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Lebanon cracks down on LGBTQ rights

#Lebanon #cracks #LGBTQ #rights

Lebanon’s LGBTQ community, long among the most vocal and visible in the Middle East, has been the target of a crackdown that has seen queer activists harassed and Pride gatherings canceled.

It has increased pressure on a community that has already lost many of its safe places to the devastating 2020 Beirut port explosion and has been exhausted by an exodus sparked by Lebanon’s severe economic crisis.

A cold chill ran through the crisis-stricken community when the Interior Ministry issued a letter dated June 24 ordering security forces to take action against incidents that “encourage sexual perversion.”

“It feels very intimidating and quite scary to be a queer person in Lebanon right now,” said Tarek Zeidan, head of the Beirut-based Helem Association, which considers the pre-eminent Arab group defending LGBTQ rights.

“We fear these signals are just the beginning of further attempts to restrict the individual, civil and political rights of LGBTQ people.”

Lebanon has never been a safe haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. But the community has long been visible and open, resisting indiscriminate raids on its bars, nightclubs and community centers.

Annual efforts to host LGBTQ gatherings have regularly been banned or canceled due to threats.

But the state’s latest directive — condemned as unlawful by human rights groups — deepens the multifaceted crisis members say now threatens the survival of the community.

The ministry argued that LGBTQ events violated customs, traditions and “religious principles” in Lebanon, where political power is divided along sectarian lines between Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians, Druze and other groups.

– death threats –

Lebanon’s LGBTQ community scored a hit in 2018 when a court ruled that same-sex behavior was not illegal, but since then it has faced more setbacks than victories.

The Beirut port blast hit an inner-city district with many gay-friendly spaces, and also destroyed Helem’s offices, which have only recently reopened.

LGBTQ people are also playing a disproportionate role in Lebanon’s snowballing population exodus, which is fueling an epidemic of queer isolation.

The minority “have suffered greatly in the past three years and are already extremely vulnerable to the socio-economic discrimination they have faced,” said Zeidan, 38.

But the recent decision, he said, “really exacerbates that sense of dread and that sense of dread of living in Lebanon.”

The state move unleashed an avalanche of homophobic insults and threats from politicians, religious authorities and radical activists, as security forces even banned private workshops and film screenings.

Anti-queer protesters called for the criminalization of LGBTQ status, and conferences debated “risks and treatments” for homosexuality.

Human Rights Watch’s Rasha Younes called it “definitely the most widespread ban we’ve seen in years,” adding that it lacked a legal framework and “set a dangerous precedent.”

Activists now report receiving calls from state security officers “inviting them to meet over coffee and making it clear that they are monitoring their social media accounts,” Younes said.

Last week, LGBTQ activists planned a sit-in outside the Home Office but called it off after receiving death threats.

– ‘abuse of power’ –

The ministry’s decision came after a Christian group calling itself “Soldiers of God” live-streamed a video of its members tearing apart a billboard in Beirut with blooming flowers the colors of a rainbow flag.

The billboard tagged #LoveAlwaysBlooms was created by Beirut Pride, a collaborative platform founded in 2017 to advocate for the decriminalization of LGBTQ status.

Hadi Damien, its 33-year-old initiator, said the billboard was her first major offline project since October 2019.

The angry backlash is not new, he said while sitting in a Beirut cafe, but he argued it is all the more so at a time when Lebanon is gripped by a broader crisis and the near-total collapse of the state be more intense.

“When institutions are weakened, we go to a very primitive type of government,” he said. “It means abuse of power is rampant, it means any person can pretend to be law enforcement and take action against a venue.”

Damien argued that the state’s latest move amounted to a “pure distraction” from Lebanon’s unnerving malaise and was “nothing but performative politics.”

“When there is so much going on, you have to show that you are doing something. That way you always hit the people who seem like the easiest targets.”

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#Lebanon #cracks #LGBTQ #rights

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