LebMASH held a press conference about the health week on Monday Source: LebMASH

The Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) launched its first-ever LGBT health week on Saturday, focusing on the community's marginalization in Lebanon and how it negatively impacts health.

The health campaign is addressing several issues that affect the community in Lebanon, starting from physical and mental health, to legal concerns. 

Lebanon is often seen as a liberal beacon in the midst of a conservative region, and this relative openness extends to the LGBT community as well. Several gay clubs and bars operate within Beirut and its suburbs, and NGOs and campaigns supporting the community are frequently in the spotlight.

But Lebanon is also a country where LGBT individuals can be prosecuted for sexual acts that are against "nature." The community does not enjoy legal protections and LGBT individuals have allegedly faced torture at the hands of security forces.

And of course, as is the case in many countries throughout the world, societal and familial acceptance is a major hurdle for homosexual, bisexual and trans Lebanese.

“Homophobia is considered as one of the main obstacles facing individuals and professionals. These behaviors make individuals address others based on personal beliefs and stereotypes where people are categorized as sinners, ill or disease creators,“ Nadia Badran, president of the Order of Social Workers in Lebanon, said in LebMASH press release. 

This reality "might prevent affected population from seeking any kind of services," she said.

LebMASH wants to address this societal marginalization

The theme for the week is “Marginalization is bad for your health," focusing on discrimination, persecution and rejection the LGBT community faces in Lebanon and how it effects mental health as well as access to proper healthcare. 

"It is well documented that homophobia, stigma, marginalization, and discrimination lead to health disparities and reduced access to care," Dr. Nuhad Dumit, president of the order of Nurses in Lebanon said, reiterating her association's full support in addressing these issues in the country.

She said it is "crucial to address the issue of homosexuality in Lebanon in hope of promoting better health for this vulnerable group of people."

For LGBT Lebanese, it's a "daily struggle"

Members of Lebanon's LGBT community definitely have struggled to face the societal stigma. 

"If I wasn't raised here, I wouldn't have built these walls around me," an anonymous 25-year-old homosexual Lebanese man told StepFeed. 

"I spent most of my childhood fighting and resisting who I am ... It's still a daily struggle to be OK with who I am," he said.

He said that he definitely feels oppressed by the Lebanese society, saying that even simple things like walking down the street and buying new clothes can be challenges. "You're not taken seriously in most situations," he said. 

Fortunately, this young Lebanese man has been able to find "peace", "beauty" and "power" in understanding his situation. He has found his friends to be supportive as well as some family members.  

"This whole situation has taught me a lot of things about myself, which I hold very dear," he said, saying that he doesn't want people to feel sorry for him or other LGBT Lebanese. 

But others suffer in silence, afraid to even tell their closest associates about who they really are. For them, and for those who have already found support, LebMASH hopes to raise awareness and change society's misconceptions. 

There is hope for change

While social and cultural perceptions may lag behind, Lebanese courts have sided with the LGBT community in four high-profile cases since 2009

The most recent ruling was handed down by Lebanese judge Rabih Maalouf on Jan. 26. In the decision he said, "homosexuality is a personal choice, and not a punishable offense." 

LGBT individuals are prosecuted under the controversial Article 534, which says sexual acts that "contradict the laws of nature" can be punished by up to one year in prison. Maalouf's ruling denies that this law applies to the LGBT community, following three previous rulings that argued it was impossible to define what sexual acts are natural.  

Along with these court decisions, the Lebanese medical community supports the LGBT community. 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 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.

"These are all small steps aiming to decriminalize homosexuality. This is not a victory," Bertho Makso, a Lebanese activist from the NGO Proud Lebanon, told Al Monitor following the most recent court ruling.

"The real victory will be when Article 534 is changed or abolished. But now the priority is to educate people to avoid homosexuals' persecution and make change happen," he said.