Hadi Damien, the founder of Beirut Pride, was arrested by Lebanese security forces at a theater reading on May 15. Held overnight by authorities, Damien was forced to sign a pledge to discontinue the festivities in return for being released. Human Rights Watch condemned Damien’s detention, while Amnesty International criticized it as a “step backward.” The Ministry of Interior has not yet commented on the incident.
Founded in 2017, Beirut Pride was the first LGBTQ pride parade and festival planned in the Arab World. As a collaborative platform to celebrate the LGBTQ community’s diversity and humanity, events, such as legal workshops, poetry nights, sexual health seminars, art performances, trans talks, and food gatherings, were planned. The week-long celebration centered around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17. Held in the capital of Lebanon, Beirut Pride began on May 12 this year and was scheduled to end on May 20. In a statement released by the founder, the celebration’s remaining events have been canceled.
This is the second year Beirut Pride has been forced to shut down in response to pressure and threats from various conservative groups.
Lebanon’s LGBTQ community is, however, persevering in the fact of this setback. Events planned around IDHAOT by organizations, like the Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality (AFE), Helem, Proud Lebanon, and Meem, are going forward. Some of these LGBTQ groups are also trying to use the Beirut Pride shut down to push Lebanese politicians to take a long needed step – repealing Article 534 of Lebanon’s Penal Code, which makes homosexuality illegal and punishable by up to a year in prison. In a statement to EuroNews, founder of AFE, Georges Azzi says that, now that LGBTQ rights are part of the country’s political conversation, the momentum should be used to finally repeal the law.
Compared to other countries in the region, Lebanon has a more liberal stance toward LGBTQ rights. A recent poll found that 65 percent of Lebanese believe Article 534 should be struck down. In fact, the law is irregularly enforced leading some to claim that homosexuality is de facto legal. Prominent Lebanese public figures and politicians have criticized Article 534 and publicly expressed support for the country’s LGBTQ community. Since 2012, Lebanese judges have also criticized the law and the state’s various abuses against LGBTQ individuals.
Groups like Helem and other independent businesses provide safe spaces for members of the country’s LGBTQ community. Bars and nightclubs have often raised the LGBTQ flag in solidarity, and a Lebanese restaurant chain even featured a same-sex couple in one of their advertisements in 2017.
Still, persecution and discrimination carried against the LGBTQ community does happen, and public opinion can easily shift. To show real solidarity with LGBTQ Lebanese, the country’s politicians, with support from the general population, must move to repeal Article 534. This step is critical in creating a truly inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ individuals.