Lebanese gays take fight for their rights public

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    May 10, 2009 1:48 AM GMT
    Here is the text of the article (from Yahoo News)

    Lebanese gays take fight for their rights public
    By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer Bassem Mroue, Associated Press Writer – Sat May 9, 3:27 pm ET

    BEIRUT – In the Arab world, where several nations have seen killings of gay men in recent months, it can be startling to see a rainbow flag unfurled in public. But the region's only overt gay rights organization, based in Lebanon, says it is slowly making progress in preventing discrimination and violence. Now the group, Helem, is preparing for a campaign to overturn the law that makes homosexuality illegal.

    In a dramatic step, Helem organized what may have been the only gay rights protest in the Arab world. In February, nearly two dozen gays and lesbians waved rainbow flags in a downtown Beirut square, carrying banners demanding homosexual rights. They protested what they said was the beating of two gay men by police. It has been several years since a man was thrown in prison for being gay, said Helem activist Charbel Maydaa. But Lebanon's Article 534, which prohibits having sexual relations that "contradict the laws of nature," remains a threat. "One of the major problems we face is that some parents threaten their gay children with article 534," he said.

    Helem is treading carefully. The group, founded in 2004, is talking with legal experts on how to approach lawmakers and lobby to have Article 534 abolished. Helem members would not comment on how they intend to carry out the campaign. It's a delicate process, given the deep-seated taboo in Arab countries against even discussing homosexuality. Everyone from religious leaders to family members condemn homosexuality. Human rights groups in other countries, like Egypt, often avoid dealing with issues touching on persecution of gays and lesbians. The region has seen a recent spike in killings of homosexuals, blamed by some on the influence of Islamic extremists. In Iraq, the bodies of six men believed to be gay were found in the Shiite district of Sadr City in March and April, after a Shiite cleric repeatedly condemned homosexuals during Friday prayer sermons. A 44-year-old gay man was shot to death in the Yemeni city of al-Hisn in early March — believed to be the ninth homosexual killed in southern Abyan province since late last year. Islamic militants have become strong in the area.

    Governments have also conducted occasional crackdowns on gays — including a 2001 sweep in Egypt in which 52 men were arrested in a well-known gay hangout. In 2005, 35 men were arrested in Saudi Arabia for suspected homosexuality, according to international human rights groups.

    And almost all countries in the region have laws banning sexual relations "against nature" — used to prosecute gays. Lebanese lawmaker Ghassan Mokheiber, who is active on human rights issues, says it could take years to annul Article 534. "We have to try convince some of our colleagues that this (homosexuality) is a normal matter," he told The Associated Press last week. "We have traditions that we have not been able to get beyond."

    But Lebanon also has a long tradition of liberalism. That allows some openness for gays and lesbians, particularly in the capital, Beirut, which is home to a number of clubs where gays mingle freely. Still, harassment occurs. Alexander, a gay man at the February protest, said he was recently beaten up by two men on a motorcycle as he walked in a Beirut suburb. The two attacked the 27-year-old after he ignored them. "They broke my glasses, bruised my face and caused several injuries in my body," said Alexander, who spoke on condition he be identified by his first name only for fear of further harassment. "People in the street watched without coming to defend me." Most of Helem's work has been behind the scenes, contacting police, religious leaders, employers, even parents to resolve specific cases of discrimination. Helem's president, Georges Azzi, said treatment by police has improved in recent years.

    But last year, a murdered man was discovered to have been gay, and police rounded up several of his friends for questioning, Azzi said. The men were forced to undergo rectal exams meant to determine if they were gay, then were "verbally and physically abused," he said. "It is a very humiliating test," Azzi said. "We intervened and got them out, but they were traumatized."

    Helem is funded by local and European non-governmental organizations. The word "Helem" is the Arabic acronym of Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Queers.

    It is also Arabic for "dream."


  • dberms

    Posts: 2

    May 10, 2009 2:26 AM GMT
    What an amazing story! Thanks for posting it! To think, only a few years ago, we, as a community, were facing similar detention of rights and harassment in the USA. Now we're experiencing growing mainstream acceptance and the ability to live full and open lives (and have access to websites like this :winkicon_smile.gif.
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    May 10, 2009 2:38 AM GMT
    It is great.

    And a hearty Welcome To Real Jock, dberms.icon_biggrin.gif
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    May 10, 2009 2:40 AM GMT
    Lebanon is the sole Middle Eastern state to be progressive in terms of LBGT issues. Onmyway can post a wall of text about this whole situation. Actually, I am wondering why he hasn't posted yet.
  • metta

    Posts: 39159

    May 10, 2009 3:07 AM GMT
    Thanks! It is good to see this. I hate that so many people think we should just not do anything to help improve things over there. Now there is an organziation that we can support. icon_smile.gif

    http://www.helem.net/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helem


    http://www.cafepress.com/raynbow/599277

    http://www.cafepress.com/raynbow/712234

    Donations:
    http://www.helem.net/donations.htm
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    May 10, 2009 3:18 AM GMT
    Thanks for the links, metta. icon_biggrin.gif
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    May 10, 2009 4:22 AM GMT
    Article> the region's only overt gay rights organization, based in Lebanon

    Pinny> Lebanon is the sole Middle Eastern state to be progressive in terms of LBGT issues.

    Um, well, there is one other country in the “Middle Eastern” “region” where it is not illegal to be gay, where there is a vibrant and out gay community, where gay marriage is recognized, where gay people get fringe benefits and can adopt….

    I don’t want to turn this into a political topic so I won’t even mention the name of this country, just don’t want anyone to walk away from this topic with the false impression that by virtue of being in the “region” this country must lack gay rights when in fact it is ahead of the USA and on par with many Western European countries.


    Beirut used to be the "Paris of the Middle East".
    Good luck to Helem.
    (How do you say "shock" in Arabic?)

    Here in the Detroit area there is a gay Arab group called Al Gamea:
    http://www.algamea.org
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    May 10, 2009 4:37 AM GMT
    And the country is -- Israel
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    May 10, 2009 4:50 AM GMT
    Let it be known that Israel, after a Supreme Court ruling in 2006, only recognizes gay marriage performed abroad, but its government will not perform them.

    While you are right that it is still a crime in every Middle Eastern country but Israel, I will clarify my previous statement and say that Lebanon is the sole Middle Eastern state under a dominant Islamic veil to be progressive in spite of of the religious currant. Christianity has been overrun in that country for a solid decade; however it is still considered a Christian country.

    Also, your statement about it being ahead of the US is missing the mark considering Israel only recognizes marriages performed through one of the three religious bodies while the US has non-religious ceremonies and slowly and surely our country is performing these ceremonies for same-sex couples.

  • dglater

    Posts: 255

    May 10, 2009 6:32 AM GMT
    i hope and wish the best that Lebanon will give gays their rights, but with the current government structure there its hard to believe that anything like this will pass.

    but i think most people in Beirut accept gays.
  • brianstephens

    Posts: 96

    May 10, 2009 7:40 AM GMT
    UGH its so frustrating because I feel like I can't do anything to help.

    I don't understand how being homosexual could be illegal.

    But then again, it was illegal in Texas until 2003.
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    May 10, 2009 7:50 AM GMT
    dglater saidbut i think most people in Beirut accept gays.

    I would wager a lot more than "most" for Beirut, more like an overwhelming majority. Beirut inhabitants have the western mentality of New Yorkers.
  • brianstephens

    Posts: 96

    May 10, 2009 7:52 AM GMT
    And actually in Algeria people are pretty open minded...

    In the populated areas at least.
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    May 10, 2009 8:25 AM GMT
    Untill there is mainstream acceptance of LBGT, then the law wont change. But It is start, and hope the best.
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    May 10, 2009 4:07 PM GMT
    pinny> Let it be known that Israel, after a Supreme Court ruling in 2006, only recognizes gay marriage performed abroad, but its government will not perform them.

    Not true. The Courts have recognized common-law gay marriages. So while there is no paperwork, all a gay couple needs to do is move in and act like they are married. (Nor is there a time requirement like in some states.)


    Pinny> your statement about it being ahead of the US is missing the mark considering Israel only recognizes marriages performed through one of the three religious bodies while the US has non-religious ceremonies and slowly and surely our country is performing these ceremonies for same-sex couples.

    True on that one count, but at the same time, as you said, Israel recognizes marriages performed abroad, provides fringe benefits, allows adoption... the one drawback you mention (which isn't only a gay issue and dates back to British rule) doesn't outdo all the positives.


    samerphx lists Trans-Jordan's former "West Bank" as not having a law against homosexuals, but as his own source in another topic stated:

    || Palestine has no civil right laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination or harassment.
    || a handful of LGBT-organizations have arisen to aid LGBT Arabs and Palestinians, all of which are headquartered in Israel
    || Some LGBT Palestinians have fled, legally or illegally, mostly to Israel's urban centers, like Tel Aviv


    drfishman> hope the best

    You'd better hope that Hizbullah doesn't win the Lebanese election in 4 weeks.
    (Last I heard it is too close to call.)

    If so, Helem may share space with Aswat, which caters to lesbians in the PA territories - from their office in Haifa, Israel.....
  • dberms

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    May 13, 2009 3:56 AM GMT
    samerphx saidCountries which allow sexual relations between persons of the same sex:






    My vacation list just got a whole lot longer!
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    May 13, 2009 6:08 AM GMT
    samerphx and Ceasarea---Please DO NOT hijact this thread and turn into yet another Israel is/is not the devil thread.

    There are umpteen thousand thread about that for you to spar in. Thank you.
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    May 13, 2009 1:35 PM GMT
    LOL. First he states his usual lies-for-the-cause and attacks me and then he pretends he's "done"?

    SP> the reason why there is no LGBT law because Palestine is not an independent country. Israel still control them and their laws.

    Then how come there is a different situation in Gaza than in what was previously Trans-Jordan's so-called "West Bank"?

    What Samer says is a complete lie and he knows it (if only because it's has already been pointed out to him): The Palestinian Authority has its own legislative body (two. One the "West Bank" run by Fatah and another in Gaza run by Hamas after their violent coup). One notorious law passed by the PA (before the schism) was to make land sales to Jews a capital offense - punishable by death (with 3 or 4 real estate dealers executed for ignoring this racist law).

    The fact of the matter is that there are no laws protecting homosexuals in the PA because the Palestine Legislative Council has not seen fit to pass any. While it may be true that they haven't bothered enacting a sodomy law, but that doesn't mean much given that gay people are often tortured and killed - even by their own family (honor killings) - and the authorities do nothing to protect them and look the other way rather than bringing charges upon the perpetrators.

    The fact of the matter is that gay Palestinian Arabs flee to Israel.

    Perhaps that explains why groups such as Aswat and Al Qaws - which cater to gay Palestinians - are located in Israel. Not only because they can't be located in Ramallah or Nablus, but because most of their target audience is in Israel.


    SP> Israel is not perfect either.

    Straw man argument. No one claimed Israel is perfect.

    But when it comes to gay rights, while it's not in the top-5 countries in the world, it probably is in the top-10. The only drawback is that gay couples cannot actively marry (but gay marriages performed abroad are legally recognized). Nonetheless gay people in Israel have legal protections, can openly serve in the army, receive fringe benefits, can adopt and partners who cohabitate can be recognized as common-law married.
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    Jul 12, 2009 10:22 AM GMT
    |I have to agree with our proIsraeli friend here.
    Israel is more liberal with regards to homosexuality than most arabs nations.

    But that relative acceptance of homosexuals in Israel, does not include unltra radical Israeli west bank settlers...

    Read this article in the New York Times

    Unlikely Ally for Residents of West Bank

    By ETHAN BRONNER
    Published: June 27, 2009

    SAFA, West Bank — Ezra Nawi was in his element. Behind the wheel of his well-worn jeep one recent Saturday morning, working two cellphones in Arabic as he bounded through the terraced hills and hardscrabble villages near Hebron, he was greeted warmly by Palestinians near and far.
    Related
    Resisting Calls, Israel Insists on Building in the West Bank (June 27, 2009)
    Enlarge This Image

    Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

    Ezra Nawi directing other protesters demonstrating against an illegal Israeli settlement.

    Watching him call for an ambulance for a resident and check on the progress of a Palestinian school being built without an Israeli permit, you might have thought him a clan chief. Then noticing the two Israeli Army jeeps trailing him, you might have pegged him as an Israeli occupation official handling Palestinian matters.

    But Mr. Nawi is neither. It is perhaps best to think of him as the Robin Hood of the South Hebron hills, an Israeli Jew helping poor locals who love him, and thwarting settlers and soldiers who view him with contempt. Those army jeeps were not watching over him. They were stalking him.

    Since the Israeli left lost so much popular appeal after the violent Palestinian uprising of 2000 and the Hamas electoral victory three years ago, its activists tend to be a rarefied bunch — professors of Latin or Sanskrit, and translators of medieval poetry. Mr. Nawi, however, is a plumber. And unlike the intellectuals of European origin with whom he spends most Saturdays, he is from an Iraqi Jewish family.

    “My mother gave birth to me in Jerusalem when she was 14,” said Mr. Nawi, who is 57 and one of five siblings. “So my grandmother raised me. And she spoke to me in Arabic.”

    His family has trouble understanding his priorities. His mother says she thinks he is wasting his time. And many Israelis, when told of his work, wonder why he is not helping his own. Mr. Nawi has an answer.

    “I don’t consider my work political,” he said between phone calls as he drove. “I don’t have a solution to this dispute. I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency.”

    For his activist colleagues, Mr. Nawi’s instinctual connection to the Palestinians is valuable.

    “Ezra knows Palestinians better than any of us,” said Amiel Vardi, a professor who works closely with him. “This is not only because of the language, but because he gains their confidence the minute he starts talking with them. He has all sorts of intuitions as to what should be done, what are the internal relations — things we hardly ever notice.”

    The difficulties of Palestinian life in the West Bank have been well documented: Israeli military checkpoints, a rising separation barrier and Israeli settlers. But in this area, the problems are more acute. The Palestinians, many of them Bedouin, are exceptionally poor, and the land they bought decades ago is under threat by a group of unusually aggressive local settlers. The settlers have been filmed beating up Palestinians. Settlers have been killed by Palestinians. But Mr. Nawi said that the law inevitably sided with the Israelis, and that occupation meant there could be no equity.

    “The settlers keep the Palestinian farmers from their land by harassing them, and then after several years they say the land has not been farmed so by law it is no longer theirs,” Mr. Nawi said. “We are only here to stop that from happening.”

    That is not the view of the settlers.

    “He is a troublemaker,” asserted Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a spokesman for Israeli settler communities in the area. “It’s true that from time to time there is a problem of some settlers coming out of their settlements to cause problems. But people like Nawi don’t want a solution. Their whole aim is to cause trouble.”

    True or not, Mr. Nawi is now in trouble. Having spent several short stints in jail for his activism over the years, he now faces the prospect of a long one. He is due to be sentenced Wednesday for assaulting an Israeli policeman two years ago during a confrontation over an attempt to demolish Palestinians’ shacks on disputed land on the West Bank. The policeman said Mr. Nawi struck him during that encounter. Mr. Nawi denied it, but in March a judge convicted him.

    What is left of the Israeli left is rallying around him, arguing that Mr. Nawi is a known pacifist who would not have raised his hand against anyone.

    “Since I’ve known the man for decades and seen him in action in many extreme situations, I’m certain that the charge is untrue,” David Shulman, a Hebrew University professor and peace activist, wrote in the newspaper Haaretz. Of Mr. Nawi, he added, “He is a man committed, in every fiber of his being, to nonviolent protest against the inequities of the occupation.”

    Mr. Nawi attributes his activism to two things: as a teenager, his family lived next door to the leader of Israel’s Communist Party, Reuven Kaminer, who influenced him. And he is gay.

    “Being gay has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority,” Mr. Nawi said.

    Several years ago, he had a relationship with a Palestinian from the West Bank and ended up being convicted on charges of allowing his companion to live illegally in Israel. His companion was jailed for months.

    Mr. Nawi said harassment against him had come in many forms. Settlers shout vicious antigay epithets. His plumbing business has been audited, and he was handed a huge tax bill that he said he did not deserve. He is certain that his phone calls are monitored. And those army jeeps are never far behind.

    He is not optimistic about his coming sentencing, although he is planning an appeal. And he says the Israeli news media have lost interest in the work he and his fellow activists do. But he does not stop.

    “I’m here to change reality,” he said. “The only Israelis these people know are settlers and soldiers. Through me they know a different Israeli. And I’ll keep coming until I know that the farmers here can work their fields.”
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    Jul 12, 2009 8:55 PM GMT
    drfishman> I have to agree with our proIsraeli friend here.
    Israel is more liberal with regards to homosexuality than most arabs nations.
    But that relative acceptance of homosexuals in Israel, does not include unltra radical Israeli west bank settlers...

    1. You already spammed that article two weeks ago in another forum topic:
    In search of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict: UNSCR 242, Oslo and Camp David/Taba
    (Or: I support the Clinton COMPROMISE parameters. Do you?!)

    http://www.realjock.com/gayforums/354843

    Did you ever tell us there if you spport the Clinton compromise parameters?


    2. Once again we see racist hatist "logic" at play. Never mind the wide acceptance of homosexuals in Israel - the rule, look at this rare exception....


    You'd think that after this forum topic hasn't had a post in 2 months that someone would revive it to update us on the status of the struggle for gay rights in Lebanon, but not drfishman who evidently cares more to disparage Israel (even if all he can do is throw the kitchen sink) than about the lives of gay people in Lebanon.

    To paraphrase Golda Meir, this is another example of how some people hate others more than they love their own.
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    Jul 12, 2009 11:41 PM GMT
    Oh good. Didn't take long for this to become a Palestine/Israel marathon.

    rjdramacat2.gif
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    Jul 12, 2009 11:47 PM GMT
    Caesarea4 said
    You'd think that after this forum topic hasn't had a post in 2 months that someone would revive it to update us on the status of the struggle for gay rights in Lebanon

    Still oppressed but in due time things shall change I will hope; however the largest challenge we face is that nasty group.
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    Jul 13, 2009 5:32 AM GMT
    Good thing Hizbullah didn't manage to steal the election in Lebanon like its masters in Teheran did.

    Indeed, last I heard (and the Iranian election has overshadowed the one in Lebanon), Hizbullah was going to lose its veto power (gained by the force of its arms) over the parliament. Has that happened? Does that open the door for the legislature to (eventually) pass some favorable laws?

    As far as legal protections, is there any basis in the Lebanese constitution to seek equal protection? What is the structure of the courts - can there be relief from that branch?

    Or is the first fight one for social acceptance?

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    Jul 13, 2009 5:49 AM GMT
    They hold 12 of 128 seats however the 8 March Alliance holds ~29 seats (don't remember) but the 14 March holds a lot more than that (67). With such results, I would assume they lost the veto power.

    As to answer the other questions. Legally speaking, I believe this is a step in the right direction or as you say "opening doors"; however these doors are opening or will be opening slowly. Part of me believes that this is a fight for social acceptance but I believe Beirut has shattered any sort of discriminatory behavior; nonetheless that does not speak for the country.
  • LifeByTheHorn

    Posts: 255

    Jul 14, 2009 9:34 PM GMT
    Just so you know. Somebody posted the Mideast countries that being gay is legal. That list is not that accurate geographically. Armenia, Azerbaijan are in Caucasia, which happens to be in mountainous region bordering Europe . Turkey has land in Europe (neighbor to Greece & Bulgaria), Caucasia & its Anatolian peninsula of Turkey is a trans-continental bridge that is tectonically separate from Mideast.

    Armenia, Azerbaijan & Turkey all have meters of snow in winter. They are very lush in the spring & have no deserts.

    Real Mideast starts from Syria, Iraq, Iran in the north & extends all the way to Egypt & Arabian peninsula in the south.

    Our hearts are with Lebanese gay rights activists & others around the world that need supporticon_smile.gif