Statement About The Suspension of Beirut Pride Events – 14 May 2018

Edited by Hadi Damien

1. The events were cancelled on the decision of the General Prosecutor of Beirut.
2. The pledge Hadi Damien signed was for him to acknowledge the verdict of the General Prosecutor.
3. The events were cancelled independently of Hadi's signature.
4. The suspension of Beirut Pride activities for May 2018 is not to be looked at as a setback for the LGBT file in Lebanon.

Beirut Pride 2018 is based on nine days articulated around the seventeenth of May, the International Day Against Homophobia. Beirut Pride 2018 was launched on the twelfth of May, during a brunch celebrating parents who preserved their families, who did not reject their children when they came out as homosexuals, or at least, who sought for family to stay composed. In this brunch, Beirut Pride launched its initiative addressed to accompanying families in order to better understand parents and their kids. We celebrated that night Beirut Pride opening party that drained a massive public. On the thirteenth of May, a brunch accompanied by performing musicians and singers featured a talk about Trans* in Lebanon, followed by a discussion about femininity and masculinity in the Migrant Community Center in collaboration with ABAAD, before an enormous dance show took place in a club. Fruitful meetings happened on the third day, then we launched the Corporate Pledge initiative intended to the business world and its policies regarding LGBT clients and employees; an initiative that will start in September 2018. Afterwards, an evening was scheduled at Zoukak Theatre Studio, featuring an Arabic reading of the theatre text “Ogres”, followed by a discussion and a party in the same venue. “Ogres” is a compilation of narratives and short stories that tells homophobic crimes and agressions.

However, and at 8:10 pm, I received a call from Zoukak Studio informing me that elements from the censorship office at the General Security were in the venue, refusing the reading to take place without prior censorship approval. It is worth mentioning that the censorship pass is the approval of the censorship unit at the General Security of any show, from which are exempted text readings. Studio Zoukak had asked the censorship bureau if the reading of “Ogres” required any prior censorship, which the bureau negated. The conversation with the director at the Censorship Office did not go very far, and questions about Pride, its importance and programme became paramount. A series of political and security phone calls did not assist reaching a proper result, and on our way to the reading venue, Zoukak’s personnel informed us of the on-site presence of elements from the General Security, the Investigation Unit, the Censorship Office, and the Vice Squad who were waiting for us to interrogate me in my capacity of Beirut Pride initiator. During the meeting with the representatives of these security offices in the presence of Studio Zoukak members and lawyers, multiple phone calls urged me to head the next day to Hbeich police station in Bliss street. Most attendees had already left the venue, fearing any escalation or possible group arbitrary detentions. We discussed the idea of moving the reading venue to a private residence, for the political symbolism of the move, its resistance nerve and for the respect of the effort invested on the evening. The discussion was interrupted when elements from the Vice Squad entered the hall, asking me to immediately accompany them for investigation. We headed to the police station, without a warrant or handcuffs, only to be informed when we arrived around 11 pm that I would stay the night in the detention room. Phone calls were multiple, some of them being from LGBT organizations and members who arrived to the station, without being able to enter the premises because of the late time. We were 39 people in a detention room of a five-person capacity. Seated on the floor, I was collecting my ideas, contemplating solutions for the events to continue, and considering investigation scenarios and outcomes. At the end of the day, the investigation echoes from Hbeich police station and the sum of abuses that take place there are not the kindest.

I was called for investigation around 11 am today (Tuesday 15 May). I was lucky that the investigation team did not aggress me, or physically and verbally abuse me, a reality that is not that of all other detainees who show marks and blue spots they say they are beating marks. It appeared that the main reason for my requisition is that the Public Prosecution received an Arabic version of the programme of Beirut Pride that was completely distorted, making the happenings of Beirut Pride appear like events inciting debauchery and immorality and disrupting the general law, while using derogatory terms to refer to LGBT individuals. We clarified the details of 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. Called by the head of the unit, the General Prosecutor of Beirut decided to cancel all the events of Beirut Pride scheduled during the month of May. As for me, he offered me two alternatives. Should I wish to be released, I was to provide authorities with an official residence document for them to reach me, should any prosecution take place, and sign a pledge that stipulates I was aware of the ruling of the judge (the General Prosecutor of Beirut). Otherwise, I would be officially detained on the base of the Arabic programme, and referred to the investigative judge to be interrogated for coordinating events that incite debauchery and immorality, and disrupt the general law. The best exit according to the lawyer was to proceed with the first option, so I get out of detention and operate. I left the station at around a quarter past two afternoon.

Therefore, and as per the ruling of the General Prosecutor, Beirut Pride events are frozen for the week, inviting organizers and venues to refrain from activating them for their safety and that of the attendance.