LGBTQ rights supporters rejoiced on Thursday with news that homosexuality is no longer illegal in Lebanon. A court ruling abolished a case against an unnamed transwoman – accused of having a “same sex relationship with a man” – stating that homosexuality can no longer be considered a crime because it is “not unnatural.” Lebanese law only prohibits sexual acts “contradicting the laws of nature.”
Mirroring coverage of LGBTQ advancement in the Western world, however, a vast majority of reports, blogs, tweets, and celebratory Instagram posts conspicuously erase the critical role of trans people in securing this victory.
Conveniently forgetting the “T” in LGBTQ advocacy and communications efforts is not new. In gender battles from the U.S. to the Philippines, trans people are both purposefully and unconsciously excluded from public discourse. The “transgender exclusion” permeates media coverage, advocacy efforts, health care plans, gender-based social services, and extends into the work of prominent and prestigious gay-rights organizations. Human Rights Campaign, widely regarded as America’s preeminent LGBTQ research and advocacy group, is the target of frequent criticism for its historic failure to include trans issues in their advocacy. While HRC has made significant and praiseworthy advancements in trans advocacy and awareness raising efforts in the recent past, it may be worth mentioning that a Google search for “human rights campaign trans” produces this article first: Why The Transgender Community Hates HRC.
Coverage of Lebanon’s recent ruling has not been an exception to the global tendency to erase the “T” in LGBTQ. The landmark ruling originated in a case brought against a transwoman, yet coverage of the “historic statement” has almost exclusively used the word “gay:”
Lebanon: Being Gay is not a Crime nor Against Nature (Huffington Post UK)
Gays in Lebanon Just Snagged a Major Victory (PolicyMic)
Landmark ruling rubbishes anti-gay law in Lebanon (The Daily Star)
London-based Gay Star News was one of the only sites to use the word “transgender” in the title of their article, giving a rather factual account of the affair: Lebanese court throws out case against transgender woman accused of ‘unnatural sex.’
The absence of trans-anything from most headlines is, in part, due to the nature of the court’s words, which stated specifically “homosexuality is not illegal.” However, it is also due to the tendency to elide gender differences with simplistic ideas about sexual preference, in a way that does not speak to – or do justice to – the complexities in the Lebanese court’s statement. As Huffington Post blogger Dan Littauer highlighted:
[Judge] El Dahdah rejected the case based on accepting a previous ruling by the Lebanese NGO, Legal Agenda and Helem, which was as follows:
Gender identity is not only defined by the legal papers, the evolution of the person and his/her perception of his/her gender should be taken into consideration.
Western onlookers have a very firm notion of the trajectory along which LGBTQ rights should advance. That trajectory places trans rights as a clear “next step,” something that can only be achieved once the groundwork has been laid by the advancement of the “L,” “G,” and perhaps “B” contingencies (representing lesbian, gay, and bisexual, respectively). But the Lebanese courts are not following that trajectory. The same ruling that decriminalized homosexuality also formally recognized gender variation and codified principles of self-identification. This nuanced view of the interplay between sexuality and gender identification doesn’t fit with the traditional (Western) “gay rights” narrative, and has resulted in Western media coverage that almost completely silences the critical role a transwoman played in achieving this landmark ruling.
Proclaiming Lebanon’s ruling as merely a “victory for gays” is not only an insult to the trans issues underpinning the ruling, but also whitewashes the Lebanese LGBTQ movement, painting it with strokes more easily digestible by Western consumers. The Lebanese case was not and is not merely a “victories for gays” – it is a nuanced and praise-worthy assessment of gender variance. While critics have commented that the ruling falls short of tangible “rights” for gays, in many ways it also far surpasses mainstream Western understandings of gender identity. And this deserves some press.