Members of the LGBTIQ+ community in Lebanon are believed to have more rights than in any other country in the Arab world. In reality, they continue to be discriminated against, struggle to receive proper medical care, and face pressure from religious organizations and clerics.
Earlier this week, this pressure led to the cancelation of the opening night of Beirut Pride - a "collaborative platform that takes a positive stance against hate and discrimination based on gender and sexual diversity" - which was set to take place on Saturday in the form of a free concert at The Palace, a venue located in central Beirut.
On Wednesday night, organizers of the nine-day event said they were forced to cancel the opening bash after The Palace's management was contacted by security services and "multiple parties issued statements, threatening with violence against the theatre and against the participants."
"Religious institutions called for the cancellation of the concert, linking it to the promotion of same-sex marriage and associating it to debauchery and immorality," they explained.
It remains unclear whether the nine-day event and its activities will also come to a halt. However, Damien has confirmed that all other activities, aside from the opening night, will go ahead as planned. He made the statements during a two-hour-long interview with FreeThought Lebanon.
The Palace's statement came shortly after Lebanon's former chief Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani accused the organizers of Beirut Pride of violating "good morals."
In a statement published on their website in Arabic, Beirut Pride explained how the misunderstanding of its event rooting for same-sex marriage came to be. A Facebook page called "Marriage Equality Lebanon" shared the opening night's poster, with a caption that invites people to attend. Online users wrongfully linked Beirut Pride's event to promoting same-sex marriage. Beirut Pride denied the latter, instead explained that the purpose behind their nine-day schedule is to enjoy some music and shed light on hate speech and the importance of individuality.
The problems weren't only external, but also internal as several members within the country's LGBTIQ+ community had reportedly called on people to boycott it.
"A document posted online accused the founder of the festival of failing to be transparent and inclusive, and questioned his dealings with the authorities," according to the BBC.
In an anonymous statement to the British news site, a person said that while "pride has always been a community led initiative," the event's organizer was taking decisions without including anyone. However, the person "also stressed that they stood with Beirut Pride in the face of the religious institutions, adding: 'The fight against religious bans is for us to fight as a community.'"
Beirut Pride has had several events canceled in the past
This isn't the first time the initiative is canceled in the country. In fact, since its inception in 2017, it has constantly faced trouble.
Last year's event came to a halt after its organizer, Hadi Damien, was detained and taken in for questioning. Damien was "interrogated over allegedly encouraging debauchery and offending public decency" after a distorted Arabic version of the Beirut Pride program was sent to the Public Prosecution. The document was twisted to make the "happenings of Beirut Pride appear like events of debauchery, disrespect of general law while using derogatory terms to refer to LGBT individuals," Beirut Pride said at the time.
In 2017, a series of events held under Beirut Pride were forced into cancelation after Islamist groups threatened to attack a scheduled parade. Several events were canceled, including the parade, and no one was detained.
A look at Lebanon's LGBTIQ+ laws
Members of the community face societal discrimination as well as the threat of prosecution under the country's Article 534, which states sexual acts that "contradict the laws of nature" can be punished by up to one year in prison.
However, recent court rulings have set a precedent against using the law to target the LGBTIQ+ community. In January 2017, Lebanese judge Rabih Maalouf handed down a decision in which he said "homosexuality is a personal choice, and not a punishable offense."
Maalouf's ruling denied that Article 534 applies to the LGBTIQ+ community. His decision also followed three previous rulings that argued it was impossible to define which sexual acts are natural.
Though the rulings do signal a positive shift in the situation, it hasn't ended problems the community continues to face in Lebanon. Some officials continue to use Article 534 to harass, arrest, and imprison LGBTIQ+ individuals.