After years of facing stigmatization and homophobia, members of the Lebanese LGBT community defiantly raised their rainbow flags during the country’s very first pride celebration last week.
Inspired by pride parades in Amsterdam and Prague, Hadi Damien — the initiator and organizer of Beirut Pride — began planning the event last summer to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17.
The event was made possible by several NGOs, artists, and nightclubs that came together to “improve the visibility of LGBT people across multiple venues and audiences.” It took place in Beirut, the country’s capital and largest city.
“Beirut Pride is a happy, friendly, constructive platform that invites people to express themselves, in an attempt to contribute to our liberation from the destructive hate that poisons our country and forces many fellow citizens out toward other countries that guarantee their basic rights,” a statement on the Beirut Pride website reads.
A 2007 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 79% of Lebanese people believe “homosexuality should be rejected by society.” As a reflection of that sentiment, civil marriages have yet to be fully legalized and Article 543, which prohibits sexual acts “contrary to the order of nature,” has yet to be repealed.
But policy change is not what the organizers behind Beirut Pride wanted to accomplish.
“We’re not coming with an attempt to be provocative or aggressive at all,” Damien told VOA, adding that the goal of the week was to communicate what he called a “totally universal” anti-discriminatory message.
From May 14 to 21, exhibitions, storytelling, concerts, parties, performances, and screenings were held in Beirut’s cultural centers. In Mar Mikhael, the city’s popular nightlife district, rainbow flags flew high outside 18 bars.
Not all of the events were entirely accepted, however.
One unofficial LGBT event was canceled after The League of Muslim Scholars, a Salafist group, used social media to threaten the day-long display of LGBT presentations.
“Our day was canceled because the hotel received threats and the Islamist organization put pressure on the management, which became afraid for the security,” Causette Maalouf, Proud Lebanon’s advocacy officer, explained.
Another Lebanese LGBT activist, Lea Freiha, acknowledged that an event of this nature would be nearly impossible to host in any other part of the country.
And yet, despite the threats, a reported 4,000 people took to the streets to celebrate.
“I thought people would be closeted or scared to come out, attend, and raise awareness of the cause,” Freiha told VOX. “I didn’t expect this.”
Here are some pictures the LGBT Pride Celebration: