Gay Arabs come out in Beirut
Lebanese police provided protection for the first ever gay Arab rights conference which was held several weeks ago in Beirut. The three-day conference of the group, called 'Helem,' received tacit support from Lebanese authorities as well as several non-governmental organizations.
One of the main goals of 'Helem' whose name is an Arabic acronym for 'Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders' is to pressure the Lebanese government to remove an article of its legal code which criminalizes homosexuality.
In addition, they hope to educate the public about homosexuality and the fact that it is not a crime, or a problem to be 'cured,' while many homosexual couples spend their lives together in loving, monogamous relationships.
“In Lebanon, they’re still trying to ‘cure’ homosexuality…So this event is a way for us to explain what homosexuality is," said George Azzi, a coordinator of the group, according to the BBC.
Azzi also supports the development of a more secular and less religious government in Lebanon. “If secularism becomes the trend in Lebanon then gay rights will come next,” he explained.
Lebanese authorities had three months prior to the event to deny official registration of Helem, and did not do so, a move seen by many as tacit support of the government.
This is the second time such a meeting has been held, and this year's even had far greater numbers of participants than at last year's.
Despite the fact that the community is becoming somewhat more visible in the country, many local gays and lesbians refused to be photographed at the event, fearing repercussions from the general public.
Nada, a lesbian participant in the conference, explained that it was easier for women to hide their sexuality, and therefore situation was more difficult for Arab gay men.
© 2006 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)