Perhaps it’s a sign that Lebanon has become safer and more Western-oriented: a group of about 50 LGBT activists from the Lebanon-based Helem association, for the first time in four years staged a sit-in outside the Hbeish police station in Beirut, where the “morality police” hold transgressors of article 534 in the penal code which criminalizes relations that are “against nature,” Naharnet reported. The protesters demanded that the law be revoked, and that four transgender women be released. They carried signs saying, “Homosexuality is not a disease,” “Sex is not illegal — your law is archaic,” and “Repeal 534.”
The punishment in Lebanon for “crimes against nature” is up to one year in prison.
An event that was scheduled to follow the demonstration, organized by Proud Lebanon, was canceled due to pressure from Christian religious authorities.
Helem leader Genwa Samhat told AFP that the sit-in, which took place two days before the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, “calls for the abolition of this section of law dating from the (1920-1943) French mandate in Lebanon.” She added: “Most people arrested under this law aren’t detained in the act but in the street because of their appearance.” Also, she said, people “continue to be fired if their boss finds out they’re gay. They’re made to say they quit voluntarily for fear of being outed.”
According to Naharnet, Lebanese police are known to raid nightclubs serving homosexual patrons, and homosexuality is a frequent subject of ridicule on television.
In 2012 dozens demonstrated outside a Beirut court to protest the use of an anal “test” for suspected gay men. According to Samhat, “these tests continue, despite the justice ministry asking police to stop the practice. This is humiliating.” Also, she noted that “arrested people are still screened for AIDS, while this should be voluntary. There is a preconceived idea that all homosexuals have AIDS.”
Just to compare, the Boston Globe recently wrote that Tel Aviv, only 130 miles south of Beirut, is the gayest city on earth. “Tel Aviv is, for lack of a better description, super gay,” the paper’s Christopher Muther told his readers, adding, “The long-standing rule of thumb is that 10 percent of the population is gay, give or take. The estimate by officials in Tel Aviv is 25 percent of its population is gay.”