by Nash Suleiman
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.
CONSULTEN, OPINEN , ESCRIBAN LIBREMENTE
Rodrigo González Fernández
Diplomado en RSE de la ONU
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