BEIRUT: Members of Beirut’s LGBTQ community vowed to keep fighting for equal rights Wednesday, despite the cancellation of the city’s second-ever pride week. “It’s been a few years now where I have been publicly out and I don’t need to hide anymore,” Beiruti comedian and activist Lary Bou Safi told The Daily Star.
“Every day is pride week for me and I’m lucky that I don’t need to hide it. I’m able to express myself every day whether it’s online, on the street, in the way I carry myself in public, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to be a voice for those who may not be able to be as open and vocal as I am about these issues.”
According to a statement released Tuesday by Beirut Pride organizer Hadi Damien, events hosted with affiliation to pride week – originally slated to take place May 12-20 – had been suspended. The announcement came after Damien had been detained and investigated by the Internal Security Forces’ Anti-Vice Unit.
“After a call with the Public Prosecutor, I was offered two alternatives. The first one was to cancel all the events of Beirut Pride that are scheduled until May 20, sign a pledge that assures the activities will not take place and be released ... The second alternative was to cancel all the events of Beirut Pride ... and not to sign the above-mentioned pledge,” Damien said in the statement.
Without signing the pledge, Damien would have been referred to an investigative judge to be questioned “on the basis of articles pertaining to the incitement to immorality and to the breach of public morality for coordinating the activities [of Beirut Pride],” according to the statement. His lawyer advised he sign the pledge.
The statement added that “The Public Prosecution received an Arabic version of the program of Beirut Pride that was completely distorted, making the happenings of Beirut Pride appear like events of debauchery, disrespect of general law, while using derogatory terms to refer to LGBT individuals.”
“We clarified the details on every point before I made my statement before the investigator. The statement introduces Beirut Pride, its importance and its initiatives, and rectifies incorrect terms while addressing pressing matters.”
Nonetheless, Beirut Pride was canceled, it said.
Neither Damien nor the ISF could be reached to provide further comment on the incident before this story went to print.
Before the organizer was detained, three and a half days of Beirut Pride had already been held successfully, comprising both educational and celebratory events. The public was invited to a range of programing raising awareness and discussing the breadth of possible sexualities and the ever-fluid gender spectrum.
While Lebanon has long been exalted as a progressive and open Arab country, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain common, with frequent reports of targeted arrests of LGBTQ persons. Homosexual acts remain highly stigmatized and even illegal according to some interpretations of the law.
The cancellation of Beirut Pride is not an isolated event. Beirut’s first attempt at a pride week, in 2017, was also marred with cancellations after backlash from religious groups. Previous to pride’s introduction to Beirut, local organizations had long fought for LGBTQ rights while facing similarly harsh responses from security institutions.
“Whatever happened with Beirut Pride yesterday is a clear rejection message to all of us from our government,” Ameen Rhayem, an activist with the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, told The Daily Star.
“The work that we are trying to do is still not fully accepted and not respected. Post [parliamentary] elections, we will do our best to change this situation.”
Some in the LGBTQ and ally community were deeply disappointed when Joumana Haddad, an outspoken advocate of equal rights, lost her bid for a seat in Parliament.
Activist and artist Dayna Ash reflected on how the two consecutive losses – Haddad’s loss and pride’s cancellation – had spurred a need to demonstrate against the state. “This might push for protest, and hopefully reform. The community is pissed. We might not be as quiet as we have been in the past. Before, when things were canceled, in a way, we kind of accepted it. But now, we almost had Haddad and we were able to successfully run a couple events for pride.”
For all three members of the community, the fight for LGBTQ rights is simultaneously ludicrously simple and heartbreakingly difficult.
“We’re all relatable,” Bou Safi said. “There are more commonalities between us and the [heterosexual] community than there are differences. Eventually, we will be included in the broader human rights movement, rather than having to fight for gay rights.”
Rhayem, indignant about the government’s choices, remained resolute in the battle for an inclusive and progressive Lebanon.
“The cancellation won’t scare us, we were born fighters. Nothing will shut us down.”