A great deal of misconceptions exist in the Arab world with regards to the LGBTQI+ community in the region.
Many individuals and organizations believe the lack of factual information regrading homosexuals has led to an abundance of inaccuracies. Add that with each Arab country's own level of conservatism, homophobia, and general lack of interest in the LGBTQI+ community and you will see cases of ignorance and violence directed towards this marginalized group.
For the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH), facts and stats are a mandatory step forward to eradicate homophobia ... or at least correct people's information on the matter.
In partnership with Helem - the pioneering LGBT rights organization in the Arab World - and Agnes Varis Trust - a charitable trust founded by the late Agnes Varis, a pioneer in the pharmaceutical industry in the US, - LebMASH launched a campaign titled "Homosexuality is Not a Disease - HINAD."
"The focus of this campaign is to help people accept the scientific fact that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality and to achieve a ban on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE,)" Dr. Omar Fattal, co-founder and board member of LebMASH, told StepFeed.
"As a healthcare professional organization, LebMASH strives to correct common health related misconceptions in our society surrounding sexuality and sexual orientation," Dr. Fattal added.
According to a 2015 study by the Arab Foundation for Equality (AFE), "72 percent of people in Lebanon believe that homosexuality is a mental disorder and 79 percent agreed that homosexual people should be taken in for psychological or hormonal treatment."
In addition to working on decreasing these alarmingly high numbers, LebMASH launched a hotline (+961 76085714) for LGBTQI+ people seeking information and help.
"We decided to include a phone number to provide people with the opportunities to ask questions and to concretely offer appropriate alternatives to 'conversion' therapy," the organization mentions in its campaign.
Though the hotline was meant to be placed on billboards across Lebanon, along with other details from the campaign, censorship in the country halted this plan. "Without a given reason," the Lebanese General Security banned the series of billboards the LGBTQI+ advocacy organization had planned.
LebMASH has also "been banned from appearing on several TV programs and radio shows to discuss its awareness campaigns."
Moving past these inconveniences, the NGO still hopes to empower homosexuals "and provide them with material that they in turn share with others such as their parents and school personnel," Dr. Fattal told StepFeed.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) withdrew homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV) in 1973. In 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO) followed suit.
In 2013, the Lebanese Psychological Association (LPA) and the Lebanese Psychiatric Society (LPS) stated that homosexuality is not a disease and denounced the use of conversion therapies.
Still, two universities in Lebanon thought it would be a good idea in 2017 to invite anti-LGBTQI+ speakers who promote conversion and electroshock therapy for an event. While a lecture at the American University of Beirut (AUB) was cancelled by activists, the same event took place a week after at the Arts, Sciences and Technology University (AUL).
The non-scientific lecture, along with several cases of "conversions" received by LebMASH, led the NGO to run "HINAD" and reach out to both victimized and uninformed individuals.
More about LebMASH
Founded in 2012 by a group of health care professionals, LebMASH has been organizing events, campaigns, and workshops all in support of LGBTQI+ people.
Earlier this year, the NGO launched its second LGBT Health Week - titled "A person not a diagnosis" - to address the physical and mental health of this marginalized community in Lebanon.
In 2017, the event focused on the various forms of discrimination, persecution, and rejection LGBTQI+ individuals encounter in Lebanon. It also highlighted the effects this has on their mental health and access to proper healthcare.