Proud Lebanon, a non-profit group promoting equal rights, was due to host a cultural event last Sunday as a kickoff to the entire week, but said it was dropped by the venue after threats from the Association of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon, a Salafist group.
While the gay rights movement has steadily grown in Beirut, homosexual acts are still punishable by up to a year in prison.
“It’s really amazing. It’s a big achievement. It’s a bigger exposure,” Makso told SPY.
“Before we used to be individual NGOs, here and there, doing activities, but now it’s a whole week of activities taking place around the city. It will reach more people and spread more tolerance,” Makso said by phone.
Most countries in the region do not tolerate an open celebration of LBGT life, with few Middle Eastern countries according rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender citizens. Many risk fines, jail, and even death, with reports of social exclusion and abuse commonplace.
Turkey hosts a gay pride parade in Istanbul each year and Israel holds a week of events in Tel Aviv every June.
Pride events are typically held during June – LGBT Pride Month – or at a time that commemorates a turning point in a country’s own LGBT history.
Wednesday marked Lebanon’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biophobia (IDAHOBT) and the man who initiated the milestone pride week said it was no coincidence.
“I wanted to pick a symbolic date, a day that would be hopeful,” Hadi Damien, who set up Beirut Pride, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
While there have been anti-homophobia rallies in Lebanon, the 28-year-old said he wanted to make sure the inaugural event did not focus on protests or repealing laws.
Polls show the vast majority of Lebanese reject homosexuality but Beirut is taking steps towards decriminalization, with a court ruling this year in which a judge conceded homosexuality is not a crime but personal choice.
Article 534 in the Lebanese penal code says sexual acts that contradict the “order of nature” can mean up to a year in jail.
Damien said a pool party that was planned for Saturday had also been canceled by a Beirut venue because of “internal commercial reasons” but a new venue was being sought.
“When you are looking around you feel that the civil society is totally ready for this discourse,” he said.
Proud Lebanon Director Bertho Makso said that Beirut Pride – which kicked off on Sunday with an exhibition on gender fluidity in fashion – will go ahead in spite of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon declaring “war on homosexuality.”
On Monday organizers had to cancel a seminar on discrimination against the LGBT community for “security reasons” after Muslim groups threatened to hold demonstrations outside the event.
Instead of focusing on a street parade as seen in homosexual-friendly Western countries, Beirut Pride will include film screenings, lectures and a party at one of the Middle East’s biggest nightclubs.
Lebanon generally takes a dim view of homosexuality but remains more tolerant towards LGBT issues than other Arab countries.
Lebanese law prohibits sexual acts that are “contrary to the order of nature”, which some interpret as serving as a “ban” on homosexuality, although LBGT campaigners argue this is not the case.
A 2007 poll showed that only 18 percent of Lebanese people believed “homosexuality should be accepted by society”, but pro-LGBT activism has grown across the country in recent years.
The practice of homosexuality is considered a major sin in Islam and there is consensus on this by reputable scholars of all Islamic sects.
SPY salues the brave Lebanese LGBTQ brothers and sisters and we say March on with Pride.