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1:00, 31 December 2017

Coming Out in Lebanon


Coming Out in Lebanon

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Throughout the Middle East, gay, lesbian and transgender individuals face formidable obstacles to living a life of openness and acceptance in conservative societies.

Though Jordan decriminalized identical-sex behavior in 1951, the gay neighborhood remains marginalized. Qatar, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen all outlaw exact same-sex relations. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by flogging or death.

In Egypt, at least 76 folks have been arrested in a crackdown given that September, when a fan waved a rainbow flag throughout a concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band with an openly gay singer.

If there is one particular exception, it has been Lebanon. Although the law can nonetheless penalize homosexual acts, Lebanese society has slowly grown far more tolerant as activists have worked for much more rights and visibility.

In 2013, the Lebanese Psychiatric Society said homosexuality did not require to be treated as a mental disorder. Judges have rejected situations being prosecuted beneath a law that makes sex “contrary to nature” illegal. And this year, Lebanon held its very first ever Beirut Pride Week, full of events, if not an actual parade.

What has helped make the distinction is a culturally diverse society, a mainly independent media and the relative ease of registering nongovernmental organizations, says Georges Azzi, who runs the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, an advocacy group.

But members of the neighborhood have themselves served as pioneers in a area where coming out is often risky. They have all crossed hard individual thresholds. Their views differ on how far Lebanon has truly come and how to further push alter.

Some live discreetly. Some openly. And some have become activists so that other folks can come out. Here are some of their stories.


“My largest challenge was facing myself. As soon as you face oneself, the society is irrelevant.” — Alexander Paulikevitch, 35

Mr. Paulikevitch teaching a dance class in Beirut. When he initial performed his modern baladi dance, members of the audience jeered, laughed or left the show.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Although he still faces street harassment, Mr. Paulikevitch by no means considers himself a victim.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Instances
“I rehearse all the time anywhere,” Mr. Paulikevitch stated. “I dance in the streets of Beirut late at evening. This component of the city provides me peace.”CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Occasions.

Alexander Paulikevitch first came out to his classmates and close friends when he was 16. Now 35, he is a choreographer and dancer specializing in contemporary baladi, a type of belly dancing.

An old dance kind, it was traditionally performed by females for females. More lately, it has been viewed as a dance by girls to seduce guys. When Mr. Paulikevitch initial performed it, members of the audience jeered, laughed or left the show.

Nowadays, he has performed in a quantity of places, which includes Lebanon, but scheduled performances as portion of a cultural festival in Cairo and Amman have been canceled. “They wouldn’t let me carry out, saying ‘He’s as well much.’”

Mr. Paulikevitch does not see himself an activist. But he is proudly outspoken. “I have a sturdy personality. I don’t hide.”

An event that was to be component of Lebanon’s 1st gay pride week was canceled after it was condemned by an association of Muslim scholars. Mr. Paulikevitch believes the neighborhood ought to have faced down the threat, alternatively.

“I know what I want, and I know what wants to be done for gay rights,” he mentioned. “Less worry. Much more confrontation.”


“Once I came out, I came out to the globe. There was no in-among.” — Joyce Kammoun, 33

Joyce Kammoun, left, with friends on a boat ride along the northern coast of Beirut.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Occasions
She located gender norms about clothes both oppressive and confusing. Now she wears suits to perform and buys tailored shirts.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Ms. Kammoun with a pal, the artist and gallery director Nelsy Massoud, whom she considers a mentor.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

Joyce Kammoun, 33, didn’t have access to the relative openness of Beirut. She grew up in Tripoli, in Lebanon’s traditionally conservative north.

Defining her sexual and gender identity was a struggle and a slow process. “Internal homophobia, I consider, is worse than something since it’s the virus inside,” she stated.

She located gender norms about clothing both oppressive and confusing. Retail buying was like going into battle. “Figuring that piece out would have truly helped me, I think, embrace my sexual orientation more rapidly.”

Now she wears suits to function, where she is a legal manager at Pepsi-Cola International. She lived for ten years in the United States and went back to Lebanon in 2012.

Even in Beirut, life is not usually straightforward, nonetheless. “The way to survive is to be flexible — highly capable of adaptation, figuring out which fights you can win, which fights you can not.”

She believes that laws wants to alter to allow gays and lesbians to create a supportive neighborhood in a tolerant nation. “And if it does not exist, I’m going to help create it up.”


“When I was 17, I thought I was the only gay particular person in Lebanon. Then I found there have been comparable folks. It was a revelation.” — Rayyan, 30

Rayyan at his apartment in Beirut. He is out to people around him but is nonetheless discreet about his sexual identity.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

Rayyan, 30, is a manager for financial development projects for youth and female empowerment for the United Nations in Lebanon.

He is out to his family, pals and colleagues. He even has a profile on a well-liked dating app, but he is nonetheless discreet about his sexual identity and did not want his full name published or his face shown.

“In Lebanon, in common, you have to be careful,” he stated.

He was primarily concerned about the fallout for his family, but he was also thinking about his future. Even though functioning at the United Nations, he is protected by anti-discrimination policies. But it is unclear how considerably Lebanon’s laws would defend him with future employers.

“There are a lot of contradictions in this nation,” he said.

“You reside in your personal bubble, which is a protected a single. I’m surrounded by gay and gay-friendly men and women and I reside in Beirut, the capital. As soon as you get out of Beirut, the situation alterations. In my daily life I’m really comfy. I’m not scared, but I’m cautious.”


“I didn’t want to live in worry, nor made entertaining of by any a single. So the choice was either I alter my life completely or nothing at all.” — Georges Azzi, 38

Georges Azzi, left, and Carl Bou Abdallah at their house in Beiruit. Most of their neighbors know they are gay.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Instances
Mr. Azzi was the 1st activist to speak openly on tv about gay rights.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
For years, Mr. Azzi faced harassment. He was interrogated by the police a number of times. CreditLaura Boushnak for the New York Times

Georges Azzi, 38, studied and lived in France for 5 years. At 1 time, he felt his choices had been either to stay there and live as an openly gay man, or move back to Lebanon and hide his sexuality. As an alternative, he decided to be openly gay in Lebanon.

“What’s the worst that could take place?” he remembers thinking.

In 2004, he became the legal representative of Helem, Lebanon’s initial nonprofit advocacy group for gay, bisexual and transgender rights. He was the first such activist to speak openly on television.

For years, he faced harassment. He was interrogated by the police many occasions. His mother received telephone calls from people she did not know, shaming her and her son.

Today, he lives with his partner, Carl Bou Abdallah, and most of their neighbors know they are gay. It would not be the exact same, nevertheless, in a far more conservative neighborhood.

If he is asked about his sexuality, he does not hide it, and his attitude is, “I’m not telling you to accept me.”

Mr. Azzi believes that activism has been a type of shock therapy for Lebanon, but that it was required to give the neighborhood a voice so that it would be taken seriously.

While much a lot more operate needs to be completed to encourage tolerance in other cities, “being gay in Beirut is no longer a scary issue.”


“People are out at a really large danger.” — Steph, 30

Steph, second from left, at a gym in Beirut. When she was younger, she struggled with gender identity.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
She is typically asked if she is a male or female and avoids locations where she might get harassed. CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Instances
Steph now helps other folks who have the same concerns she after did, and shows them that they are not alone.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

When Steph was younger, she struggled with gender identity with no genuinely understanding what that meant.

“Girls grow up to marry boys, and boys develop up to marry girls,” she explained. “I didn’t really feel I liked boys. When I imagined myself in the future, I would believe of myself with a lady and I didn’t know what it would be named. It was just a feeling.”

At 17, she was introduced to Helem and became an activist. Right now, at 30, she is a community program coordinator at the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality. She assists other individuals who have the same concerns she after did, and shows them they are not alone.

Nevertheless, she does not think Lebanon is entirely protected for gays and lesbians, and she did not want her full name utilized.

She is frequently asked if she is a boy or a girl. “I get weird looks,” she mentioned. “I try not to go to locations exactly where I may well be harassed.”

Steph sees herself as a queer particular person, born female, but a single who has no rights in the nation. “I have this stain that I cannot get rid of, being here in Lebanon.”


“Some people ask me if I want to be born as a woman once again, and I inform them no. I really like this. And I’m enjoying it.” — Sasha, 21

Sasha getting ready for a photo shoot.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
At college, she was bullied for being diverse. In the streets, she is still harassed usually.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
Numerous see her as an inspiration, not just for transgender men and women, but for other individuals in the neighborhood who do not have a voice.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Instances

Sasha, 21, is a fashion model and an activist who studied info technology. She is also transgender.

She took a large danger and appeared in a style show that aired on television in a way, that was her coming out.

Sasha, who makes use of a single name, suffered at 1st, but these days several see her as an inspiration, not just for transgender individuals, but for other people in the neighborhood who do not have a voice.

It was not constantly that way. At college she was bullied for becoming distinct. In the streets, she is typically nevertheless harassed.

“If I want to stand and face the globe for my personal rights, I’m ready to do that. It is my freedom, my self-expression. If I do not fight for that, then why am I living here?”

But she sees societal perceptions altering for the greater. At this stage, she feels she is studying about patience and compassion.

“If you have compassion toward anything, you must have patience for it to occur,” she said.

She hopes that a single day men and women won’t believe about gay and transgender concerns, and will just let humans be humans.

“Step by step, I started to recognize myself far more,” she said. “I’m self-taught through this journey, and I do look up at trans people and how they went by way of their journey.”

“Everyone has a story to tell.”

A version of this report seems in print on , on Page Aten of the New York edition with the headline: Coming Out in Lebanon, and Helping It to Be A lot more Tolerant. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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Published at Sat, 30 Dec 2017 22:12:57 +0000


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