Lebanon: Time to savor success, then face new challenges

LGBTI activists in Lebanon should “savour” their recent courtroom success, then get back to the work of transforming Lebanese society, says Neela Ghosha, a senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Flag of Lebanon (Photo courtesy of NationalPedia)
Flag of Lebanon (Photo courtesy of NationalPedia)

In a commentary for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, she wrote:

Success to savour, but challenges remain for LGBT rights in Lebanon

Lebanon's location in the Middle East. (Map courtesy of CountryReports.org)
Lebanon’s location in the Middle East. (Map courtesy of CountryReports.org)

When a Lebanon court of appeal upheld a ruling in July that adult, consensual same-sex conduct is not an “unnatural offense,” a wave of excitement rippled through Lebanese lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. …

The appeal court decision upheld a 2017 acquittal on “unnatural offenses” charges of nine people, most of them transgender. The judge found that “homosexuals have a right to human and intimate relationships with whomever they want, without any interference or discrimination in terms of their sexual inclinations.” That ruling followed three earlier lower court rulings to the effect that consensual same-sex relations are not unnatural. …

Writing that “Lebanon has, in some ways, been a recent beacon of progress on LGBT rights,” she gave credit to several LGBT rights activist groups:

“Legal Agenda, a Lebanese nongovernmental group that represented the accused in the most recent case, has been at the forefront of such efforts. Helem, Lebanon’s oldest LGBT group, runs a community center and conducts research and public advocacy. AFE is building a regional movement, bringing activists from throughout the Middle East and North Africa together for capacity building, including training focused on digital and physical security. Despite the closure of Beirut Pride, activists frequently hold other events without police interference.”

Many obstacles to full equality remain:

“While the law comes down hardest on gay men and transgender people, cisgender women face significant barriers to openly identifying as lesbian or bisexual, including family pressure to get married or not to “shame” their families by coming out. Much activism has focused on lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues, while significant gaps remain in terms of service provision, research, and advocacy focused around the specific concerns of transgender people. Most LGBT groups have limited reach outside Beirut, a multicultural urban hub that is not representative of Lebanon’s overall social conservatism.”

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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