A student club at the American University of Beirut has canceled an event that was set to feature two speakers who strongly oppose homosexuality and promote "conversion therapy."
The Insight Club released a statement on its Facebook page on Tuesday, saying that the event, titled "Homosexuality and the Challenges of Modernity" had been canceled after significant pressure from the student body.
"Our lecture stands under the title of homosexuality, but speaks in the name of all the ideological clash we face as some unacceptable values invade our society [sic]," the statement said. The club also criticized those who opposed the lecture as attacking "freedom of speech."
Activists took issue with the criticism, arguing that the marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon is a reality that seriously affects public health.
"When it comes to health, freedom of speech can't be used as an excuse to promote false information and misconceptions," Dr. Omar Fattal, a board member of the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health, told StepFeed.
"It's very important to stick to evidence based information when discussing any health related topic," he said.
The two speakers are medical practitioners with staunchly anti LGBTQ views.
In an interview with a Moroccan website, Dr. Raef Rida said he believes that homosexuals suffer from a mental illness and has previously argued in support of using shock therapy and other forms of conversion therapy, which has often been classified as torture, to "cure" LGBTQ individuals.
The other speaker, Dr. Raafat Mikati, has previously voiced opposition to civil marriage, gender equality, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He has also expressed fears that the creation of a secular state in Lebanon will lead to legalizing same sex marriage. You can listen for yourselves here.
"It can be very dangerous to offer people who don't have the right qualifications or who have been known to endorse antiquated views on a certain topic a forum to propagate their views," Fattal said. He explained that LebMASH had contacted several key people at AUB to raise concerns about the speakers' backgrounds and qualifications.
Students from AUB's Gender and Sexuality Club had launched an online petition against the lecture, garnering more than 670 signatures at the time of writing.
"Both of these medical practitioners have highly problematic views and work ethics, which contradict international and domestic recommendations, and are not in line with scientific advancements in Psychology and Psychiatry over the last few decades," the petition said.
Following the news that the event had been canceled, the Gender and Sexuality Club released a statement expressing relief that the "deeply homophobic event" had been canceled.
"Let us be clear: freedom of speech is not freedom to oppress. Homophobia and hate speech should never be given a platform in AUB, and failure to recognize their harmful effects has resulted in the backlash that the Insight Club has experienced over the past few days," the club said in the statement posted to its Facebook page.
The student newspaper AUB Outlook had also come out against the event.
"Although AUB encourages freedom of thought and dialogue, even that has its limits –which is something that Outlook has learned through 67 years of trial and error. Today, the Editorial Board has made the judgement that this event risks veering into hate speech by negatively categorizing the LGBTQ+ community and reinforcing its subordination," the newspapers editorial team said in a statement on its website.
Fattal also pointed out that the speakers views on homosexuality do not even align with several prominent Lebanese medical organizations.
"Their published views on homosexuality and conversion therapy don't align with modern science and don't align with the official views of the Lebanese Psychiatric Society or the Lebanese Psychological Association," he said.
The Lebanese Psychiatric Society stated that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not need to be treated in 2013 and called for the abolition of Article 534, which says sexual acts that "contradict the laws of nature" can be punished by up to one year in prison, in 2015.
In 2012, the Lebanese Order of Physicians banned doctors from conducting the infamous "egg test," which involves inserting a metal egg-shaped object into the rectum of suspected homosexuals. The bizarre test has been and is still used by some to "test" whether someone has had anal sex. Any member of the order now faces disciplinary measures if they are found to be conducting the test.
Lebanon's Ministry of Justice echoed its support to the physician's ban, asking public prosecutors to follow suit. With all of these developments over the past few years, some have speculated that Lebanon is on the path to decriminalizing homosexuality.
"Any rhetoric that fosters the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness or that it needs to be cured; views that have been abandoned by modern medicine a long time ago and by the World Health Organization as well as the Lebanese official psychiatric and psychological associations, only contribute to further stigmatization and marginalization of LGBT people, putting individuals at higher risk for HIV, mental health issues, and lack of health care services," Fattal said.
"It is therefore everyone's responsibility to put an end to this negative rhetoric in order to protect the health of LGBT people," he added.