Lebanon is no longer safe for LGBT activists

Lebanon used to be a safe place in the Middle East for meetings of LGBT activists, but that’s no longer true.

Rainbow flag displayed at the Sept. 22 Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. (Photo courtesy of youm7.com)
Homophobic Egyptian authorities launched a crackdown after a rainbow flag was unfurled at a September 2017 concert by Mashrou’ Leila in Cairo. The group’s lead singer spoke at last month’s NEDWA conference. (Photo courtesy of youm7.com)

Human Rights Watch reports:

Lebanon No Longer A Safe Haven for Activism

Gender, Sexuality Conference Moved Outside Lebanon Due to Crackdown

By Rasha Younes

Lebanon used to be known as a port in a storm for human rights defenders from the Arabic-speaking world – especially those working on gender and sexuality – to organize freely and without censorship.

A major space for this was the annual NEDWA conference, hosted by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE).

Logo of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality

Even as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people faced grave human rights violations over the years ranging from murders in Iraq, to jail time and forced anal examinations in Egypt, to rigid censorship of LGBT content in Qatar, Lebanon was a haven where embattled activists could meet at NEDWA to cultivate their movements’ resilience, tactics, and communal healing in the face of adversity.

That safe haven in the Middle East no longer exists.

Amid a targeted crackdown against free expression and assembly around gender and sexuality in Lebanon, resulting in an unlawful raid by General Security on the 2018 NEDWA conference and a discriminatory entry ban imposed on non-Lebanese participants, AFE was forced to move its conference outside the Middle East and North Africa region for the first time.

The activists adapted. Two hundred human rights defenders, artists, and academics from the region gathered in another country. [It was reportedly held at a location in Cyprus that was only disclosed to participants after their registrations were accepted.] They discussed health, human rights, and movement building. Queer and trans artists from Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt inspired the conference attendees with performances that reconfigured the meaning of resistance, embodying creative ways to combat state-sponsored repression.

Instead of safeguarding much-needed platforms such as NEDWA and celebrating these activists, the Lebanese government chose to forego its international obligations by claiming that the conference “disrupts the security and stability of society,” and collectively sanctioning its participants.

The gay Lebanese singer Hamed Sinno was featured on the cover of the November/December 2012 issue of My.Kali.
Gay Lebanese singer Hamed Sinno, featured here on the cover of the Middle Eastern LGBT magazine My.Kali in 2012.

Lebanon’s suppression of LGBT activism is part of a larger crackdown on free speech in the country. Hamed Sinno, the lead singer of the indie band Mashrou’ Leila, whom the Lebanese government censored in July, spoke at this year’s NEDWA conference, condemning Lebanon’s decline as a center for art and tolerance, while reassuring activists that the fight continues.

Lebanon should take note: intimidation and threats will not silence the voices of resilient activists who will continue to fight for their right to live and love. By closing its doors on activism, Lebanon is divesting its image as the hub for freedom and diversity in the region.

Related articles:

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]

One Comment

Leave a Reply
  1. The problem isn’t being gay, its being supporters of the political left who EXPLOIT gay people to advance the power of the globalists “international world order” – at the expense of your rights and freedoms. Don’t believe the hype, these people are NOT YOUR FRIENDS.

Leave a Reply

Uganda: Push for new Anti-Homosexuality Bill gets bizarre

Uganda: U.S. reassures local LGBT community of health inclusion