Beirut: Paris of the Middle East?

Morgan Meaker on Hezbollah's check on gay rights

When Bader (a pseudonym) first arrived in Beirut as a refugee, he expected to find the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ – a liberal haven in a conservative region.

As a transgender man experiencing discrimination and violence in another Arab country, he had read articles online about the gay scene in Beirut, home to gay bars and drag clubs. It’s why he decided to come: ‘I thought Lebanon was open and accepting.’

But once he arrived, he witnessed friends arrested at Hezbollah checkpoints in the southern suburbs – a stronghold for the conservative Shi’a political and militant group.

Local LGBTIQ organizations report that Hezbollah guards often interrogate people they suspect to be gay, before handing them over to the Internal Security Forces – a national police force with a reputation for torture.

Lebanon leads on LGBTIQ rights in the Arab region. A strong civil society movement is calling for an end to discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity and 2017 saw Beirut hold its first gay pride week – although there was no parade.

But conservative forces are holding back progress. Last year, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said, ‘Homo­sexual relations defy… human nature.’

Bader quickly became afraid to move around Beirut and he has since found asylum in Canada. Until attitudes in Lebanon change, he says, ‘no [LGBTIQ] person is safe there’.