Lebanon LGBT event cancelled after threats

A gay pride flag flies at an anti-homophobia rally in Beirut in a 2013 file photo.
A gay pride flag flies at an anti-homophobia rally in Beirut in a 2013 file photo.PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (AFP) - A weekend seminar in Beirut to promote LGBT rights has been cancelled after "threats" from religious figures, its organisers said on Monday.

The Proud Lebanon group had planned to host journalists, artists and doctors at a hotel in Beirut at an event to focus on discrimination against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

"The Association of Muslim Scholars threatened to hold protests in front of the hotel, which finally cancelled the event," said Proud Lebanon director Bertho Makso.

The conservative group had on Sunday posted what it called "the last warning" on its Facebook page, demanding that the interior ministry ban the conference which it labelled a "crime against virtue".

"If the authorities do not live up to their role, they will have to face the consequences," it said, warning of a "mobilisation of all those who care about virtue and honour... to forbid this seminar".

Makso said the hotel took the decision to cancel for security reasons.

"There were real threats," he said. "We then thought of holding the event in a public place, but who could guarantee the safety of the participants?" The theologians welcomed the cancellation.

The conference, entitled "No matter who they love, they remain my children" was to have focused on the importance of family support for LGBT children.

Planned ahead of the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), it was to have included the screening of a documentary collecting the testimonies of LGBT victims of discrimination in Lebanon.

It was the second year in a row that Proud Lebanon has cancelled a pro-tolerance event.

In 2016, it abandoned plans for an LGBT rights meeting with artists and journalists after coming under pressure from Christian religious authorities.

"The persecutions need to stop. Sexual tendencies are a private matter," said Makso.

While Lebanon is considered more tolerant of sexual diversity than other Arab countries, the police regularly raid gay bars and other LGBT-friendly spaces.

Homosexuals are often the target of jokes, including on television.

LGBT activists are pushing for changes to the Lebanese Penal Code, which currently allows courts to punish "unnatural" sexual relations with up to one year in prison.

Reports of policemen carrying out so-called "anal tests" to determine whether or not a man is gay have provoked outrage in the press and on social media.

In recent years, small progress has been made in the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender thanks to civil society initiatives but also to several judges taking a stand.

Some judges have decided to acquit defendants on the basis that homosexuality was not "unnatural".

To mark IDAHO, a platform of human rights defenders and LGBT activists are holding a series of events in Beirut from Wednesday to Sunday to include film screenings, debates and testimonies.

"It's an unprecedented event in the Arab world," said Hadi Damien, founder of the Beirut Pride platform launched in August last year.

"We don't want to go down into the streets to provoke anyone. Our message is a peaceful message that denounces all discrimination," he said.

"We have to rise above labels. It's not because someone is different that it's OK to beat or humiliate them."