Upon the announcement of the Opening Night of the third edition of Beirut Pride on Sunday 22 September 2019, a programmed and methodical defamation campaign was launched by unnamed individuals against Beirut Pride and Hadi Damien, its initiator and lead organizer. The campaign was based on allegations related to a theater project Hadi had curated the previous June in Prague, and despite his account of the facts was proved true on Tuesday 24 September 2019, the next day a bilingual incoherent call for boycott was shared on the social media, attacking Hadi Damien on various matters. On Thursday 26 September, Hadi Damien was in a 2h30 live conversation from the Facebook page of Freethought Lebanon. Here is the call for boycott as it circulated with the replies from Hadi Damien and a link to the video.
CALL TO BOYCOTT BEIRUT PRIDE 2019 (as shared from Google Docs)
We are a large number of concerned individuals actively working towards the advancement of rights and collective freedoms for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other queer-identified (LGBTIQ+) people in Lebanon, and we are calling on members of the LGBITQ+ community as well as our allies to boycott all of this year’s Beirut Pride-related events, scheduled to take place across the city from September 28 - October 6, 2019, due to severe concerns regarding the ethics, transparency, and leadership of its initiator, Hadi Damien.
“Large number of concerned individuals”: Who are these individuals? Who authored the statement? Who is endorsing it? Why do they not come forward and engage in a conversation with Hadi Damien despite greeting him at social functions? Why wait upon the announcement of the Opening Night of the third edition of Beirut Pride to express concerns?
“Severe concerns regarding the ethics, transparency, and leadership”: What are the grounds of the ethics, transparency and leadership grievances?
#1: Despite presenting itself as a community-led initiative, Beirut Pride is anything but. Pride celebrations are and have always been by and for the community—but Beirut Pride’s questionable leadership, decision-making process, and funding structure have been concentrated exclusively in the person of the organizer without any transparency and without the involvement of anyone else. This effectively means that the organizer has allowed himself to monopolize BP, control its events, merchandise, and activities, and threaten legitimate community-based grievances with legal action as was evident in his disastrous responses to the community’s responses this year.
Community-led initiative: Beirut Pride never claimed to be community-led but community-based. Since its inception in 2017, Beirut Pride and Hadi Damien in particular have been calling for the establishment of two committees: one run by NGO representatives, and one run by specialists in events and management. Various NGO tensions halted the establishment of the first committee, and specialists preferred to work in an independent capacity in order to accommodate other projects. Organizing Pride is a full commitment, and little did people want to allocate the needed time, preferring to work on one-off events. Throughout the year, Hadi Damien reaches up to people and to institutions, asking them to introduce activities during the dates of Beirut Pride. In all countries, people come forward with their events and ask organizers to add them to the schedule of the Pride. This is what makes Pride a community-based initiative.
Funding: The fees covering the website of Beirut Pride, the production of the bracelets and the petty cash is covered by Hadi Damien. Venues, speakers, designers and most artists have been, so far, offering their services free of charge in support of Beirut Pride and in trust of Hadi Damien, whom, most people have known for years and in multiple professional capacities. Should participants to Beirut Pride pay a fee for an event or for a drink or for food, the venue itself processes this financial aspect. This makes it an auto-funded event. All the persons who worked on Beirut Pride know that. Financial full discharges have also been issued. No venue or individual can ever claim that Hadi Damien or any person affiliated to organizing the activities, events and projects of Beirut Pride has ever taken money from them - to the exception of a share of profit from Sikasok that goes for the designer who is developing the #typewithpride Arabic font.
Involvement of anyone else: More than 80 people work on Beirut Pride from designers to performers to cultural spaces, artists, hosts, text editors, translators, etc. Additionally, every email and phone call is answered, and no call for Beirut Pride related meeting was ever ignored. Since the beginning of the campaign against Beirut Pride on Sunday 22 September 2019, Hadi Damien immediately called three persons he suspected to be behind the campaign. Two of them ignored his calls; one hang up twice. He also reached out to various persons asking them to mediate a meeting with whoever has grievance to express. He also suggested that the meeting be held the soonest, open to the public and broadcast on social media as a token of transparency and commitment to hearing everybody out. Despite numerous mediation attempts, no meeting has taken place yet. Additionally, why nobody ever reached out to Hadi with these concerns, and why was the campaign only started the moment the Opening Night of Beirut Pride 2019 was announced? Hadi Damien had reached out to various people who either ignored his phone calls, or promised to call back and never did.
Monopolizing: Hadi Damien started Beirut Pride and reached out to LGBTIQ+ NGOs back in 2017, before its first edition. The event is called Beirut Pride, and not Hadi Damien, and everyone is invited to work on Beirut Pride to maximize its impact. But we people refuse to work, they can’t accuse those who work of monopolizing. Everybody is welcome to join, but if they don’t work, Hadi Damien will do it.
Merchandising: Beirut Pride produces bracelets that are distributed free of charge to everyone, at all the events of Beirut Pride and in several venues in Lebanon. The bracelets are also shipped domestically (outside of Beirut) and internationally. Hadi Damien covers the production of the bracelets, their distribution and shipping. Beirut Pride has also collaborated with Sikasok to launch a customized sock, funded by Sikasok. Part of the sock revenue goes to the designer who is developing the #typewithpride Arabic font. All other products Beirut Pride promotes (garments, cellphone covers) are strictly for the pleasure of those who wish to process them. All financial transactions and proceedings are performed by the designers and not by Beirut Pride.
The defamation campaign that started on Sunday 22 September looked orchestrated, methodical and programmed. When suspicions raised about the identity of its leaders and their operating mode, Beirut Pride used the ferocious name-calling and public shaming of Hadi Damien, and published a story with the expressions “disjunctive allegation” and “every overflow will be met with the relevant legal measures”. This language created a panic among many young people who were sharing and posting automated comments: as they were communicating among each other, they started mentioning the names of the persons who were behind the campaign, and acknowledged receiving pressure to keep the posts going. Under pressure, screenshots of conversations started circulating, and eventually reached Hadi Damien. Mission accomplished. On another note and for future reference: according to the Lebanese Criminal Code, public unfounded name-calling, defamation and spread of fake news is enough to initiate criminal proceedings, even without filing a personal claim.
#2: Beirut Pride’s sources of funding remain unclear to this day, despite many calls for transparency by members of the LGBTIQ+ community, activists, and NGO workers. BP’s website claims that “[the event] is organized by members of the creative industries in Lebanon and local NGOs” and that “it is auto-funded.” What and who constitute the “creative industries” in Lebanon, and what does it mean to be “auto-funded”? Furthermore, while BP claims to have more than 80 organizers working alongside its founder, why are said organizers’ names never disclosed and published on its website? And why is it that no one other than the organizer is ever visible?
Funding & auto-funded: This has been answered in remark No.2 in Section #1 above.
Creative industries: They are the designers, the performers, the cultural spaces and the artists who suggest their events, talks, activities and projects, and who have been working on Beirut Pride since 2017, among whom several people who are expressing these claims.
Disclosing organizers names: Several people working on Beirut Pride wished not to be linked to the LGBTIQ+ events, as many were afraid visibility might hinder their professional activity, their family ties or their wellbeing at universities. The “Team Page” on the website was then dropped all together, and it could go up any time someone wish to be listed.
Visibility: Hadi Damien had forwarded several media inquiries to NGOs and to people who have worked on Beirut Pride. Several persons have spoken to the media, but a large number of people has failed to meet media deadlines, pick up their phone, or even follow-up with the journalists, which made editors publish the articles without them. Also, speaking at a conference entails a lot of preparation time and most trips are not funded by the inviting party, which didn’t attract the interest of the solicited people.
#3: During last year’s Beirut Pride, several police officers cracked down on a scheduled theatre reading at Studio Zoukak and took in Damien for questioning, citing a falsified document “mis-attributed to Beirut Pride” which explicitly framed BP-related events as inciting to “debauchery”. Following that, all events were suspended, and most queer-friendly spaces in the city were subsequently held under scrutiny and in danger of being raided and closed down by local authorities, putting the safety of most members of the LGBTIQ+ community, and especially the dozens of participating artists, performers, organizers, and volunteers taking part in said BP-related events, in danger of getting arrested. Despite Damien’s often contradictory accounts of his altercation with authorities to different media outlets, it later turned out he was directly involved and cooperated with the authorities in the decision that lead to the suspension of events, something many of us would never have been in favor of had the decision not been centralized with one person only. Furthermore, the organizer proceeded to cut off communications with all participants of Beirut Pride that year and left them to deal with hostile police incursions by themselves in the aftermath of his detention.
“Damien’s often contradictory accounts of his altercation with authorities to different media outlets”: Accounts of the interrogation of Hadi Damien started circulating while he was still detained, which means he was not the one who expressed them. The only account regarding his arrest has been published on www.beirutpride.org/bp2018 since the day of his release, on 15 May 2018. The Prosecutor of Beirut, who is a judge, ordered the suspension of the activities that were scheduled in May 2018 before he released Hadi Damien and later on charged him with “organizing events that incite to debauchery” that are still ongoing. This renders the mention “he was directly involved and cooperated with the authorities in the decision that lead to the suspension of events“ irrelevant. Hadi Damien didn’t cancel any event as he doesn’t hold the intellectual property on the events. This explains the police crackdowns that took place afterwards. While this point has been cleared multiple times, in person and in the media, some still wish to frame Hadi Damien as the person who cancelled the events. Also, it is worth knowing that all decisions a person makes during interrogation are consideed to be made under pressure and do not hold any authority. Additionally, Hadi Damien was arrested alone and he was interrogated alone. Therefore, speaking of “not being in favor of something” is irrelevant. It is also worth noting that most people, among whom some who have authored the statement have left Studio Zoukak when the police raided the place. Several others were also terrified to show up in front of Hbeish Police Station “because the police would have arrested us”, according to what they told Hadi Damien after his release on May 15, 2019. Finally, while Hadi Damien speaks to the media, he is not responsible of what editors highlight, dismiss or alter, and very few editors agree to modify a text once published.
Immediately after his release on May 15, 2019 around 2:30pm, Hadi Damien met with Me. Sakr to work on the English/Arabic statement, and met, later on Ms. Sandra Melhem with whom he remained in touch for quite a time afterwards, and who was concerned for his mental health, as she asked him many times, afterwards, through calls, before parting away. The effect of misinformation that happened afterwards and its toll on mental health (panic attacks, fear rushes and a pressure to work harder, to deliver more) could only be handled by retracting for a while, even though Hadi Damien was in direct contact with the venues that got cracked-down, with the organisers that wished to pursue their events, and with the venues that agreed to host them. People can testify of this.
#4: Damien and BP’s relationship to state representatives and various politicians, as well as local authorities and security agencies, has always been a question mark, and continue to be so. After his release, Damian stated that Internal Security Forces—who were and continue to arbitrarily detain, discriminate, and torture members of the LGBTIQ+ community—were providing safety to BP attendees during the event’s inaugural edition. Then, the organizer failed to disclose the ISF’s involvement publicly in an event which could have included high-risk attendees. Damien went on to affirm this year that he had been participating in “meetings with officials, and held regular high-ranked encounters with religious authorities, political formations and security agencies” to keep “communication channels open”, choosing once again to collaborate with entities that continue to enforce systemic discrimination against the more vulnerable members of the LGBTIQ+ community. He offered these same “assurances” last year before he himself was detained, throwing serious doubts on his honesty and ability to keep the community safe in a such a high-risk event. It is worthy to mention that no concrete safety plan for any of BP’s events was shared with the community this year either, especially when religious figures and formations have been calling for authorities to take action against Beirut Pride as we speak.
Beirut Pride communicates with state representatives, politicians, local authorities and security agencies to explain what Beirut Pride is about, what it entails and what it aims at, in order to reduce the impact of homophobic campaigns that turn its activities into debauchery and immorality. However, the path to understanding is long, and pressures happen on all fronts, neutralizing established communication. Beyond this, there is no relationship between Beirut Pride and the mentioned parties.
Hadi Damien worked before initiating Beirut Pride. He also practices political communication, in which capacity he meets officials. Officials, religious authorities, political formations and security agencies must be reached to and channels of communication must be open with. It is only through communication that individuals in power get to understand the realities of LGBTIQ+ people, otherwise they will constantly dismiss us and contribute to worsening our lives. However, he did not say in 2017 that ISF officers were providing safety to Beirut Pride attendees. In order to dismiss this matter, we reached out to the journalists who sent us the audio extract of the interview in which Hadi Damien is heard on record saying “We are Lebanese citizens, and it is the responsibility of the State to secure our protection; the way it is the responsibility of any other State to secure the protection of the people who are living on the territoy of the State”. Hadi Damien is aware of the attacks perpetuated by authorities, and he seeks to open channels of communication with them to lessen attacks and to foster understanding. Moreover, the ISF were never involved in a Beirut Pride activity, even though it is their responsibility to be present in public gatherings and in places where crowds gather.
While Beirut Pride has contracted the services of a private security company, secured an insurance policy to cover the events and asked the Red Cross to be on site, it constantly reminds authorities that they must be present near the venues to secure the public protection of the participants. However, people attending Beirut Pride are adults who understand that their participation in Beirut Pride might be challenging. No safety ideas have been shared with us.
While religious figures and formations have been calling for authorities to take action against Beirut Pride, internal attacks against Beirut Pride intensified, fabricated allegations and matters that were cleared in 2017 and in 2018 started circulating as if to facilitate external attacks, instead of closing ranks, answerig phone calls and agreeing to meet and to move forward. This doesn’t mean not addressing pending issues, but rather to manage an imminent situation that created a porous environment for external attacks.
#5: In June 2019, transgender activist and drag performer Sasha Elijah took to her social media to recount a harrowing experience she described when collaborating with Damien, after he had invited her to perform as part of an exhibition he curated for the Prague Quadrennial. Elijah claims she was promised to have her flight, visa fees, accommodation, and production costs covered by Damien, but that, once in Prague, he eventually withdrew his initial promise and left her to fend for herself amidst a transphobic and racist climate with no money, basic amenities, or a safety plan. This led to multiple altercations between Elijah and Damien that had the BP organizer resorting to—both in public and private interventions—classist, ableist, substance shaming, as well as allegedly transphobic discourse to discredit the transgender activist, repetitively and aggressively denying her claims. These allegations have troubled many in our community, and we strongly believe that anyone aiming to work towards LGBTIQ+ rights and freedoms should not be reproducing oppressive language and practices against members of the community.
In brief: Sasha wanted to go to Prague and she was offered to co-design with Hans Harling, not to perform. Only the exhibition production costs were to be covered (amounting to USD 120). No other costs were to be covered. Interaction with Sasha was always polite from the end of Hadi Damien, and no transphobic behavior or claims were ever made. Hadi Damien denied her incorrect claims, which doesn’t make it aggressive. Visit the page www.pq-lb.org/ste-account, read the full story and check the screenshots. Hans Harling, who introduced Sasha to the project, publicly endorsed the version as reported on the website on Tuesday 24 September 2019, thus confirming its truth and rejecting Ms. Sasha Elijah’s claims.
This inflated literature about the story features words and expressions such as “harrowing”, “aggressively”, “transphobic and racist climate with no money, basic amenities, or a safety plan” that are sensational and that bestow a dramatic feeling on the text to emotionally move the readers and get them to endorse the story.
#6: Ever since Damien founded Beirut Pride in August 2016, there have been countless efforts on his part to ignore, dismiss, and/or silence (1) entire members and segments of the LGBTIQ+ community, including refugees, working class individuals, sex workers, and transwomen, (2) activists hailing from feminist, queer, and leftist political formations, and (3) NGO workers with considerable experience related to queer safety and police and state violence. Based on prior discussions with Damien as well as interviews he’s given to local, regional, and international media outlets, it has become clear to us that the BP founder has been intent on obscuring decades of queer and feminist organizing in the country, and claiming this initiative for individualistic gains.
The mentions in this section are talks with no foundation that supports these claims. Parents, families, trans* people, performers, singers, drags, refugees, HIV+ people, gender-fluidity fashion designers, lawyers, jurists, theater makers were part of the program of the 2018 edition; gender-fluidity fashion designers, drags, refugees, HIV+ people, storytelling, open house, screenings, parties, legal talks, a talk about Lebanese TV series and films, a block-street party, an outdoor gathering, workshops were on the program of the 2017 edition. The only way to cover a maximum of themes is to work on the edition, which means picking up phone calls, answering emails and messages, and meeting up. Never has an entry, suggestion or proposition of event been not programmed.
Many members of the LGBTIQ+ community, as well as feminist/queer activists and NGO workers, have reached out to Damien and Beirut Pride to provide ways through which this supposedly community-led initiative could embrace a more horizontal structure, ensure the sustained protection of attendees from anti-queer police and state violence, and broaden its list of demands. The only way for Pride to move forward is to allow for the community to oversee the formation of an independent, diverse, and representative steering committee able to guarantee that any future organizers lead a safe, inclusive, and legitimate Pride.
After countless attempts to negotiate a seat at the table and stick through false promises of reformation, we are left with no choice but to take matters into our own hands and demand for a boycott of Beirut Pride as it currently stands and is organized. We hope you will too. – The END.
Channels of communication have been open since the beginning, and no outreach in the direction of Beirut Pride has happened since June 2018 except for the contacts Beirut Pride did. We have always asked to work together to be embracing of more people and identities. This point was held in every single meeting.
As mentioned in remark No.1 in Section #1 above, Beirut Pride and Hadi Damien in particular have been calling for the establishment of two committees: one run by NGO representatives, and one run by specialists in events and management. Various NGO tensions halted the establishment of the first committee, and specialists preferred to work in an independent capacity in order to accommodate other projects. Organizing Pride is a full commitment, and little did people want to allocate the needed time, preferring to work on one-off events.
Since the beginning of the campaign against Beirut Pride on Sunday 22 September 2019, Hadi Damien immediately called three persons he suspected to be behind the campaign. Two of them ignored his calls; one hang up twice. He also reached out to various persons asking them to mediate a meeting with whoever has grievance to express. He also suggested that the meeting be held the soonest, open to the public and broadcast on social media as a token of transparency and commitment to hearing everybody out. Despite numerous mediation attempts, no meeting has taken place yet.
Hadi Damien confirms that no meeting was requested from him, no email or message was sent to him and no call was ever made in order to address a grievance. He had, though, reached out to various people who either ignored his phone calls, or promised to call back and never did between May 2018 and September 2019.
When people refuse to directly address concerns, ignore phone calls, emails and messages, and keep on spreading fake information online, and schedule a campaign the moment the program starts to be announced, it seems that this commotion was intended to hit Beirut Pride 2019, to create chaos, and to undermine Hadi Damien, especially that all allegations personally target him. None of the comments and none of the notes that were voiced was backed by proof. The excuse that “Beirut Pride doesn’t represent the community” becomes a means to borrow legitimacy for a campaign that is built on personal defamation in order to sabotage Beirut Pride 2019 and to eject Hadi Damien from Beirut Pride, as some people have identified a prospective large margin of profit that they wish to exploit without retinue.
We refuse, reject and condemn this lynching on the social media. We’ve witnessed an angry mob taking to social media what others would have taken to the streets, defaming, harassing, coercing and bullying in the name of “reform”. Lies, curses and insults flew around. People got too emotional to reason and they were easily manipulated, even reaching out to foreign persons to make public statements. These attacks were against Beirut Pride and against LGBTIQ+ people at-large. Partners and prospective allies look in confusion, unable to take position and decide how to work on the LGBTIQ+ file amid all the division. Beirut Pride and Hadi Damien keep channels of communication open and invite everyone to do so.
On Thursday 26 September, Hadi Damien was in a 2h30 live conversation from the Facebook page of Freethought Lebanon. Watch the video and make up your own mind. Source: https://www.facebook.com/Freethought.Lebanon/videos/586748575195099/