Posted by: G-AZZI | September 29, 2011

Identity debate

I recently participated in a meeting discussing LGBT strategies in the MENA region. In one of the panels, an activist criticized what she called “identity politics” and the fact that some MENA organizations are importing a western form of activism, notably by celebrating events such as the International Day Against Homophobia, and she went on presenting an alternative form of activism that she believed would be more relevant to the MENA region (theoretically of course). This alternative activism is based on another western current opposing “identity politics.”

this debate is very important, but I am not interested in defending any of these two forms of activism; my issue is with the fact that some are importing a binary vision of the LGBT movement:

–          You either live in the LGBT bubble (ghetto) and you do not feel concerned by any other issues in society, or

–          You are a “radical activist” who wants to deconstruct all form of identities and change the whole system before working on any specific cause.

Both forms are limiting and inapplicable in our local context, and both isolate LGBTQ activists from the realities of our society, at least in my opinion.

The first tends to transform the LGBT movement into a commercial lifestyle, disconnecting LGBT people from reality and limiting the movement’s representation to mostly young, middle and upper class people living in urban areas.

The second is based on a utopian vision rather than on an analysis of society, representing mostly academicians and young radical rebels who can afford being radical.

Furthermore, working under broader mainstream human rights organizations has made it impossible for us to speak about LGBT and sexual minority issues; in the Lebanese context at least, LGBT issues were never set as a priority, and LGBT rights were never pushed forward in mainstream civil society NGOs until Helem was created and started networking and creating partnerships.

It is important to create a different form of activism in the region, one that reflects our identity, but we cannot build a movement merely by attacking the west and systematically rejecting whatever comes from a western organization.

The celebration of the international day against homophobia (IDAHO) does not mean that Helem adapted the western model just because the initiative is a western initiative (this can be applied to International Women’s Day, as well). Helem has been successful in creating good relations with different civil society members and building solidarity, and this was visible at the International Day Against Homophobia.

I strongly believe in a focused type of LGBT activism that is linked to other causes and movements and is aware of different issues affecting LGBT people as citizens. However, it is very important not to lose focus of our fight and allow it to disintegrate within other issues. We need a movement that is representative of our society and that focuses on understanding the needs of the community, a movement that is willing to improve the system through communication, awareness and field research and work, not through aggressive theoretical statements.



  1. Great article

  2. I think IDAHO is a really bad example since none of the IDAHOs organized by Helem actually followed the recipe proposed internationally. They were always concerned with local priorities and focused on local issues. But I think you are generalizing a little bit, both about “ghetto gays” and “radical activists”.

  3. Yep indeed, it is a great article; a challenging one too

    I also believe that there should be no division of the struggle into Western; or European; or Middle Eastern when fighting for human rights. we have the right to choose the suitable medium, channel or mean that serves our goal(s), w these are simply called: “International forms of activism”. still, I do fight and object when these methods violate my rights and are not sensitive towards my cultural context.

    The IDAHO should not be labeled as Western just because it started there!? The intelligent persons turn the efficient and applicable forms of activism into universal ones, and yes the International Women’s Day is a good proof. The IDAHO belongs to no one individual. It’s about all people hoping for a prejudice-free world that can provide a place for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. It was inspired by all world theme-days, and it wouldn’t be called international if its theme was not a universal one. Result: “importing”, “adopting” or “adapting” is just out of the question, all applies.

    Same as the BDS medium, it is neither Palestinian nor Arab initiative. The first call for BDS was back in 1958! When the African National Congress for an academic boycott of South Africa, and so the earlier Jewish United Boycott Committee Campaign back in 1933-1945. Hence, BDS is an international form of activism that derives from a universal theme too.

    بالنسبة للهوية – هوية “حلم” والمجموعات المشابهة لحلم, انه هويتها واضحه وثابتة وبالمرة مش متقلبة, اما السياسات اللي بتتبناها “حلم” فهي عامل متغير وديناميكي ويتلاءم مع أهدافها من دون ما يزعزع هويتها ومبادئها. وهذا ما بيقول انه نحنا كأقلية ما عنا تأثير أو ما عنا ثبات, بالعكس, نحنا اللي عنا أكثر ثبات بالهوية ووجودها واللي متغير عنا هو سياساتنا بتوصيل الرسالة من خلال هويتنا.

    برأيي عدم الاحتفال بهيك يوم او انه نبدأ نحط في قالب كل توجه ا والية منختارها هو إضعاف للحركة والمجتمع المثلي ونضاله؛ لأنه كل ما كان في أكثر عدد من الجمعيات والحركات المجتمعية اللي بتذكر هيك يوم, بيكون التأثير أكبر, والهدف مش إني أفصل حالي وأعزل حالي عن العالم! مش الهدف السيطرة على ساحة النضال ومين بيتغلب ع الثاني.

    w last but not least:

    Rebellion ( ثورة) walla Revolution ( انقلاب) , w bil 3arabi be2olo TO BE or NOT TO BE 🙂 ??????

  4. The article is great.. It is really showing the reality..
    Though I also think that there should be no division between different regions of the world when it comes to human rights in theory, but practically, the way to fight for these rights has to be specified to each region separately, according to social mentality and common thinking, sociological behavior of citizens, etc.
    It is not a wrong thing to take experience from western civilization, but we should know how to apply the western theory so that it can fit our own needs and societies.

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