Is talking about homosexuality still a taboo? In the Arab world, specifically Lebanon, the answer to this question is yes and no. Sure, you can have an actual discussion about homosexuality. People can freely discuss homosexuality being a disease, unnatural, and even disgusting. The Arab world doesn’t seem to have an issue with such discussions.
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One such “discussion” occurred during an episode of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) show “Ahmar bil Khat al Areed” (“The Bold Red Line”). The episode (which aired in Lebanon on January 28, 2009) even included a few homosexual guests. However, instead of trying to broaden people’s horizons about the issue, the show simply reinforced stereotypes that homosexuality is a psychological disorder most likely due to abuse or absence of a father figure.
The Lebanese LGBT community and their supporters were outraged, considering that the show aired on the heels of a public beating of two gay men in Beirut’s Sassine area. Two men were caught “in the act,” so to speak. Lebanese law prohibits any sort of sexual acts in public and Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code prohibits sexual intercourse “against nature.” In theory, the men should have simply been arrested for performing “illegal” acts. However, the men were dragged into the middle of the street by men dressed in casual clothing (undercover agents perhaps?). The men were punched, kicked, and even beaten with sticks until they bled. Only screams from surrounding bystanders seemed to influence the attackers to stop.
I was asked by a member of “Helem” (“Dream” — a Lebanese NGO supporting the rights of Lebanese LGBT) to post links about the incident and to spread the word about the horrific incident. I thought that posting a link on my Facebook profile would be a good idea. Little did I know. I opened my account the next day to a barrage of comments about the link. Some were positive, showing their support for the LGBT community. Others were not so positive. I had people — people who knew me and spoke to me on a daily basis — write that they were glad that the men endured such a brutal beating. Not only that, people would see me in “real life” and start lengthy discussions about why homosexuality should be treated as a medical disease and wonder why I “cared so much about such people.” Then came the barrage of questions about my own sexuality.
Not too long ago, after joining the Helem support group on Facebook, I made a (let’s face it, pretty homophobic) decision to post my sexuality on my account. I never previously classified myself as heterosexual on my account because I honestly thought it was silly. “Everybody knows I’m straight,” I thought, “why announce it on Facebook?” Once I started getting heavily involved in the Helem support group I changed my mind.
Why? Well, I didn’t want to be “accused” of being a lesbian. I wanted to save myself the trouble of being gossiped about (“she must be gay if she’s so into gay rights”). I even wondered if I should bring it up in this article. If people read this, will they think I’m a lesbian? Do I want to be labeled this way or are people in America less likely to make such assumptions? Forgive me for asserting my heterosexuality, I readily admit that I still bow down to certain expectations of society. I guess I still am not completely accepting of homosexuals if I feel there is something “wrong” with being called lesbian.
So, should we talk about homosexuality? If you just say that “gays” are abnormal and need “help,” you can then go about your daily business problem-free. If you dare to say that homosexuals deserve equal rights, though, you’re in for a long, hard battle. We “gay crusaders” (as I was once playfully labeled) have an uphill battle, but a worthwhile one. Care to join?
Anonymous is a master’s student in psychology.