Lebanon's Gay Pride Week Brought to Halt After Crackdown

Outlet: The New York Times / Editor: The Associated Press / Language: English / Date of publication: 16 May 2018 / Estimated reading time: 13 minutes 2 seconds.


BEIRUT — Lebanon's beleaguered gay pride week was cancelled a couple of days into the celebrations after its organizer was briefly detained, he and his lawyer said Tuesday.

Lebanon became the first Arab country to celebrate gay pride last year. In the conservative region, homosexuality is illegal in most countries and punishable under a number of vaguely worded laws that often cite debauchery or public decency, including in Lebanon.

The gay, lesbian and transgender community is largely shunned and often persecuted in widely publicized and humiliating mass arrests.

In Lebanon, however, the community has enjoyed a margin of freedom. Activists have been vocally campaigning, including backing a popular candidate in the country's parliamentary elections earlier this month, against laws that criminalise homosexuality and other laws concerning public morality.

Organizer Hadi Damien told The Associated Press that he was detained overnight for organizing Beirut Pride week, which began Saturday, allegedly following complaints from critics.

Damien said authorities first tried to halt a theater reading Monday night at a small studio, complaining it was not approved by the censorship authorities. Damien was then summoned by the police and questioned over the week's events, which included a street party, a drag show, legal workshops, concerts and poetry readings.

Lawyer Layal Saqr, said her client was interrogated over allegedly "encouraging debauchery and offending public decency." She said the authorities are not required to identify the plaintiffs.

Authorities asked Damien to sign a pledge to call off the rest of the festival's events, she added. There was no immediate comment from the police.

"This was a warning...and the aim was to stop the events," which have become widely publicized, Saqr said.

If he didn't' sign the pledge, Damien could have faced misdemeanor charges or a criminal case punishable by up to two years in prison. "I advised him to sign. We want him outside not behind bars," Saqr said.

The weeklong festival was packed with ground-breaking initiatives and performances that defied gender stereotypes.

Beirut Pride opened with an event for parents who openly support their children's sexual orientation. Organizers launched a campaign for businesses to address discrimination in the workplace against LGBT+ professionals.

Lebanon's gay pride week last year — the first in the Arab world — was also disrupted after Islamist groups complained and threatened to attack a planned parade. Some events were cancelled, including the parade, but no one was detained. This year, there was no parade planned.

Damien that said although he was locked up in a crowded cell for over 12 hours, he was not verbally or physically abused. He added that he collaborated with the security agencies to avoid a wider crackdown.

"I didn't want to cause panic or disappoint the LGBT community," Damien said. Regionally, only Israel and Turkey organize pride week celebrations, include a parade. In Egypt, authorities cracked down heavily on the LGBT+ community last year when concertgoers raised a rainbow flag during a performance.

Georges Azzi, a Lebanese who founded the region's first LGBT advocacy group in 2004, won a prestigious award at the annual gala of the global campaigning OutRight International in New York Monday.


BEIRUT PRIDE REMARKS:

1. Beirut Pride's events were suspended on the decision of the General Prosecutor of Beirut, independently of the agreement, consent or refusal of Hadi Damien. The decision to suspend the events was effective whether Hadi Damien was detained or release. The pledge he was asked to sign was for him to acknowledge the decision of the General Prosecutor. For a full account of the detention, refer to the Statement about the Suspension of Beirut Pride Events – 14 May 2018.

2. Fore more information on the general parliamentary elections of 6 May 2018, refer to the paper entitled "Parliament Elections in 2018: The LGBT Electorate Challenges".

3. There was no threat against a parade in 2017. The announcement of the 2018 march was going to take place on 15 May 2018, but the suspension of the programme put a halt to it.