Members of the LGBTQI+ community are among the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in Lebanon, as they are subjected to a great deal of systemic discrimination and abuse, both at home and across various aspects of public life, including in the judicial and legal system.
Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) has conducted a survey* of more than 150 LGBTQI+ individuals who have faced discrimination and ill-treatment to learn more about their interactions with the legal justice system in Lebanon. While the results are both surprising and disturbing, they provide important insight into what action can be taken to improve the judicial system so that it can support the rights and needs of a community that is in dire need of legal protection and representation.
The term "LGBTQI+" stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex, while the “+” symbol represents other diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
One of the main takeaways of the survey is that 80% of respondents reported that they refrained from seeking any legal aid for a variety of reasons after being subjected to discrimination and/or abuse. As a result, they are left to shoulder the weight of the crimes and violations committed against them without any access to justice and legal remedies.
Many LGBTQI+ individuals do not seek legal support out of fear of potential repercussions and backlash. LAW has come to understand that one of the most common fears is the fear of being charged and arrested under Article 534 of the Lebanese Criminal Code, which prohibits “any sexual intercourse against nature”. Article 534 is often used by security services to charge members of the LGBTQI+ community and discriminate against them.
Although the article has not been abolished and is sometimes invoked, Lebanese jurisprudence favors the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in line with international human rights law by protecting them from prosecution, something that is not widely known among the LGBTQI+ community.
Another challenge for LGBTQI+ victims is finding a suitable lawyer who is willing to provide legal assistance. According to survey responses, Lebanese lawyers are often influenced by religious and political biases, and discriminate against clients based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Lawyers who were surveyed reported that their colleagues may refuse to take on LGBTQI+ cases out of fear of "tarnishing" their reputations, regardless of whether or not they are personally tolerant and accepting of the LGBTQI+ community.
Many LGBTQI+ individuals do not seek legal support out of fear of potential repercussions. One of the most common fears is the fear of being charged under Article 534 of the Lebanese Criminal Code, which prohibits “any sexual intercourse against nature”
In addition, there is a history of neglect and discrimination in the judicial system that members of the LGBTQI+ community understandably wish to avoid. Numerous LGBTQI+ individuals informed LAW that they have faced, and continue to face, discrimination from the police and other institutions in the legal system during the course of legal proceedings, whether that means being verbally abused or through imposing measures such as arrests solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, instead of substantive criminal charges. These experiences reinforce the fear of being detained when LGBTQI+ victims seek legal protection.
An example of the police’s discriminatory behavior is their insistence on detaining transgender women in men’s detention centers, instead of those for women, simply to adhere to the specified gender in their IDs instead of the individual’s actual gender identity. The judiciary has similarly engaged in discriminatory practices when it comes to LGBTQI+ cases, with judges acting and issuing decisions based on their own interpretations, their limited knowledge, and personal beliefs.
It is hardly surprising that LGBTQI+ individuals who experience discrimination and abuse often suffer mental health challenges and psychological consequences due to having limited access to these services. LAW’s survey indicates that an overwhelming 71% of surveyed members of the LGBTQI+ community felt either anxious or stressed as a result of experiences where they were subjected to discrimination and abuse, and left an impact on their wellbeing and mental health. 53% felt depressed, 52% felt isolated, and 44% felt hopeless. Alarmingly, a quarter of the survey respondents have also expressed having suicidal feelings and/or having previously attempted to commit suicide.
An example of the police’s discriminatory behavior is their insistence on detaining transgender women in men’s detention centers, instead of those for women, simply to adhere to the specified gender in their IDs instead of the individual’s actual gender identity
Another factor impeding the access of LGBTQI+ individuals to justice is limited financial resources. According to 42% of the respondents, legal fees, including lawyer fees, tend to be too expensive for many, especially during the ongoing economic crisis. Securing the required costs is difficult for many LGBTQI+ individuals, often preventing them from seeking legal solutions.
In light of these findings and recent developments suggesting an increase in discrimination, namely the Ministry of Interior’s decision to ban pro-LGBTQI+ gatherings, as well as attacks made against them by religious extremist groups, calls for increased openness and reducing discrimination in the judicial system are more necessary than ever to ensure that the rights of the LGBTQI+ community are protected. It is vital that everyone in society has access to justice to challenge discrimination and abuse. It is a key step in ending the culture of impunity in Lebanon and improving the judicial system overall.
*Legal Action Worldwide recently published a report titled “Hidden Identities, Broken Lives and No Access to Justice: Voices From LGBTQI+ People in Lebanon” which sheds light on the legal and social difficulties faced by the LGBTQI+ community and encourages the inclusion of LGBTQI+ individuals under the Lebanese law. The report can be found via the following link.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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