Parliament Elections in 2018: The LGBT Electorate Challenges

On May 6, 2018, the Lebanese head to the ballot boxes in the framework of the general parliamentary elections. Where does the LGBT file and its demands stand in this period, how was it presented in the electoral period, and where are we from the campaign titles? The challenges are great, and the positions are manifold in the political horizon. An overview through this paper.

  • This paper is not promoting any political entity, be it running for elections or not. It does not aim to encouraging the reader to vote for a candidate or another, and it does not pretend to be a run-down of the candidates running for elections, their beliefs and programmes. The paper is articulated around the most prominent discourse in the media and on the social media outlet pertaining to the LGBT file. Therefore, we ask those who tackled this file to contact us for inclusion in the programme.
  • Male pronouns are used in this paper to facilitate reading, and do not intend any misogyny or patriarchy.
  • The paper is edited by Hadi Damien for Beirut Pride.

The evolution of the LGBT file in Lebanon is very slow and very fragmented. Despite the existence of quite a number of LGBT associations and groups in the capital, the dialogue is confined to the same groups, and initiatives address the same circle of participants, who hop from an activity to another. The initiative is built on a counter-reaction, it comes as an initiative that responds to an event, instead of it being the event emanating from a core of thinking and envisioning. In politics, for example, not a single relationship has been built between the LGBT group and a politician in parliament or in the public sector — and how abundant they are!

After elections were discounted for eight years for reasons that go beyond the scope of this presentation, the Parliament-elect of 2009 voted a new election law in June 2017, less than a month after the first Beirut Pride edition. Our work instantly started, since “We count on the new Parliament”, as uttered by one head of these groups, is a meaningless statement if no diligent work is invested to introduce the LGBT file loud and clear during the electoral phase, in order to move to the post-election period, which is Parliament 2018-2022. The two phases are radically different from each others, in terms of outcome, content, means and style.

The LGBT file and the demands it carries are clear and simple. Its headline would be not to aggress and discriminate against LGBT individuals. This address includes hate speech, calls for violence, and attacks of all types, whether verbal, written, physical or moral. In this context, Article 534 from the Lebanese Penal Code is addressed, as it is the legal article that constitutes, in its many interpretations, the legal frame that legalises state homophobia throughout the panoply of its organs and institutions. For example, the fourth article of the new electoral law lists the electorate who is prohibited from voting, and includes individuals sentenced under Article 534.

Two frameworks determine communicating and activating these demands in the current period: the first stage, the electoral period, and the second stage, the post-election phase.

Voices often claim that the members of the civil society are the friends of the LGBT, and that is obvious we coordinate with their candidates to tackle the LGBT file. Moreover, these voices assert that every party that currently practices power is not entitled to speak about LGBT rights. This reading is superficial and non-constructive, as it ignores the local political realities in particular, and overlooks the geostrategic realities of the region in general. For memory, after the election of the President of the Republic, the new cabinet had a main goal: working on an electoral law and organise general elections. After the election of the new Parliament and the reelection of the speaker, the first cabinet of the era (العهد) will be formed with the same premiership. Despite some civil society faces entering Parliament, traditional parties will not disappear from the parliamentary and ministerial landscapes. At the end of the day, Lebanon still plays host for two million Syrian refugees, host for more than half a million Palestinian refugees, and host for Iraqi and Kurdish refugees; people, whose initial problems are not at the forefront of the international community’s agenda, and who find themselves stranded in Lebanon, often in desperate conditions. Moreover, the Lebanese security forces play a role in uncovering the networks of the Islamic State. Every foreigner who has joined the IS ranks and who is not identified by the Lebanese security forces is considered a prospective agent of an assassination or a bombing in his country of origin, be it on the European continent or on the American land. In this context, and with the goal of maintaining the stability of the Lebanese pound, the country's stability is a red line, cemented by international interests, and there is no domestic or international willingness to alter the Lebanese political scene, and thus compromise the stability of the country. The LGBT file cannot be the exclusivity of any party, so it does not become a pressure card exploited for political services. Secondly, the LGBT file is not a property to be turned over and given. Third, and in the absence of clear and consistent LGBT policies that all local players agree on, the file remains restriction free.

Frequent meetings and individual conversations with party leaders, candidates and electoral mills took place to explain the reality of the LGBT file, away from the hustle. The Kataeb Party stated in its program the repeal of laws that criminalise homosexuality (1), which they announced on television (2). Therefore, not only did the Kataeb Party include this point in its electoral program, but it also openly spoke about it in its meetings. In a similar context, the collective LiBaladi tackled homosexuality, and often did members of the Koullouna Watani list running in the first electoral district of Beirut speak about homosexuality throughout the years: from Joumana Haddad (3), to Paula Yaacoubian (4), to Yorgui Teyrouz and Gilbert Doumit, they are supporting voices. Nicolas Chammas wrote in his electoral program on fighting harassment, discrimination, hate speech and violence, and called for reinforcing vigilance in the protection of religious, racial, sexual and social minorities. (5) He therefore introduced the discourse in its societal and social contexts. Media is also important. In the context of the only meeting of its kind that tried to gather candidates running for a particular seat, journalist and reporter Youmna Fawwaz asked the candidates for the Maronite seat in the first constituency of Beirut about their position on homosexuality, asserting that freedoms are indivisible. The answer of the present candidates, namely Gilbert Doumit, Massoud Achkar and Roger Choueiri was positive (6). As for Nadim Gemayel, the current opposition MP had asserted in a live Facebook interview with Ghayd Chammas that he respected homosexuals as well as all sexual orientations. He stressed that every one was free with his opinions, actions and body, and that it was no body’s place to judge others, making a reference to Pope Francis’s sentence: "Who are we to judge?". He refused to associate homosexuals to stereotyped television characters, saying there was no particular way homosexuals behaved. (7)

The electoral phase is a platform for communication, media and sharing ideas. In this sense, the goal was for candidates to speak LGBT on television and on the social media outlets, so we contribute to creating a space for the LGBT file in political programmes, after the file has always been the monopoly of humour programs and those based on irony.

The second phase is the post-election period, where the work continues with the candidates regardless of their election results. As a matter of fact, those who lost the elections have won in connexions, relations and influence, three springboards for the LGBT file. As for the candidates who enter Parliament, the first layer of work is to consolidate their electoral constants, in order to confirm them within the new political blocs. The formation of new alliances cannot be foreseen, since the current electoral law created alliances that even surprised party leaders. The post-election period will see the formation of new political blocs and positions, depending on which, actions will be tailored. For this, and continuing since May 2017, we will remain alongside experts and political scientists who are well versed in politics and public institutions.