Although Beirut may often be more open to the LGBTQ community than other Arab cities, discrimination and harassment are still common. Even when it comes to simple activities such as getting a hair cut, queer individuals often face difficulties.
This, coupled with her own brother's difficult experience coming out in Lebanon, is precisely why Kim Mouawad decided to open Out Beauty Boutique. Launching the salon on Monot street in December, Mouawad aimed to create a safe space for everyone and anyone to come for some quality pampering without any fear of judgment.
"Before opening Out, many of my friends from the LGBTQ community told me that getting certain things done were extremely awkward. They often felt judged and were sometimes refused service. Many salons in Lebanon will not wax men or offer nail extension or polish services," Mouawad told StepFeed.
"One of my clients told me it was impossible for him to get his eyebrows shaped the way he wanted because all the technicians he had been to insisted that it would be 'too girly'," she said.
"We don’t ever tell a client what they should have done or how unless they ask for advice."
In Lebanon, LGBTIQ+ individuals face societal discrimination as well as the threat of prosecution under Article 534, which says sexual acts that "contradict the laws of nature" can be punished by up to one year in prison.
Although recent court rulings have set a precedent against using the law to target the LGBTIQ community, and many civil society movements have greatly advanced awareness about the community in recent years, social stigma and misconceptions remain a pervasive problem throughout the country.
However, a major Beirut Pride week was held last year in May for the first time. The Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) also recently hosted its second annual LGBTQ health week, using the slogan: "A person not a diagnosis."
Lebanese political party Kataeb also announced its election campaign platform earlier this month, which includes a key proposal to scrap article 534, in a step to completely decriminalize homosexuality.
All of these initiatives signal a clear shift in societal attitudes towards homosexuality and the LGBTQ community. At the same time, progress is slow and many queer individuals continue to feel ostracized and marginalized in Lebanon.
Mouawad hopes that her salon can be a small part of the social change. After seeing the struggle her brother had with coming out to his Lebanese family firsthand, Mouawad was inspired to become a strong ally of the LGBTQ community.
"My older brother, Joey, was a closeted gay man for the first 24 years of his life. He grew up in a Lebanon that had absolutely no tolerance for homosexuality and held onto his ‘shameful’ secret for years, afraid of being judged and shunned by the people who love him the most," Mouawad explained.
"At 22, Joey moved to Boston in the United States to pursue a master’s degree, and he finally felt secure enough to be himself. When he came out to his family two years later, we were stunned to say the least," she said
"We couldn’t believe how well he had hidden his secret or how hard it must have been for him. He was trembling as he told us how much shame he felt. I was so upset by what my brother had to endure growing up in Lebanon, and for years I brainstormed ways I could help young people similar to Joey feel like they belong, and that there is room for them here."
That brainstorming resulted in Out Beauty Boutique, a safe space where LGBTQ individuals can let loose, relax and get the services they want without any judgment.
"The staff is sensitive and respectful. All services are unisex. No judgy looks, no smirks, no snickers, no underhanded comments—just the latest trends in nail and skin care paired with the best non-toxic products," Mouawad said.
"Salons are fun to go to. They’re places for self care and pampering. You can unwind, relax, have a conversation, sip on a cup of tea or coffee, listen to music, and you feel great afterwards. It’s important to have a place where anyone and everyone can go and do that comfortably," she added.
"Individuals in the LGBTQ community need to have places, other than bars and clubs, that are outlets for self-love and expression."
Mouawad explained that the she put time and effort into finding the right staff who were both skilled and not prejudiced or judgmental. She also is happy that the local community has been incredibly supportive so far.
Initially, many people cautioned her against opening the salon, saying she and her business could be targeted by homophobic attacks.
"Before we opened, almost everyone told me not to do this! They said it was too risky and that I could even get hurt. I was a little worried about vandalism at first, but then I decided that this society would not intimidate and scare me the way they did my brother," she said.
Fortunately, the response has been entirely the opposite.
"The community has been very supportive, and I really appreciate it!"