World News

Coming Out in Lebanon

Posted December 30, 2017 1:43 p.m. EST

Throughout the Middle East, gay, lesbian and transgender people face formidable obstacles to living a life of openness and acceptance in conservative societies.

Although Jordan decriminalized same-sex behavior in 1951, the gay community remains marginalized. Qatar, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen all outlaw same-sex relations. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by flogging or death.

In Egypt, at least 76 people have been arrested in a crackdown since September, when a fan waved a rainbow flag during a concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band with an openly gay singer.

If there is one exception, it has been Lebanon. While the law can still penalize homosexual acts, the society has slowly grown more tolerant as activists have worked for more rights and visibility.

In 2013, the Lebanese Psychiatric Society said homosexuality did not need to be treated as a mental disorder. Judges have rejected cases being prosecuted under a law that makes sex “contrary to nature” illegal. And this year, Lebanon held its first ever Beirut Pride Week, full of events, if not an actual parade.

What has helped make the difference is a culturally diverse society, a mostly independent media and the relative ease of registering nongovernmental organizations, says Georges Azzi, who runs the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, an advocacy group.

Members of the community have served as pioneers in a region where coming out is always risky. They have all crossed difficult personal thresholds. Their views differ on how far Lebanon has actually come and how to further push change.

Some live discreetly. Some openly. And some have become activists so that others can come out. Here are some of their stories.