Homosexual issues from Beirut
written by Brenda von Strick am Barren
read the German version
Dunkin' Donuts would not be our meeting place.
Two years ago, its management had decided to no more serve
"gay looking" men after the food chain's dependance at "Hamra" had
become a popular unofficial meeting place of Beirut's gay scene. So I met Ghassan Makarem, a joint founder of Helem, a schwul lesbian group of citizen
rights, at a café a few blocks further down the road. We were still waiting for his fellow combatant Imad.
Both of them work for the leftist "underground magazine" Al Yasari (the leftist) and for the Independent Medium Center Beirut, that was founded two years ago as
"the first political grouping in Lebanon to accept gays and lesbians, Ghassan says. In particular the communist student grous is extremely homophobic. Indymedia
Beirut is also the only website to publish gay/lesbian/transgender issues - except
of course for the internet presence of Helem, likewise
developed by him.
Imad seemed to be late. That was unfortunate, because
tonight we wanted to go to "Acid". That is
one of two discotheques in Beirut, that offers a gay
evening on certain days during the week. Which I found to be surprising, in the middle of the Arab world. Ghassan also suggested to go cruising at one of the Hamams. I should just watch out not to end up with a prostitute, in order not to catch genital warts, which was extremely frequent, as a local prevention campaign had brought to light. Local prevention campaign. Fourteen years after the end of
the civil war. Before my mental eye I saw Truemmertunten walking across bombed city centre between west and east Beirut in their high heels.
For a Drag Queen things are easier if you're gay, Ghassan
continued. My friend
Hannah had already shown me photos of the gay block from latest
anti-war ralley. That was definately not how I had imagined Lebanon. I had only heard about gay belly dancers, who are engaged by many restaurants and
clubs, in order to lure more public.
If you want to be openly gay or lesbian in Lebanon, you need quite a piece of courage. Past March Imad involuntarily appeared on the frontpage of the high polish
magazine Al Muhayed (the
objective). He could be seen with a rainbow flag during the anti-war demo mentioned above. Headline: "the
clan of Lot is alive - Al Muhayed enters the dark world
of the sexually perverted in Lebanon."
Let us recall: Lot is the Biblical nephew of Abraham,
who (with its clan) lived in the sinful city of Sodom. When
the God of the Old Testament wants to destroy the city of Sodom
because of the sinfulness of its inhabitants, Abraham starts bargaining with
God to spare the city if there were only ten "fair
ones. But his wife has too much longing for the oh-so
sinful hometown, turns around - and turns into a salt column. A still
more poetic fate, than that proposed by the schiitische religious leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in August 2003. He wants the death penalty for homosexuals due to their influence on
"normal" relations between man and woman and thus on the society as a
In May 2003, Hisbollah kidnapped five presumed gays and handed them
over to the police, who then arrested not the kidnappers, but the
gay men. "Unnatural sexual intercourse" is forbidden in
Lebanon by § (similar to §175 of the Federal Republic of Germany, that was abolished in 1969).
Those who are unwilling to expose themselves to governmental or
non-governmental pursuit, realizes his or her same sex contacts in private, secretly.
In Lebanon, Hisbollah is not only a regular political party, but
also runs hospitals, schools and kindergartens. In a
society, in which there is only a minimum legal health insurance (and
that only for employees), the free access to such institutions is critical
for many people. Although not only homosexuality, but
also non- or pre-marital sexual intercourse is incriminated by the muslim and
christian organizations, Hisbollah paradoxically started to organize information campaigns for young people
concerning sexually transmittable diseases, says Ghassan.
However, the main threat for homosexuals does not come from the
religious charismatics, but from inside the
families, no matter whether they are shiit, sunnit, druze, catholic,
maronite or Greek orthodox. As in other countries of the
region girls are still killed because of pre-marital
sex by their brothers or fathers. This honour killing of family members can also happen to gays and lesbians. In December 2002, HELEM
reported of a young gay Lebanese, who was insulted by his entire
family. His father and brothers had beaten him up several times and had threatened to kill him, "because of tarnishing his
According an estimate of the WHO, there are approx. 1500 HIV positive in Lebanon (WHO 2001). However, large public health initiatives are not to be expected from the WHO, because the boss of the regional WHO program to HIV/AIDS is
extremely homophobic. Epidemiological data about HIV are held to exist, but the government keeps it under catch. One can only assume why. Does the existence of gays in
Lebanon threaten the social order? Or would the
government have to deal with the flourishing prostitution
business, which is preferably kept alive by rich Gulf Arabs?
National programs for education and prevention concerning HIV
are rare. Only one pro-condom poster, that could easily be designed by the Deutsche AIDS Hilfe - a naked good-looking man in black-and-white, holding a pink condom in his hand, below him the rainbow flag - is beeing financed by the Lebanes Ministry of Health.
Obviously, the responsible persons would not have understood the gay message, says Ghassan. Nevertheless:
In certain hospitals, free anonymous HIV tests are offered.
But the infected person is left alone with his or her test result.
HIV drugs for AIDS patients are mainly distributed free of charge by certain NGOs, but Helem is negotiating with the Ministry of Health to cover the expenses.
The mobile telephone rings. "This must be be Imad, and he
will say that he won't come." So it was. Ghassan grins. "He is after some guy and probably busy". So we did not go dancing at "Acid". Instead, we went out for dinner in a Spanish restaurant. Without belly dancers.