LEBANON: Gays fly their flag amid increased tolerance
Last weekend, one flag stood out amid the hodgepodge of national and factional flags, emblems and slogans covering the walls of Beirut.
It was a large rainbow flag suspended from one building at the entrance of the capital to represent Lebanon's increasingly proud and visible gay community.
Inside the building, hundreds of people celebrated the International Day Against Homophobia with lectures, exhibitions, performances and discussions.
The event, which has been celebrated every year since 2005, emphasized freedom of artistic expression.
The event was organized by Helem, a Lebanese organization dedicated to the protection and empowerment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals in Lebanon.
"We wanted to create a space of free expression where gays and lesbians could share their experiences," said Georges Azzi, a coordinator at Helem, which means dream in Arabic.
Although sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex is punishable by law in Lebanon, many openly gay bars and clubs operate discreetly in Beirut. In recent years, homosexuality has been more openly discussed in the media.
But in general the society, especially outside the capital, remains tight-lipped about the issue.
The celebration started with a group of twentysomethings recounting what they were subjected to as homosexuals. The stories included that of a girl who was suspended from school after her teachers found out she was a lesbian and a boy who was ill-treated by his family because he was gay.
Others reported on the results of a study on how homosexuality was taught in universities.
"We found out that university programs in social sciences and psychology barely cover the topic of homosexuality," Azzi said. "Only some professors talk about it positively to their students as a personal initiative. Some even treat it in class as a disease."
One contemporary dance performance portrayed the impossible love between two women. The movements of the two dancers, dressed in white undergarments, alternated between sensual embraces and abrupt splits. One of them toyed with a rosary, wrapping it around her neck to symbolize how religion and society suppress same-sex love.
Also, tens of photos and paintings made by Lebanese gays and lesbians were shown. One photo showed graffiti on a Beirut wall with the names of two males and a heart in the middle. Another was a collage of images of political violence in the country with an inscription reading, "What kind of country is it where it is normal for men to hold guns but not hands?"
— Raed Rafei in Beirut
Photo: A rainbow flag symbolizes an active gay pride movement in Lebanon. Credit: Helem
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