Homosexuality is one of the topics you would find on the black list of any Middle East government and almost in all of its societies and cultures. And while the presence of homosexuality can be spotted in every country in the region, governments and societies are still intolerant to such life style. Intolerance can even reach a point of denial as it was witnessed during Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinajad’s speech at Columbia University in 2007.
Lebanon stands out as a more tolerant space for homosexuality in the region compared to Saudi Arabia for example where homosexuality is often punished by flogging, life imprisonment and even beheading. Lebanon’s homosexuals enjoy the first association for gay people in the Middle East, called the Helem Foundation. In addition to that, Lebanon also has gay bars and nightclubs. But the real life for this section of the community is not paved with roses. A quick round up of blogs and spaces promoting this issue in Lebanon should give the reader a brief peek into how this community lives.
Mazaj at Majaz75 wrote about homosexuality in the Middle East and the role of religion in it, expressing his personal opinion on the matter:
Some people relate the attitude towards homosexuality in Arab countries to Islam, but that’s not completely true. Arabs, Muslims and Christians, consider homosexuality to be a sin. All Arabs are attached to religion; the Church and the Mosque have a key role in Arabs lives. Born as a Muslim, I feel it is very important to explain Islam’s and Sheiks’* views of homosexuality.
Some scriptures of the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, were taken out of context, added to a Hadith** not correctly reported to Prophet Muhammad, and conveyed to Muslims by ignorant Sheiks to form a general look at homosexuality as a sin that is against the nature intended by god for humans. In this Hadith, gay guys caught in act are to be killed by throwing them down from the highest building in town. Considering that most buildings in most Arab peninsula’s towns were about 5-7 meters high at that time, this Hadith seems very ridiculous.
Being raised in a strict Muslim family, I struggled with my homosexuality in my early adolescent years, but I also had access to some rare Islamic scriptures, which allowed me to have a great look to how Islam dealt with homosexuality. I had come to the conclusion that Islam considers sexuality to be an identity, something to be born with. I also discussed this conclusion with well-known moderate Sheikhs, who confirmed it to me. Nevertheless, even the most moderate ones insisted that it is not acceptable to convey this fact about homosexuality in Islam to people for so many unconvincing reasons.
GayMiddleEast.com, a news site that focuses on the homosexual communities in the Middle East, posts an article written in a local Lebanese newspaper about an architect called Danny and his daily struggle in Lebanon as a homosexual:
Danny said he was open about his sexuality in Europe, but has been forced to keep a low profile in Lebanon mainly for two reasons: a non-tolerant society, and fear of his parents’ reaction.
“Being gay in Lebanon is very hard,” he said.”I come from a highly conservative family, and if my parents knew about my sexuality it would be devastating for the both of us,” he said in a low, shaky tone. “I don't want to ever think about their reaction if they knew.” Danny added that he has never tried to be open with any of his friends about his sexuality, saying he preferred to stay “in the closet” for the time being.
“I can never consider being open about my sexuality over here,” he said, explaining it might cause him a lot of trouble, especially at work.
“I have seen how colleagues at work react when they encounter a person who they suspect is gay,” he said. “They avoid him as if he has a disease, and even harass him sometimes.”
Another post by GayMiddleEast.com refers to few incidents that occurred a couple of years ago regarding two social clubs known for their homosexual crowd:
On the night of November 12, 2005, 6 men were arrested in Acid nightclub, a known gay venue in Sin el Fil. No charges were pressed against them. The detainees were released after 3 days of detention. Although no physical abuse was reported, the police were verbally abusive towards the men.
A week later, another known gay club, X-OM, was raided. The police checked IDs and inquired about drug use in the venue. No arrests took place that night.
Acid and X-OM were probably targeted by the police for their openly gay clientele, although legally they had no pretext for any arrests. Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code explicitly states that “penetrative sex against nature” is punishable by law, and not homosexuality per se or the adoption of a gay identity. Laws against public indecency may be enforced if excessive displays of affection or other such behavior is witnessed, but this does not entail the same sort.
Meem, a community of lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, queers and questioning women in Lebanon, moderates a blog where members can post and share experiences and news. Pazuzu, in her post, shares a personal experience she went through while walking home one night:
Well, I passed by a couple of guys, one those men that scare you (or is it any man that scares you when you are in my situation?). Anyway, typically the first sign of your vulnerability in these situations is that the predators start discussing you in your face:
- Bint yamma sabe hayda?
And for our non Arabic readers :
- Is he a boy or a girl?
But it’s fine I guess, it wasn’t the first time that my sexual identity was questioned, though I didn’t look particularly boyish that day. The real treat was when the second guy opens his mouth. I guess he was encouraged by his friend’s attitude, thinking maybe I am a boy that likes to look like girls, to be honest, I am not sure what he was thinking but he said to me:
-Baddak nitsalla? Ta3a nitsalla
Again, respecting the non Arabic readers:
-Wanna have fun? Let’s have fun together
Al Jaras, a local Lebanese TV station, was commenting over some photos of Portia de Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres’ wedding when Jexy at Meem‘s blog realized that in addition to pronouncing Portia's name wrong, the TV presenter went on insulting the homosexuals in general as she describes it:
The first thing that was on my mind: “Seriously you dummy! You wanna trash them? Fine! But at least get the names right!”. And what added up, she was talking at the same time about the Indian man that married a certain animal! Is this where we belong? In the same category of man/animal marriage!? She kept displaying the photos over and over again, adding up “Hayda dod el din [this is a sin]!“. The heavenly angels assigned her to label people and decide what’s wrong and what’s against religion! I wanted to call and ask her: “Honey, if the sight of Ellen and “Borita” sickens you this much…why do u keep displaying them?” But then again, every word she was saying was showing nothing but IGNORANCE.
Learn more about the gay community in Lebanon by visiting Helem Association and Meem Foundation.
You don’t mention Israel. While orthadox Jews also consider homosexuality a sin, there is a large gay population in cities like Tel Aviv. Yes, gay bars as well. Of course Israel, unlike its neighbors, doesn’t imprison gays. Thanks.
“Of course Israel, unlike its neighbors” blah blah blah… you feel special Marc? Superior, maybe?
Didn’t the article clarify that homosexuals aren’t imprisoned in Lebanon? If anything, they’re detained for questioning because they were in openly gay and well-known drug-filled clubs… Let’s not jump to conclusions here.
Oh and Marc, Israel’s got the cleanest human rights record in the world and especially in the Middle East… NOT!
and israel doesnt exist aslan….he3 :-)
Honestly: interesting article.
But it seems to be a regular trend for most writers discussing homosexuality in Lebanon to only mention the negative factors, disregarding the numerous examples of successful openness among gay men and lesbians. It is not rare for homosexuals here to enjoy a comfortable, livable, relaxed environment. It is not unusual for gay people to spend a night in Gemaizeh and not get harassed. As a matter of fact, from my experiences, verbal abuse is as far as it goes with most gay people I know. And even that is rare.
Yes, the cases and stories listed above are true and harsh. But I would guess that, for the most part, little more happened over the past few years. Yes, you’ll always have the shady neighborhoods with disgustingly ignorant guys who will forever poke fun at the gay community. Those exist everywhere, all the time. Yes, there will be police officers questioning gay people all the time. Either because they want to sleep with them, or because they have doubts about their sobriety.
Gay people in Lebanon – and usually rightly so – are often and normally associated with drugs, sexual indecency, and prostitution. Okay, gay people in the world are often assumed to fit one (or more) of those illegalities. That’s why they get stopped. Acid and X-OM were most probably raided for the same reasons BO18 had been raided. If anything, those two got raided less times than BO and its like, only because of the stigma associated with “they’re raiding a gay club”.
Point is, there are issues, but they sound a lot worse when taken out of context. There are cases of abuse, but there are many more cases of the absence of abuse; cases of tolerance.
In general, you get one sob story for every 10 good stories. And two great successes for every 10 good stories. I would think those should be mentioned as often in articles discussing the universal situation of homosexuality in Lebanon.
i liked this post because of the subject you brought here. It is important to know about subjects like this in order to enlight people and to end prejudice. I agree with the comment made by Fares because it´s always interesting to know the the two sides of this matter.
People don´t talk much about homosexuality in countries like Lebanon, so i was really happy to read your post
Let me start off my saying thanks to all of you chipping in with your comments. I don’t usually comment or reply to any since I believe i did my share of input by writing this piece and I should leave the space for more people to use, and not to mention that most of the post are quotes from their original source, so they are the one worthy of comments.But in this situation, I think I owe it to you guys, so here it goes:
As for not mentioning Israel, I didn’t understand whether Marc meant that I should have mentioned Israel or he is telling to NOT TO mention Israel in ordering-kinda way. But I think Marc is right for Israel can’t be included in this formula for many reasons. But I would also like to add and clear that I unintentionally assumed the reader would conclude that when I meant Middle East, I meant the Arab world, where Christianity and Islam have the utmost influence. And of course I have very little knowledge of the Jewish community and Israeli reactions to homosexuality. That’s been said, I am sure when the Israeli authors get the time, a post should be published about this issue in Israel for us to have a general true idea on this topic.
Fares, Thank you mate for this feedback, I agree and that’s it why I wanted to shed the light on the Lebanese gays for they do enjoy a great freedom compared to the region. Unfortunately though, during my round up I didn’t find a single post that anyone could have posted regarding the bounces a homosexual get in Lebanon, for they all seem to focus on the negative. I am strongly against posts that consists of ranting without offering a solution or an alternative, and that is why I introduced the piece by praising Lebanon’s way of dealing with homosexuality, well again by comparison.
Clara, thank you for you support and I think this is what all members and readers of GV are trying to do here, spread the message and awareness. I hope by reading my response to Fares you will get the answer to your comment. Again thank you and let me know if any good posts or blogs comes your way that might help our cause.
I’m against anyone who thinks negatively on homosexuality!! bcz this might be a psychological or a biological problem!!!so plz stop considering gays and lesbians as taboos….cz we must not judge humans only god judges us. Ok???!!!!We must have our freedom like anyone ELSE here in LEBANON!!!!cz LEBANON is a place for everyone (Lesbians – Gays – Straight – Bisexuals ) soo plz leave us alone(anyone who thinks negatively on homosexuality) and stop saying that we are taboos to the society!!!!thank you…
cz i had enough!!! i was reading other websites that are considering us as sinners and i had enough with it!!!
The article attracted my attention but to be honest I would have liked the owner of it to have more details on the way homosexuality is being done in Lebanon. I know a guy who is a friend also that is gay, he has tried through various ways including clubs like Acid and websites like manjam to find a decent relation. The result was very bad in many ways, sure some do have good relations but rare as all the rest are either money oriented or drugs. Now as for the police and the raids they make are subject to VIP availability (that can not be touched) and or money paid to many police officials. Note that these are facts and not an opinion. I have no issues regarding homosexuality but I do have an issue that homosexual people use their places of meetings or their way of life for trading. This only makes it harder for decent homosexuals who only want to live a clean life.
Thanks for mentioning my blog here.
Yes, it is hard to be gay in the Middle East in General.
I just have one request, its “Mazaj” not “Majaz”, so please correct that.