Resistance and Subversion: Queer Movements Across Asia – Lebanon

Written by Ismail Shogo for the QA Blog series Resistance and Subversion curated by QA 2018 committee member Ismail Shogo.

The Arab world witnessed its first gay pride event in Beirut early this year, a culmination of years of efforts of various Lebanese grassroots organisations. Beirut Pride however was far from replication of traditional pride parades in the West, calling for neither legal rights for same-sex marriage nor a repeal of Article 534 of the penal code which prohibits sexual acts “contrary to the order of nature”.  Instead the event sought to denounce “all kinds of hate and discrimination”, specifically that against sexual minorities.

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Campaign tags for Beirut Pride 2017 (Image Credit: CNN)

However, Beirut Pride is no indication of a new open Lebanon. Lebanon, unlike most Arab states, has retained some political space for civil society to flourish: an impetus for LGBTQ+ resistance as pro-rights activists and support groups organise to effect change. Yet many conservative (religious) segments of society have sought to clamp down on pro-queer civil agendas. In March, Hezbollah Secretary General, Hasan Nasrallah, rebuked homosexual relations for “defy(ing) logic, human nature and the human mind”. In addition, extremist Sunni groups also successfully disrupted plans for activities days before Beirut Pride.

As a result, the modus operandi for most of Lebanon’s pro-queer campaigns has been, as Beirut’s sui generis pride illustrates, a negotiation between the relatively open civil space and conservative religious backlash. In the past, local groups had sought to deflect conservative pressures by pairing LGBTQ+ resistance with wider political currents. In 2003, HELEM  (Himaya Lubnaniya lil Mithliyeen wal Mithliyaat/Lebanese Protection for Gays and Lesbians) – the first LGBTQ+ organisation in Lebanon (and the Arab world) – joined Lebanese mobilisations against the Iraq war, flying a rainbow flag that attracted attention from the media. Similarly, during the 2006 Lebanon war, the group castigated Israel for its incursion into Lebanon, as well as provided a sanctuary for refugees caught within strife. Beirut’s LGBT compound became one of the city’s most active relief centres during the four-week bombing campaign, earning even the praise of conservative Islamist group Hezbollah. Today, HELEM has broadened its agenda to include the protection of domestic workers and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as well as campaigns against Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

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“No to violence…no to discrimination…no to homophobia”, at a gay rights protest in Beirut. (Image Credit:Al-Akhbar)

This deft re-configuration of HELEM’s activism blueprint has lent to its prominence, which is necessary to effect change in Lebanon. This has included a ban on coercive exams that previously sought to acquire evidence of sexual (mis)conduct, following state-orchestrated ‘virginity’ (hymen) tests in 2011 in Egypt for female demonstrators during the Arab Spring. Although the Lebanese Syndicate of Physicians and Ministry of Justice enacted bans only for anal exams on male bodies, the change was considered a victory for many. The extent of such initiatives has transcended beyond Lebanon. Across the Middle East, LGBTQ+ associations have developed in areas like Palestine and Tunisia. In addition, the decisions of the Lebanese Medical Association and the Lebanese Psychiatric Society to declare publicly that homosexuality is not an illness have influenced attitudes on LGBTQ+ issues across the Arab world.

Through clever manoeuvring, Lebanese civil movements have averted social pressures to advance various agendas, much to the benefit of the local LGBTQ+ community. With the recent resignation of Prime Minster Hariri however, Lebanon may find itself one again at the centre of great instability. This may entail greater challenges for civil movements and queer resistance in the region.

Ismail Shogo reads Political Science at the National University of Singapore, and was a former research assistant at the Middle East Institute in Singapore. His interests are in authoritarian resilience, political violence, gender, and human rights in the Middle East and Africa. He tweets at @ismailshogo.

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Resistance and Subversion: Queer Movements across Asia – Kazakhstan

Written by Amir Shaikezhanov for the QA Blog series Resistance and Subversion curated by QA 2018 committee member Ismail Shogo

The author, waving the flag of Kazakhstan, at a pride march in Prague (Image credit: Esquire Kazakhstan and author’s own)

Issues pertaining to LGBT community have gained increasing traction in Kazakhstan, with LGBT-related articles, interviews, and news getting more attention than most local and global events – a trend that stems from the taboo status of sex and sexuality in the region, and forces that seek to either preserve or disrupt this status quo (see links below). Yet very few LGBT individuals dare to open up to their own families, let alone through the media. In addition, discrimination is faced directly or indirectly on almost any level both in the professional and personal life of an individual. In this sense, LGBT visibility in Kazakhstan exists as somewhat a paradox – as prominent on the global stage and yet invisible as a social group in the country itself.

 Few studies have pertained to LGBT issues in Kazakhstan, with existing research reflecting high levels of homophobia in society. A study organized by the Friedrech Eberett Founation highlighted that homosexuals remain the third least favoured neighbours (16,6%) among Kazakh youth, after alcoholics (25,7%) and drug abusers (17,8%). In addition, Human Rights Watch has also reported that LGBT individuals are not only forced to hide their identity, but are also vulnerable to physical and sexual abuses. Many are afraid to address such cases to police fearing outing, or further abuse or blackmail from the police. In many cases LGBT people would face disapproval and disowning by their families, and could even face corrective rapes or murder.

The state has sponsored LGBT friendly service, such as local HIV prevention offices that provide free testing and free condoms to mainly MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender people. Yet there are still laws that discriminate against LGBT people directly: marriage is not allowed between individuals of the same sex; no surrogacy or children adoption is permitted to homosexual; and homosexuals cannot serve in the military or police force. In addition, although transgender people are officially recognized, they are only allowed to change their ID after they have gone through a mandatory psychiatric 30-day evaluation and sex-reassignment surgery. This not only forces individuals who fail to comply to these regulations into illegal work, but also limits their access to education and travel. Furthermore, although the Constitution forbids discrimination on any basis including gender, nationality or other grounds, this is not seen to extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, courts often ignore this statute when cases involve LGBT individuals.

In recent years however there has been an increasing anti-LGBT stance by authorities in Kazakhstan. This has been informed in part by Russian influence, that resonates strongly in Central Asia. Politicians in Kazakhstan have adopted homophobic rhetoric on many occasions, which is also prevalent in Russian politics to advance anti-LGBT laws. These include the infamous anti-propaganda bill that has sought to mute LGBT-related discourse in public spaces. The Constitutional court however recently turned down the latest initiative of the law, sending it back for further development.

At the moment, because of strong public backlash and social pressures, t. Issues of safety have also prevented prospective activists from coming to the fore. There are, however, several civil initiatives such as Kok Team that advocate for LGBT rights, as well as provide psychological and juridical support to in the community. There are also online resources – including Feminita and Alma-TQ that are dedicated to LGBT issues and various other communities in Kazakhstan. International and local human rights defending institutions and healthcare funds have also organized activities and support for the LGBT community. In addition, active local communities have been formed in the two major cities of Almaty and Astana. These hold regular meet-ups, activities, flash mobs and other modes of socializing. These movements however have yet to develop objectives that go beyond social activities. This is likely to result from internalized homophobia, misogyny and transphobia within the community, as well as the increase in an anti-LGBT social environment, that has prevented the development of any coherent organized

Amir Shaikezhanov is an LGBT activist based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He is also a contributor to an LGBT dedicated web-portal that aims to both strengthen the LBTQ+ community and increase visibility of LGBT in society.

News, Interviews, and articles:

февраля 14, 2017Написать автору
Светлана ГЛУШКОВАфевраля 13, 2017 – NUR:KZ
мая 18, 2017 – NUR:KZ – Amir Shaikezhanov – Amir Shaikezhanov
08 ноября 2017 –

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