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Beirut.com 21 May 2015

Flaunt Your Colors: Lebanon Marks International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Earlier this month, a video published on YouTube by the NGO, Proud Lebanon, went viral with a powerful message: you don’t have to be homosexual to demand the country recognize equal rights for all. The video features prominent Lebanese celebrities urging the public to join in the fight against homophobia. It was a promotional video ahead of a conference held to address the issue at the Hotel Monroe on May 17.

With a large rainbow flag draped over a map of Lebanon, the event brought together LGBTQI supporters for open and interactive discussions, film screenings and a photo exhibition by acclaimed human rights photographer Robin Hammond titled, “Love in a Time of Prosecution.”

There was also a series of performances by individuals from various Middle-Eastern countries who identify as homosexual. Many shared their personal stories of struggle and hope with the audience. Activist and singer Yvonne El-Hachem also performed live during the event.

File photo. (Image via BBC.com)

This was the first of its kind for Lebanon: an event marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. But while it marked a significant milestone for the country, it’s clear Lebanon still has a long way to go toward achieving equality for the LGBTQI community.

Homosexuality is technically still illegal in Lebanon according to article 534 in the Lebanese penal code, which notes that sexual intercourse “contrary to the order of nature” is punishable by up to one year in prison. The wording of the law is so vague that, according to a 2013 Humans Rights Watch Report, police officers often arrest people they merely suspect of being homosexual based on stereotypical mannerisms or appearances.

At police stations, individuals suspected of being homosexual or transsexual may face brutal and inhumane physical and psychological torture, among them humiliating “anal examinations” which are meant to verify whether or not someone has engaged in anal sex. It is a bogus practice that continues despite a ban by the Order of Physicians in Lebanon for being unethical and having no medical or scientific merit.

Furthermore, homosexuality is still considered a psychological illness by many. While the World Health Organization removed homosexuality as a diagnosis from their classification of health problems some 25 years ago, it’s only been since 2013 that the Lebanese Psychiatric Society declared homosexuality is not a mental disorder does not require treatment. That’s not to devalue the significance of the move, but to point out how far behind the country is in working toward a fair and balanced approach to LGBTQI rights.

The Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health also emphasizes that conversion or “reparative” therapy, which supposedly works to “fix” someone’s sexual orientation, has no empirical backing and comes at great risk for those who do it. Clinical psychologist and art therapist Aya Mhanna has noted its methods include electroconvulsive therapy to the hands and genitals and nausea-inducing drugs. Conversion therapy is still practiced in Lebanon, although the extent is unknown.

On top of all this, there remains a strong possibility that those who identify as LGBTQI may face familial rejection as a consequence of their sexual orientation. Testimonies at Proud Lebanon’s May 17 event were riddled with tales of abandonment, death threats and even attempted murder by family members.