On Beirut Pride: 5 Reflections.
The following are the posts received after a general call for contributors. The idea was to present critiques and/or reflections of Beirut Pride 2017.
The first post is by Raja Farah:
Now that it’s over, a few words about Pride.
First of all, my heart is glowing from the positivity that took over my Facebook feed this week. I was particularly moved by the fantastic Storytelling night, that was heartwarming, comforting, and hopeful. This city has given rise to so many wonderful young folks who have stood up to the harshest brutalities and realities and have found ways to not only survive, but to shine. It brings me joy to see the community growing stronger every year.
OK, now that that is out of the way, a bit of bitchiness.
This was in no way the first Pride event organized in Lebanon, and to call it that is insulting to the courage that an entire generation of activists have shown. The first pride event post the civil war took place in 2001 or 2002 (I can’t remember the exact date) and it was called I Exist. It was a different time back then, both socially and technologically. We held a film screening, an art exhibition, and a talk, at a time when we could only find one person who agreed to publically say he was gay. There have been several events since. I am not sure if any are documented, but I’m sure the early activists must have some kind of documentation. I have a few pictures and some old emails.
It’s also pretentious for any of us to think that the gay movement in Lebanon started about 15 years ago, with my generation, and it is dismissive to the activism that took place before the civil war. Just because it was before social media doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Throughout the early years of my involvement in Lebanon’s LGBTIQ movement, we were all guilty of two major things: 1. Of thinking that LGBTIQ only actually meant G. 2. Of thinking our immediate bubble is all of Lebanon.
Almost 20 years later, this has not changed. While I was happy to see a strong lesbian participation in the couple of events that I participated in this year, the BTIQ was completely ignored. And, almost 20 years later, the movement is still predominately middle to upper class Beirutis. No effort has been made to step out of this bubble, not even something as simple as having the program in Arabic, or, for that matter, not calling it Beirut Pride, but something else in Arabic.
The organizer of this year’s Pride (and yes, it is ONE organizer, which is impressive and problematic) has repeatedly said that the event is apolitical. That, of course, is bullshit. No event in Lebanon is apolitical, and a Pride certainly isn’t, and it certainly shouldn’t be. To ignore that our existence is directly linked to social, economic, political, religious, and historical structures that oppress women, refugees, people with disabilities, the poor, the sick, and the rural populations is dangerous and will get us nowhere as LGBTIQ people. That’s another lesson we should have learned from the early activists.
Finally, this week has reminded me how important it is for our history to be written down. While I have had numerous problems with the early leaders of the LGBTIQ movement post-civil war, their work has been nothing short of courageous, necessary, and crucial, and has created the relative safety that has given rise to so many wonderful gays and lesbians that can be confident, productive, and indispensable parts of Lebanon’s identity. This week should not discard their work, and there are many many many people who have literally put their lives at risk in order for us to be where we are today. These people include (last names omitted for obvious reasons, but you know who you are): Mazen, Ralph, George, Rana, Siroun, Khaldoun, Rasha, Raymond, Imad, Rita, Mike, Ghassan, Nadine, and many many many more. These people hold the stories of why we are where we are today, and they should be thanked one by one.
Enough bitchiness. Here’s to many more Prides- bigger, better, more inclusive Prides.
The second post is by Edwin Nasr:
By safeguarding your inherently political movement or campaign under an apolitical umbrella, failing to embrace intersectional reasoning, and adopting tone-deaf slogans, you’d think the worst that could happen to single-issue demands channeled through a manifestation such as Pride would be to have governing bodies postpone/reject the possibility of legislation, but, as past struggles in different countries have proven, the reality is much more sinister.
Lest we forget, Assadist logic equating Syrian refugees to crypto-Islamists is widely espoused in Lebanon, and has been deployed in the past by right-wing politicians and far-left organizations alike. When LGBT activism refuses to install solid discursive barriers between rightful (and necessary) anti-clericalism and aggressive secularism, fools itself into thinking it could operate in a vacuum, deploys statist rhetoric (“terrorism”), seeks the tolerization of individual perceptions instead of the dismantlement of oppressive structures, it also risks throwing the most marginalized social group in Lebanon into the lion’s den.
It is imperative, at a point in time where demonization of refugees in Lebanon has reached its peak, to consecrate the importance of intersectionality in our struggles, and understand the danger of separating gender and sexuality-based activism from anti-racism, often leading to disastrous recuperations by European and North American state apparatuses. The Machiavellian opportunism showcased by said entities vis-à-vis LGBT/feminist struggles and their cooption resulted in, for instance, having more than 40% of young gay men vote for a far right party in France’s recent presidential elections. The Lebanese government will stop at nothing to manufacture a hegemonic consensus around the supposed “danger” posed by Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including – perhaps even especially – towards LGBT individuals.
The third post is by a 44 year old teacher. She preferred to remain anonymous.
So, it was 1997 when I found out about my sexuality. I was already 20+, and it was a great revelation for me. Like the lost pieces of my puzzle were suddenly found, and fit right into their location. But the only problem was, I was totally alone 🙂
I knew no other gay/lesbian person in the country. It was around 1998 that I created an email address and after some time, I cannot remember how, I bumped into the “mailing list” called: gaylebanon. Mailing lists were like today’s Facebook Group, or Whatsapp Group or something.
Only thing is, you do not know exactly who the people are. Almost everyone had a nickname!
Then I discovered chatting, basically, the first form of chatting, IRC and then ICQ.
On IRC, there was a chat group called gaylebanon. There were others also, but this one was the most decent, created for talking and sharing, and not looking for a sex buddy.
It was there, on IRC, that a few of us decided it was time to meet. After weeks of talking and building some form of trust. We met, it was such a wonderful feeling knowing there are others like me in Lebanon. We used to meet every Friday. The group started with only 3-4 people, and after around a year or so, those outings used to have around 60-70 of us. Of course, almost all were men. There used to be around 5-6 women only, and they were not always attending. I do not want to go into my own analysis of why it was so right now.
The purpose of those outings (every time a different restaurant, in a different part of the country) was to get to know each other and have fun. Initially, there was no talk about official organization. But such is the case in all “secret” organizations. What is needed first is the fabric of trust.
So, naturally, those of us who had that activist part in us, started meeting more often, and started an “organization”. It was not a legal one, but it was the first form of organizing, and putting down our needs, bylaws, responsibilities, etc.
We continued to organize the social events, but even those became a bit more thematic.
In 1999, we organized the anti-homophobia day even, which is now called IDAHOT.
It was thematic, called iEXIST, with merchandise and all.
We had a concert event in a location that was booked only for us. In preparation for the night, some of us even had the flag on our cars and drove all over Beirut.
Next day, 5 of us went to Downtown, in front of the Parliament, and had a silent “protest”. It was not really a protest, but it was our way of saying, we are here! In 2001, two of us were selected to represent Lebanon at the ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) yearly conference in San Francisco. (Only one made it because of visa issues.) In December 2001, we had our all-member meeting, during which the decision was taken to make the “organization” official: HELEM was born that night.
I am sure the rest of the story is documented at HELEM. I stayed for a few months only, and then left. Not sure I should mention this, but the main reason for me to leave was the fact that they allowed smoking during the meeting. In addition, some members started being political (not Lebanese politics, but political ideologies like communism, etc.
This does not mean that I do not respect what HELEM has done over the years. I am sure there were times they screwed up, but that is a normal path to growth! We in the part of the world, LOVE to nag and find fault. So, I believe that HELEM is doing a great job, and I also think that they are learning from their fuck-ups.
As for the difference between then and now. For sure, now is a better time.
One of the main reasons for that is the advent of communication methods. It allowed us, as members of a community to find each other faster. In addition, it allowed non-gays to accept us more. The amount of gay characters in movies, sitcoms, etc has helped show the society that we are normal. (When I say gay, I mean the whole spectrum.
On the other hand, I believe that HELEM would not have been what it is today, if that initial few members had not volunteered their time and effort in creating that group of individuals who trusted each other, and created a common goal.
I am very proud of that time in my life, and I love those individuals dearly, as my family.
I also believe that HELEM is doing a wonderful job, and I know that things will change for the better. Slowly, but surely.
I am not involved in the community at all lately, but seeing the youth being free and open about who they are, especially the females, always puts a smile on my face.
It was only 20 years ago that we were not able to do that!
I am looking forward to the next 20 years.
The fourth post is by Ameen Rhayem
I saw zero representation of the Trans community, very minimal representation of the lesbian community and a complete absence to the bisexual community. Let us not forget that not every gay man is interested in makeup and drag and heels and throwing shade.
This issue is the source of an uncountable number of problems in the Lebanese society and it targets the LGBT community directly. (For those of you who don’t know what gender labeling is, it’s basically categorizing anything in life for different sexes – e.g. Blue is for males, pink is for females). This labeling in our society, that never stops increasing, weakens the image of different groups such as LGBT or feminists.