Beirut Pride cancelled in Lebanon after police detain organizer

Outlet: Stepfeed / Editor: Leyal Khalife / Language: English / Date of publication: 16 May 2018 / Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 23 seconds.

On Tuesday, a 9-day-long Lebanese LGBTQI+ event put a halt to its activities after its organizer, Hadi Damien, was detained and taken in for questioning.

Beirut Pride, the collaborative platform behind the event, began on May 12. 

However, following alleged complaints and claims, Damien was detained and held in custody overnight. He was brought in to the station at 11 P.M. on May 14 and released the next day at 3 P.M., Damien told StepFeed. 

"There was no violence, but it wasn't a pleasant experience," he said.

"We were 39 people in a detention room of a five-person capacity," he wrote in an official statement.

Damien has since been released by authorities after agreeing to suspend the rest of the week's events - which were scheduled to continue through till May 20. He also signed a pledge, assuring authorities that all activities will remain suspended.

If Hadi Damien refused to sign, he may have been faced with 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," said Layal Saqr, Damien's lawyer, according to Al Araby.

I'm out. #beirutpride2018

Posted by Hadi Damien on Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Prior to his detainment, Damien had received a call regarding a "text reading" event, which was scheduled to take place at Zoukak Theatre Studio. 

The censorship bureau at the General Security claimed Beirut Pride did not get the required approval needed to host such an event. 

According to Beirut Pride's statement, "text readings" are exempted from the stated requirement as the event is not a performance, rather a reading

Damien was "interrogated over allegedly encouraging debauchery and offending public decency" after a distorted Arabic version of the Beirut Pride program was sent to the Public Prosecution.

The document was twisted to make the "happenings of Beirut Pride appear like events of debauchery, disrespect of general law, while using derogatory terms to refer to LGBT individuals," Beirut Pride's statement said.

"Beirut Pride is safe"

Nobody is still detained, and Beirut Pride is safe. The events scheduled under the label of Beirut Pride until May 20,...

Posted by Beirut Pride on Tuesday, 15 May 2018

A look at Lebanon's LGBTQI+ laws

Under the controversial Article 534, which says sexual acts that "contradict the laws of nature" can be punished by up to one year in prison, LGBTQI+ individuals are sometimes prosecuted in Lebanon. 

However, court rulings in recent years have challenged the use of the law.

In 2017, Lebanon hosted an LGBTQI+ Pride week, which organizers called a "first" for the country. 

The week-long gathering positioned itself as a "collaborative platform that takes a stance against hate and discrimination." 

That same year, the Lebanese American University (LAU) hosted the country's first-ever queer fashion show. 

"I had a transsexual [model], a straight girl, a straight guy, a homosexual, a bisexual ... all kinds of sexual orientations," Aniss Ezzedine, one of the organizers told StepFeed at the time."I wanted diversity in my show." 

In 2018, nearly 100 candidates running for elections openly called for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

"The minute you see a glimmer of hope in this shitty country, it is immediately extinguished"

"There wasn't any harm to anyone from these events"

"Wish I could say I'm surprised, only disappointed"

What is Beirut Pride?

Beirut Pride is a "collaborative platform that takes a positive stance against hate and discrimination based on gender and sexual diversity." 

Social initiatives organized by the platform aim to denounce hate speech and violence through social initiatives. 

In 2017, Damien told StepFeed in an interview that he wanted to create a "happy" and "chill" event that would "bring people together." 

He also stressed that Beirut Pride is not an NGO, rather a collaborative platform with numerous participants from various Lebanese NGOs and the country's creative community.

"For the first edition, we refused to work, to receive money and to collaborate with political parties and embassies. We even refused to host events at embassies and places that have a political leaning or that are somehow linked to politicians. We have also rejected corporate money, because at the end of the day, this is not a platform that needs money, it’s a platform that is funding itself," Damien said.

In 2017, a series of events held under Beirut Pride were forced into cancellation after Islamist groups threatened to attack a scheduled parade. 

At the time, several events were canceled, including the parade. However, no one was detained at the time.

Beirut Pride Remarks:

1. The events were suspended on the decision of the General Prosecutor of Beirut, without asking the agreement, consent or refusal of Hadi Damien. The decision to suspend the events was effective even if Hadi was to be kept in detention. The pledge he was asked to sign was for him to acknowledge the decision of the General Prosecutor, and not to "assure authorities that all activities will remain suspended". For a full account of the detention, refer to the Statement about the Suspension of Beirut Pride Events – 14 May 2018.

2. No Islamist group threatened to attack a scheduled parade back in 2017, and there was no cancelled parade.