LEBANESE not-for-profit group Proud Lebanon has released an online video featuring some of the country’s prominent names coming together to deliver a powerful anti-homophobia message ahead of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on Sunday.

The promotional video urges the country to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to not discriminate against “those who are different”.

Along side activists, the video features people well-known in Lebanon and across the Arab world, including director Zeina Daccache and TV host Fouad Yammine (scroll down to watch the video, accompanied by an English translation).

While it is not yet known if the promotional video will also be aired on mainstream Lebanese TV, it has already been shared widely on social media.

According to its website, Proud Lebanon is a “is a non-profit, non-religious, non-political, non-partisan civil society” that works to “achieve protection, empowerment and equality to marginalised groups”. It lists Canada, The Netherlands and the European Endowment for Democracy as donors.

Lebanon does not have a law explicitly banning homosexual relationships or activity, but homophobia, transphobia and a lack of legal protections for LGBT Lebanese people are rife.

Article 534 is a legal foundation in the country which forbids sexual acts that “contradict the laws of nature”, but this has been dismissed and declared invalid by at least two judges in the past six years.

In January 2014, during the trial of an unnamed trans woman accused of having sex with a man, Judge Naji El Dahdah of Jdeide Court rejected the case.

“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,” he said in his verdict.

“Homosexuality is an exception to the norms but not unnatural therefore Article 534 (which prohibits sexual relations that ‘contradict the laws of nature’) cannot be used against homosexuals, and therefore, technically, homosexuality is not illegal.”

El Dahdah’s verdict was based on a similar court ruling made by another judge in 2009.

Although Article 534 has not yet been completely repealed by the Lebanese government, in 2013 the Lebanese Psychiatric Society stated that homosexuality was not a mental disorder and did not need to be treated.

The organisation also ruled that “therapy” that sought to “convert” gay people into straight people had no scientific support.

Despite being largely unenforced by authorities — especially with a thriving gay bar scene in capital city Beirut — those who are convicted faced up to a year in prison, and violence fuelled by homophobia still occurs.

According to Beirut-based Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, Lebanese trans* people also still need a court order to legally change their gender, but only after the long process of gaining a report from three psychologists and a psychiatrist.

English Translation:

Did you know that the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights?

Did you know that in the 21st century, there are still people being beaten, stigmatised, arrested and in some cases even killed… just because they are LGBT?

Being different isn’t shameful… what’s shameful is fighting diversity. He could be your brother, your neighbor or your co-worker. She could be your sister, your friend, or even your boss at school.

If you don’t recognise their existence, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Protesting this injustice isn’t enough. We should all work together to change these unjust laws and replace them with laws that protect all citizens. Because laws are for protection, not discrimination.

We were all born free and equal. I know that it’s hard to face society, but at least the laws need to be just. Democracy is not only majority and minority, it is to provide security to all citizens.

You don’t have to be poor to defend the rights of the poor. You don’t have to be a woman, to defend the rights of women. You don’t have to be a refugee, to defend the rights of refugees. And you don’t have to be gay, to defend the rights of LGBT.

Being human is enough. Even if we are different, we shouldn’t disagree.

Meet us on May 17 at Hotel Monroe to participate together at IDAHOT from 11am till 6pm.


Did you know:

Helem (Arabic for “dream”), which has been in operation since 2004, is another non-profit organisation based in Beirut that specifically advocates for LGBT rights and visibility in Lebanon — and was the first of its kind in the Arab world to be registered and recognised by the government. Meem, a similar group for women in the Lebanese LGBTI community, was established in 2007.

South of the border, a network group for Palestinian LGBT people also exists — Al Qaws (Arabic for “rainbow”) — which was established in 2001 in Jerusalem and has since expanded to Jaffa, Haifa and the West Bank. There is also a group catering to Palestinian gay women known as Aswat.

Meanwhile in Jordan, My Kali is one of the only widely-read and legally-published LGBTI magazines available in the Arab world.

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