This article is part of the “Raseef in Color” project, which is a space dedicated to activists as well as members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters, to be able to speak freely and without any restrictions about different gender and sexual orientations, and sexual health. The project is also aimed at contributing to and spreading scientific and cultural awareness of gender issues, through innovative and comprehensive approaches simultaneously.
To this day, there are still those who are trying to live quietly in the shadows in Lebanon for fear of intimidation by the authorities, its security services, and its “militias”.
Although many people of the LGBTQ community spoke out and raised their voices during the October 2019 uprising, the suppression, harassment, and intimidation of these voices continues.
“Political Repression”... The Torture of Trans Individuals
When the political crises in the country intensify, Rory, a transgender, avoids expressing her opinion. She recognizes that she is under threat in Lebanon and can be easily targeted and attacked as a result of the discrimination and marginalization that transgender people and other members of the queer community are subjected to.
Speaking to Raseef22, Rory, 28, points to the negative impact of what she describes as political and social repression on this group of people, “Many like me are afraid to express their opinions due to religious and political pressures. When you are unable to be yourself within your own home, with your family and in society, and are afraid of being attacked while also wanting to express your opinion publicly and are unable to do so, this negatively affects your psyche and your interactions with family and society.”
Rory stresses that, as a result, an individual gets used to keeping his opinion to himself and not dare express it. Thus, he loses feeling peace and security and withdraws to himself due to experiencing loneliness and feeling an absence of anyone that understands him.
It is psychological torment then, caused by the ongoing political repression of this group.
“We are told to be quiet and careful. We feel obliged to remain silent so that no one targets or attacks us. In order to have a voice, we have a very long way to go.”
During the uprising, which was considered a space of expression for members of the LGBTQ community, Rory was at the start of her sexual trans journey, so she tried to participate as much as possible in the protests, but fear accompanied her during that period due to the heavy deployment of security services among the demonstrators on the ground and them conducting a wave of arrests.
This issue worried Rory, fearing what she might be subjected to as a trans individual if she was arrested. Lebanese security services are quite known for their hostility towards members of the LGBTQ community, violating their rights, arresting them and assaulting them, especially trans people.
Even on normal days, while many citizens dare to express their opinion, Rory revealed that — as a trans woman — she avoids using any provocative expressions in her political comments for the sake of her personal safety, “The backlash will not be aimed at someone who criticized a leader on social media. Rather, the issue will turn into the fact that I am a trans individual, and a lot of things might happen.”
She continues, “While walking down the street, I think of how I may be beaten up or kidnapped if my identity is revealed. That is why I try my best to be diplomatic when it comes to addressing political issues to ensure my safety. When the political and security situation worsens, I refrain from speaking out altogether.”
Rory also spoke about electronic surveillance, especially of members of the queer community, “As of late, I feel that we are being monitored and surveilled through social media, just lying in wait for us to say one word. Every day activists are being summoned by one of the branches of the security apparatus or attacked by party loyalists and supporters.”
All this ongoing repression and fear doesn’t let Rory have much hope for the possibility that members of the LGBTQ community — specifically trans people — will be able to gain any sort of political representation or have positions in the state, in the judiciary, or the legal profession.
Gender Identity as a Political Challenge
Many members of the LGBTQ community in Lebanon are subjected to oppression and unjust practices meant to silence them and prevent them from expressing their opinions.
In this regard, political activist Doumit Azzi Draiby spoke to Raseef22 about the attempts of repression he was subjected to. They had been done to silence him and prevent him from stating his opinion against the political authority. He went on to explain that whenever he expressed an opinion in university or via social media, he was subjected to bullying campaigns and attacks targeting his sexual orientation instead of debating or engaging with him about the true matte at hand — politics.
These attempts at repression meant to push him to withdraw from being politically active have prompted the activist to publicize his homosexuality as a “political challenge and as part of his battle with the regime,” as he put it, but it was not easy, especially since he realized the resulting dangers.
Because of his homosexuality, Doumit has faced difficulties with his family and environment before he did in the political field he is active in. He was born into a conservative, religious family that sees homosexuality as a “taboo” and discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community. This made him hesitate and fear their reaction, worried that he may be ostracized if he came out and announced his gender identity, especially since he knew of the suffering and persecution of others, expelled from their families and subjected to economic violence.
The activist pointed out that him having certain privileges that other homosexuals may not have, has allowed him to announce his identity and “stand in the face of the campaigns of bullying and homophobia,” according to him. His family’s mindset has even shifted — thanks to his move — from a state of total rejection of the LGBTQ community into one of support for him.
Despite his success so far in the face of campaigns of intimidation and discrimination, the political activist expected these issues to be raised against him again when he expresses his opinion.
Doumit stressed that Lebanese law does not directly prevent him from reaching a public position or office, “There is no legal text that prohibits homosexuals from participating in politics or political life,” noting that he revealed his identity because he does not want to engage in any sort of political work from behind a mask that is subject to the existing patriarchal system. “I came out with my true identity so that this type of clarity would help break down barriers, and if there was no progress on this issue during the time of my generation, we would have paved the way for those who will come after us. I do not want future generations of the LGBTQ community to suffer the same way I have.”
On his philosophy regarding the struggle with power, Doumit asks, “In my battle with the regime, why should I wear a mask [hide my identity] that they want me to wear?” He continues, “If I rise up against this existing system and against the existing social structures, I will rise up against what I am. The system hates me because I am the opposite of what it wants, and I will certainly go up against it with its opposite.”
Doumit Azzi Draiby noted that the involvement of LGBTQ community members in public affairs constitutes a qualitative leap in the Lebanese political system, and an indication of a change that has begun to affect society, “There is a battle that must be opened today.”
Obsessions Implanted by the System
It seems that even thinking about working in public affairs is forbidden for members of the LGBTQ community.
Hashem considers that “it is easier for a man who mirrors or fits the prevailing pattern to work in public affairs than a transgender man.” He explains this by saying, “We are raised to not have a voice and that we just have to be careful. We feel obligated to remain silent so that no one targets or attacks us. In order to have a voice, if we belong to any marginalized minority, is something that requires effort to gain.”
“I sometimes wonder “If I were arrested during a protest as a transgender, where would I be imprisoned? In a women’s prison or in a men’s prison? My body is a female body, but society reads me as a man.”
Hashem, who is transgender, revealed to Raseef22 that he is threatened by his gender identity in Lebanon, “Your personal life may easily be used against you, especially in a country that criminalizes homosexuality, and especially between men.”
What helped him engage in political activity and work without concealing his identity was the fact that he had, from a young age, joined queer feminist groups that are informed and knowledgeable of everything related to gender transformation, equality, and justice, “These groups had provided me with spaces that encouraged me to understand myself and accept myself as I am. And then I joined the LiHaqqi organization. I was surprised by the level of awareness that exists on a par with feminist and queer politics.”
Nonetheless, Hashem revealed his fear of “facing a more repressive and police state than the one we are witnessing today,” as he put it. He also expressed his fears that his sexual and gender identity would be used against him, “I sometimes wonder that if I was arrested during a protest as a transgender, where would I be imprisoned? In a women’s prison or in a men’s prison? My body is a female body, but society reads me as a man. I also think about what I might be subjected to, but I think I can deal with any situation.”
While Hashem does not aspire to assume public responsibility, he explained that his fears of using his identity against him and his family prevents him from progressing in this field, noting that one of the legal problems encountering him is that of identification papers. “I am seen as a man, but on identification papers I am a woman. To be able to change that in Lebanon, I, as a trans person, have to prove that I can’t have children after removing my uterus and ovaries, which is something I do not want to do. Why is it up to the state to decide if I could have children just so that it can change my papers?”
Vague Legal Text
Karim Nammour, a lawyer at Legal Agenda, considered that there is no need to repeal Article 534 of the Penal Code — which punishes “sexual relations that are contradicting the laws of nature” — in order to change political life in Lebanon, revealing that it can be abolished through the diligence of judges.
According to Nammour’s interview with Raseef22, the judges implemented, “in a very broad and conservative manner, the law that they established during the French Mandate by the Vichy government, which is near-Nazi in nature,” considering that the phrase “sexual relations that are contradicting the laws of nature” is only an ambiguous sentence, while “no text in the Penal Code can be vague or ambiguous. And if it is, it is interpreted in favor of the accused. Therefore, at the bare minimum, the act of intercourse should be present and proven, but the judges have punished people by simply accusing them of their identity without having intercourse.”
It is noteworthy that, in contrast to conservative interpretations, some judges issued decisions that refused to prosecute homosexuals, although the law may constitute a major obstacle against engaging in political life in the “traditional sense”. Therefore, lawyer Nammour stressed the importance of repealing Article 534, and if possible, that judges just bypass it altogether.
Karim indicated that homosexuals can advance in political life and attain positions by concealing their true identity, “but this will not prevent this identity from being exploited and used against them in political work and being threatened with it.”
Karim Nammour also stressed the need to establish a mechanism to protect people of the LGBTQ community from discrimination, “Binding international treaties on Lebanon stipulate non-discrimination for a number of reasons, including sexual orientation and identity.”
“Morals” — the State’s Excuse for Violating Freedoms
Several human rights organizations contacted institutions and officials in the Lebanese state to remind them of the international treaties that Lebanon is bound to, and to place them before their responsibilities regarding violations committed against individuals because of their gender identities.
In this regard, Rasha Younes, researcher with the LGBT Rights Program in the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, confirmed to Raseef22 that the response of officials in Lebanon to reports and messages related to LGBT people that were sent by the organization is very limited.
Rasha pointed out that, to a large extent, officials justify the violations against these groups and minorities with a moral duty, “which does not go in line with Lebanon’s obligations nor with the protection of the freedoms it claims.”
Younes sees that the country’s General Security justified its previous violations against LGBTQ community members, as well as preventing them from holding a conference in 2018, with the claim that Lebanon has the right to preserve collective morals and family structure by limiting conferences that raise issues that are considered taboo.
According to Rasha, Human Rights Watch tried to meet with the Director General of Public Security Abbas Ibrahim at the time, but he refused to hold a meeting regarding this issue.
The reality shows that Lebanon hasn’t advanced a single step on the rights of the LGBT community. Rather, its officials refuse to address the issue and insist on marginalizing this group in fear that this step may harm the ruling system, which feeds off its marginalization policies
In September 2019, the organization prepared a report on discrimination against trans women in Lebanon, after which it contacted several ministries: the Labor, the Justice, the Interior and the Public Health ministry. But there was no effective response, according to Younes’ assertion, “Only the Ministry of Justice responded to the organization. It stated that, with regard to legal gender recognition, there are a few issues that prevent trans individuals from changing their name and gender mark, which are also related to social issues, since the Ministry believes that the presence of people of genders outside the binary (male and female) would confuse society.”
Therefore, the reality and the testimonies of the people concerned show that Lebanon has not yet advanced a single step with regard to the rights of the LGBTQ community. Rather, its officials refuse to address the issue and insist on marginalizing this group — in violation of human rights and international treaties — for fear of the harm that this step would pose to the ruling system, which derives its strength and feeds on the marginalization policies that it follows.
This project is in cooperation with the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) and with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.