is more open today," said George Azzi, a prominent gay rights activist. "But authorities, by portraying themselves as the new guardians of democracy and civil rights, find themselves rather bound not to attack gays."

The 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri unleashed a political firestorm that led to the ouster of Syrian troops from Lebanon. But with its heady rhetoric about freedom and rights, the so-called Cedar Revolution also unwittingly set in motion an unspoken cultural transformation.

Moreover, the political instability that followed Hariri's assassination has left many politicians and clerics too preoccupied with factional feuds to pay attention.

"Politicians are simply too busy today to persecute gays," said Salah Srour, a lawyer who works for gay rights. "They have too many problems to deal with."

Famous for its riotous nightlife, Lebanon has long been known as the most permissive among the Arab countries. On any given night, Monnot Street in central Beirut is gridlocked with Porsche-driving playboys headed to the area's many bars and nightclubs where a bottle of champagne costs $1,000 but buys precious attention. Many tourists from the Persian Gulf countries come to Beirut for the kinds of kicks they can't get at home.

At Acid, the waiting line snakes around the block on weekends. Others prefer the hunting grounds at the city's traditional saunas known as hamams. In these dimly lighted, vapor-filled rooms, men wearing only towels around their waists cruise for sexual partners.

Berto Kanso, a 27-year-old archeology graduate, has made a business of charting these shadowy waters. He runs a gay tourism website that offers advice on hotels, restaurants and gay bars in Lebanon. He e-mails travel updates to his contact list of 7,000 subscribers all over the world.

Despite a drop in tourism caused by the 2006 war between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah and the continuing unstable political situation in Lebanon, Kanso said business is booming.

"There is a lot of negative propaganda portraying Lebanon as a dangerous place ... but in reality Lebanon is beautiful and free," he said. "As long as I am not dealing with anything illegal like drugs or prostitution, why would I be stopped? After all I am bringing tourists to the country."

A billboard campaign last year for a high-end fashion store showed a man holding hands with both a man and a woman. Related TV spots showed two men holding hands, with sunrays creating a rainbow above them as a voice-over intoned, "Vote for tolerance."

Dating websites and chat groups provide social networks for Lebanese gays who once would have been far more isolated.

"Today, we can talk about a fairly thriving gay community in Beirut," said Rita Ghanem, 33, who left her ancestral home 18 months ago when her father discovered she was seeing a woman.

The parents of her girlfriend, Luna, at first banned contact between the two women but ended up tacitly accepting their relationship.

After moving out of her father's house, Ghanem took a job as a bartender in West Beirut. But when he became ill and needed help, she moved back home to care for him. The two haven't discussed her girlfriend again.

Homosexuality is still considered shameful in many places outside the cosmopolitan capital, and many gay men and women in Lebanon prefer to lead a double life rather than risk being ostracized.

"I am only gay when I am in bed with another man," said Kareem, a 40-year-old engineer who didn't want to give his last name for fear of being persecuted. Kareem says he avoids going to gay clubs or being seen publicly with other gay men. Instead, he meets other men anonymously online.

"Many gay men suffer from homophobia in their surrounding," said Maha Rabbat, a psychotherapist who counsels at Helem, one of the few Arab associations advocating rights for gays, lesbians and transgender people. "Most of [them] feel anxious and have a low self-esteem."

Not so long ago, Lebanese security forces regularly taunted and sometimes beat gays. Those arrested were prosecuted under a law prohibiting "unnatural sexual intercourse."

The law, which doesn't address homosexuality explicitly, remains on the books but is rarely enforced these days.

Despite the inroads made by the gay community, initiatives to decriminalize homosexuality have been largely ignored. When Azzi filed papers with the Ministry of Interior in 2004 to establish Helem as a legitimate group, an official shelved the request, writing the word "shameful" on the folder and throwing it into a drawer, a ministry official said. The group's name means "dream" in Arabic.

Helem provides free counseling, HIV testing and financial support to youths who have been cast out by their families. The group is partly financed through fundraising in Paris, Montreal and San Francisco.

Last year, after coming under fierce attacks by religious leaders, the Interior Minister publicly said he hadn't approved Helem's application to become a legitimate nongovernmental organization.

Despite legal uncertainties, the group continues to operate freely. Every Friday night, undeterred by the heavy presence of police officers and soldiers, Helem members stroll along Beirut's seafront promenade, distributing condoms and AIDS-awareness brochures to gay men and male prostitutes. Their mission is tacitly supported by social affairs and health ministries.

Helem has grown significantly in the last few years "from an underground group at the end of the '90s into a well-established organization, recognized and supported by many other local" groups, Azzi said.

Despite the advances, it remains difficult for Helem to lobby for legislative amendments that would give gays legal protection because parliament is paralyzed by a political deadlock.

Some activists worry that the unresolved legal issues could become a problem down the road.

"Any change in politics can set us back," Azzi said.

Times staff writer Louise Roug contributed to this report.,0,362579,full.story?coll=la-home-center
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Did you hear abou that 16 yo kid in Zahle who killed a 10 yo because he refused to have sex with him? Apparantly he offered the kid a couple bags of chips and $3..they apparantly had gotten togeather b4.

Obviously this kid had some mental illness..but i also think it reflects a society that tells you its wrong and disowns you. I can see where this kid can be helped pushed over the edge as he may be desperate and confused about his feelings. When this kid said no he probably was like now what..What a tradgedy.
^^ Also, this incident is going to make an already homophobic community really think gays are dangerous mentally ill rapists.
^^Well,those Communities only think 'receiving guys' are GAYS.They just think the guy that get Fu**ed is gay.
In the US, telling your parents that you are Gay can be considered normal--or lets put it this way, a hard thing that your parent can comprehend..

Is Lebanon the same way? Can you come out to your parents/friends/family? or is it still "only within your friends"?
I honestly think it varies.. i've read about some cases where sons came out to their parents and then their parents marched with them through gay pride parades ....... but that is certainly not the norm!
^^It Varies,Yes..Some families Consider this a normal thing,Some Families see it as a disaster.but things are getting Better day after day.
Its really a different that part of the world its not uncommon for a man to lead another by the hand somewhere..also hugs and kisses ...In the US thats not considered ok by some..:) I assume it would probably be more accepted in Christian or in a higher econmic and educated groups .
^^ Like personally?????????
yeah...he's a friend of a friend, i met him a coupla times when i was out clubbing in beirut
Are you for protecting the Lebanese gay community by abolishing Article 534?========>

Results: up to now

60% - Yes
35% - No
5% - No opinion

PS: You have to sign in to vote .
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