Posted by: G-AZZI | June 10, 2011

Gay Girl in Damascus: Fake?

This has been one of the top stories of the week.

An alleged Syrian-American 34 year old lesbian with a great blog that has gained so much attention globally has disappeared after supposedly being abducted on the way to a meeting in Damascus.

Her cousin, who (suspiciously?) has access to her blog, posted the following information soon after her abduction: “Earlier today, at approximately 6:00 pm Damascus time, Amina was walking in the area of the Abbasid bus station, near Fares al Khouri Street. […]. However, while her companion was still close by, Amina was seized by three men in their early 20’s.”

Amina Abdallah is probably fake: Fake picture, fake name, nobody that we or the media knows has actually met her, we have not heard any demands from her family asking for her release and the insurance of her safety, and the US embassy does not have any information of her in their records.

But amidst all the chaos and doubts, what has been more interesting to me is the way some people have reacted to her kidnapping – even before the news about “Amina” being a possible hoax.
A comment on her blog read as follows: “Thank the Lord that I’m not one of those who يتبعون زخرف القول
so doesn’t matter how “smart” u r, I’m not going to be impressed by your smartness once u display an act or words that are potentially supporting what is haram. Why would u make your sexual orientation to seem like the most appealing/unique character about yourself?

U are free to be gay, but since u claim that you are a Muslim, u should know that u r spreading temptation by declaring that ur lesbian and making a big deal out of it…”

Another person commented on the Now Lebanon article about Amina’s kidnapping: “Being gay doesn’t make you hero, in fact its people like her that is making being gay so acceptable that soon we will all consider it as normal! It’s okay to be gay as long as it’s in private and that they don’t encourage other people! This post should be removed or i will report it to the authorities”

A woman was kidnapped, possibly raped and even killed, and some had the guts to express their concern about her “promoting homosexuality?” How sick some homophobic people can be!
Amina may very possibly be fake, but she was not the only revolutionary gay girl in Damascus. There are many of them, and I know that for a fact. They are there, and they are actively participating in the revolution, trying to make a change, in the same way that many LGBT people did during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

There was no difference between LGBT people and others, everyone took to the streets together, citizens of one country, standing side by side, facing the same police brutality, physical harassment etc…. and, finally, celebrating all together the fall of the dictators.
Are these people any less of heroes? Don’t they deserve the same appreciation and the same support any other revolutionary deserves?
Damascus Gay Girl exists. She might not exist as “Amina Arraf,” and may not have dual nationalities, but there are many of her, all working to somehow make a positive change in their community.

Posted by: G-AZZI | May 11, 2011

Why secularism ?

The most common definition of secularism would be “the separation of religion and the state.” Under this limited definition, many will argue that technically Lebanon is a secular country since most of our penal code is a civil code and not a religious one, therefore article 534 (for example) which condemns “unnatural sex” (and therefore homosexuality) has nothing to do with religion.

However, secularism as a philosophy and a political movement goes far beyond this limited definition. Secularism means a progressive loss of the influence of religion on society, allowing the latter to go through the individualization of beliefs, the liberation of mores and the respect of private life. A secular state is a state that stays neutral towards all its citizens, and where every single citizen has equal rights regardless of their beliefs and their belonging to specific communities.

Under this definition, totalitarian regimes like those that applied Stalinism and Nazism cannot be considered secular, and that comparison which is made by some activists is irrelevant to the debate concerning Lebanon’s situation today.

Lebanon is not a secular country; no one can deny the influence that religious institutions have in Lebanon over lawmakers, censorship and media. Many NGOs working on women’s rights in rural areas have received direct threats from religious leaders.

Many pro-gay rights politicians and journalists that we approached during the past 6 years had the same reaction: “Badkon rjeil el din y’oumo alaina?!” (“Do you want religious leaders to rise against us?!”) Fears like these would have no place in a secular country.

Secularism alone does not guarantee women’s rights or gay rights, but it establishes the healthy context for us to open the debate without fearing for private freedoms, LGBT rights, women rights, censorship etc….

Unlike the previous initiative to “topple the sectarian movement” whose different representatives did not have a common agreement on the principles of secularism, the “Laique Pride,” taking place this Sunday in Beirut, is the right place for us to push for a healthy government that will ascertain that no community will have the supremacy over another.

I urge every believer in equality, whether they believe in God or not, to join the secular march this Sunday in order for us all to claim our space as equal citizens in the Lebanese society.

A few years ago, hardly any Lebanese mainstream organizations (I am tempted to say none) spoke bluntly about sexual rights; human rights organizations were either concerned with being politically correct or did not think that sexual rights were a priority in the Lebanese context.

Helem (which emerged from ClubFree, an underground LGBT group created in 1998) was the first organization to break the wall of silence by speaking about LGBT rights and causing discomfort and/or excitement within the civil society and activist circles.

In its early years, Helem attracted many non-LGBT activists who found in Helem a potential for change. On the other hand, others wondered if it was the right time to speak about LGBT rights in a country which – to this day, even – lacks any form of sexual rights.

Very few mainstream NGOs supported Helem; others preferred to observe discreetly from the sidelines to see what reactions the launching of such an organization might trigger.  In 2007, Meem, a sister organization of Helem’s, broke another taboo by creating the first space for queer women in Lebanon. Meem continues to attract the attention of many young feminists who have lost hope in the aging “feminist” movement of Lebanon.

Nasawiya, the feminist collective, emerged not long after Meem, creating an alternative space for LBT and non-LBT women and feminists. Regardless of my disagreement with some of their political stands , Nasawiya has definitely achieved something important, and that is opening previously padlocked doors to a new discourse on women’s sexual rights in feminist circles.

Meanwhile, the increasing number of non-LGBT beneficiaries from Helem’s health services brought forward the need for the provision of sexual health services in Lebanon for everyone regardless of sexual orientation. This is how MARSA came into existence. The center is run by LGBT and non-LGBT professionals and is the first mainstream comprehensive sexual health center in Lebanon.

OSE (Organization for Sexual Education) has also recently been founded by former LGBT HIV outreach workers and a group of psychologists and experts in the field of sexual education.

Along with these new organizations, civil society networks have also gradually been adopting sexual rights causes and are becoming more and more inclusive of such matters.

While the LGBT movement emerged from mainstream organizations in many countries worldwide, the Lebanese LGBT movement was definitely behind many of Lebanon’s mainstream sexual rights initiatives.

Posted by: G-AZZI | March 31, 2011

Secularism and rights

From the moment the “iskat el nizam” movement (movement to topple the confessional system in Lebanon) surfaced, I was skeptical about the positive impact such a movement could have on the Lebanese society and on freedoms in general, especially taking into consideration the current popular mindset. I was also concerned about the potential danger it could represent to freedoms and diversity in Lebanon if it did not have a clear secular agenda.

However, I decided to give the movement a chance instead of unjustly putting it down. Many people expressed the same concerns as mine.

The recent discussions on the movement’s Facebook pages proved that not everyone supporting the toppling of the political system is in fact secular. And what is even more frightening is that many are conservative, homophobic, sexist and racist fanatics who saw the movement as an opportunity to take over the parliament.

I personally believe that a healthy change of the political system comes gradually, as natural consequences from a secular society (unless we gather an important number of supporters to overthrow all the politicians of Lebanon, which is unlikely at this point). A change of the system in a society in which sectarianism is still strong and thriving can have seriously damaging consequences.

Our fights for private freedoms like LGBT rights, women’s rights and other such matters are not threatened by the political system (al ta’ifieh al siyesiyeh). As a matter of fact, the discourse that every community should be represented in the parliament without the rule of any majority is a positive one. The only issue is that it should not be merely limited to religious communities.

What actually threatens our rights is religious fundamentalism coupled with the interference of religious leaders in the political and lawmaking process, which is not a right that was granted to them by the Lebanese political system. The only way to change that is to make our voice, as secular people, heard by our politicians.

The only reason the current corrupted leaders are in power is because they play on the fear that different communities have from each other. Just changing the political system will not eradicate this fear, so the move is bound to have some obvious shortcomings at this period in time. Thus, a secular country with secular laws (civil marriage among others), is the only long-term process to change the mentalities in Lebanon, enough for them not to feel that they need to vote for the respective leader that will supposedly “protect” them depending on which religious sect they belong to.

We need to raise awareness about secularism and shift the political discourse towards our daily concerns, concerns that the Maronites in Nabaa have in common with the Shiites in the Southern Suburb, etc…

The secular pride expected on 15th of May 2011, is definitely a better choice for me, hoping that we won’t be limited to yearly march but to move towards a bigger action plan.

Posted by: G-AZZI | March 14, 2011

Gay bars and activists

A recent article in al-akhbar signed by  hibba Abbani, the [co]president of helem board caused a lot of reactions, the article is part of a bigger campaign that started in october last year. 

Below is  my response not only to the current article but to the whole campaign targetting gay bars, then i will recommend practical solutions that could help solving the problem.

1-It is true that only few people can access “gay-friendly” bars , not only you need to be privileged financially but you need to be somehow comfortable with your sexuality. but it is not the job of bar owners to outreach the rest of community and provide the community with safe spaces for empowerment, if these places are lacking that means that LGBT NGOs are not doing their job. Those constant attacks against gay businesses and boycott campaigns will not make the situation any better for those who are not “privileged”. if Gay bars are to close tomorrow, how will that make the situation better for the LGBT community ?

2- Most of the arguments given in the article are based on assumptions, Ms. Abbani  assumes that people who go to bars are superficial and not politically engaged which dangerously shows that  not all LGBT activists  know the community.

3-  Bars and nights clubs are definitely not a sign of liberation, but that does not mean that we should not be happy and celebrate the fact that we have businesses run by members of the community and offering a space that is obviously needed ( ref to my article flashback) and is benefiting a big group of LGBT individuals that we have not right to exclude from our activism work.

4- Body image and lifestyle are serious issues that need to be addressed, but throwing judgements left and right is definitely not the best way to approach people.( tips for a perfect body)

5- Gay bars are not multinational corporations, they are local small businesses and they are not to be blamed for the “ the big evil capitalist system”.

6- We were offered the space in a national newspaper to address LGBT issues in a country where homosexuality is still illegal and where report of police abuse are frequent, and we chose to speak about the consumerism of the gay community ? i think we need to set our priorities. 

Below are some recommendations that i hope will be taken in consideration:

1- We need to understand the community , we need to answer the following questions: where is the community and how to access them, who goes to the bars? understand the demography of people we need to work with. A quick mapping i did for the national aids program in 2009, showed that around 50% of people who used to go to acid club came from rural areas, which contradict Ms. Abbani’s assumptions, i cannot pretend that my mapping is a comprehensive research. but we need to spend more time and energy working in the field trying to understand the community and their needs. Helem did great job in assessing the needs of the community in the HIV/aids field maybe we should continue doing the same work in other fields.

2- NGOs in Lebanon need more independent funding  to respond to the needs of the community, most of the current funding is based on the requirements set by international funding NGOs. The only way to get this independent funding is through individual donations, the money should come from the community to the community. it is the perfect way to engage everyone in our activism and promote the concept of solidarity instead of dividing the community.

3- The activist circle is infested by intellectual elitism, which is even more exclusive than the bars. Activists should be less angry less theoretical and more in touch with the community. it is a fact that people are less and less interested by activism maybe we should try to understand why.

4- Ms. Abbani is a  personal friend, and this debate continues online and offline, but i hope that this will engage more people in thinking about future strategies and ways for all of us to work together for a better society.

another article to read by Hasan Abdessamad : http://habdessamad.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/discrimination/
Posted by: G-AZZI | March 5, 2011

The Revolution Has Already Started

When we say “revolution,” people immediately imagine huge protests, burning tires, destroying property, and all in all a myriad of violent actions throughout the duration of said revolution.

Following the Kayan incident, a few people called for direct physical action against the bar; one person also said that a revolution can only take place in the streets.

While it is true that in certain contexts, like in Egypt and Tunisia, massive public protests may be the only choice to overturn the dictatorships since all other means of self-expression were suppressed, in Lebanon it is seems absurd to me to attempt to change the society using the same forms of violence that we have had to endure for years.

Huge violent protests, destruction, fires, barricading roads… In Lebanon, we have used and overused all of these methods throughout the years, and continuing to use them will only keep us trapped inside the same vicious circle.

By using violence, we will not only give more power to our opponents, but we will also give homophobic media and excuse to attack us by magnifying any small incident and turning it against us. Plus, for violent action to have a revolutionary impact it has to gather a huge number of people, otherwise the participants are only giving the authorities a legitimate reason to arrest whoever they want.

Rage and anger are extremely important: they are the fuel for any movement and can play a crucial role if used productively and pointed in the right direction. In my opinion, the LGBT revolution has already started in different forms and we can already feel its impact on several different levels:

Public expression:

Never before has the LGBT community been as vocal and visible as it is now. The number of NGOs who are directly or indirectly supporting LGBT rights is growing. Blogs, Facebook pages, informal collectives, journalists, university groups, and many others… have increased exponentially in the last couple of years.

Changing our surroundings:

Almost every LGBT person in Lebanon has been part of this revolution: think about the number of people each one of us has somehow reached out to, affected in one way or another, or participated with in a discussion that resulted in an important and positive change of mind. Four days ago, at an organizing meeting for the protest against sectarianism, one person tried to oppose the participation of Helem in the meeting, which caused an immediate reaction against him from the rest of the civil society participants. This change in the mentality is not the work of one NGO or an exclusive group of people; it is the work of every single person who made an effort to change his/her surroundings by creating small waves that will eventually cause massive ripples of change within the entire society.

If we follow the news on the “LGBT Media Monitor” Facebook page, we can see how the media is becoming more and more careful when talking about homosexuality. The same applies to public figures (actors, singers, etc…).

For those changes to come across and make the effects they have today, we did not need to threaten anyone, we did not need to use violence, all we had to do was to continue being ourselves, to talk about different matters, and to demystify the LGBT community. If I were to compare universities, NGOs, government institutions, and the police ten years ago to what they are now, I cannot but say that a real revolution has indeed happened.

Protesting:

Protesting is an important tool and civil right that should be used when needed. LGBT groups have participated in many public demonstrations as integral citizens of society. Public protests should be targeted ad peaceful, and we should join forces with other movements who support private freedoms. Laique pride is in one month it is the perfect occasion for the LGBT community to be visible within a bigger movement calling for more private freedoms.

Posted by: G-AZZI | February 18, 2011

Lebanese police exposed !

I was happy and shocked when I heard about the report on  Torture and Arbitrary Detention AR ( click on the link to download the full report)  published by CLDH, KAFA and COSV. Reading about the torture techniques used by all the institutions – no exception – from the military police, which is the champion of torture, to the Internal Security Forces, was shocking, but definitely not surprising.

I was quite happy to see that doors are finally opening, that people are looking into the matter and speaking about it, and that the civil society has become actively involved in the campaign against police brutality.

The report mostly focuses on political and security prisoners; physical violence, arbitrary detentions based on sexual orientation, and gender are briefly mentioned. They do, however, refer to Helem’s report on Lebanon’s legal situation and the police practices.

The report raised two important points:

1) Very few people will report police abuse or file a case against a policeman. This is something that we also noticed at Helem. Many gay men and lesbian women would rather not take any action for fear of being outed.

2) Lebanese people do not express a lot of sympathy towards people who are considered “criminals,” especially since they are not particularly aware of police practices. The report also mentions that 50% of judges will not take into consideration any claims of torture made by the defendants.

The good part is that this situation can change. The more we report and expose police practices, the more the public opinion will change, the more the police will realise that they can no longer act like barbarians and violate the Lebanese law (which forbids the use of violence) that they are supposed to protect.

I understand that it is hard for people to file a complaint against the police, especially since they may feel vulnerable after being exposed to such brutality. One good solution is reporting such cases to one of the human rights NGOs that will be more than willing to publicly stand up against the transgressions.

CLDH and KAFA pioneered this step; ALEF is now working on a report on police brutality, and so is Human Rights Watch (HRW). ALEF and HRW are working closely with Helem on documenting violence against LGBT people specifically.

Below is the contact information of these organisations:

CLDH

Address : Dora, Mar Youssef street, Bakhos building, 1st floor
Rue Mar Youssef, Dora, Beirut Liban
Tel/Fax : +961 01 24 00 23
Email : info@cldh-lebanon.org

ALEF

Address: Sin El Fil, Kahraba Str. St. Georges Center, 4th Floor
Tel: +961-1-482483
Fax: +961-1-486088
PO Box: 16-5848 Beirut, Lebanon
Emailalef@alefliban.org

Human Rights Watch

Tel: +961-71-323484
Email: moumner@hrw.org

Helem

Address: Sanayeh, 174 Spears street, Zico House, ground floor
Tel: +961-1-745092
Email: Lgbtq-centre@helem.net

Posted by: G-AZZI | February 6, 2011

From Tunis, to Cairo , to Kayan and Acid

What an exciting month January has been. We have all been following the news; watching, with much excitement and solidarity, our brothers and sisters in Egypt and Tunisia as they took to the streets calling for freedom.

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans, heterosexuals, men, women, old and young, have all united under one slogan: “We want more democracy, more freedom, more equality.” We were all happy that the wind of change is finally blowing in the region.  A change in Egypt will have a massive impact regionally and beyond.

Meanwhile, two main events marked the “gay nightlife” scene in Beirut: one is the reopening of Acid for one night, and the second one is the homophobic reaction that 9 gay men faced in Kayan, a bar in the Gemmayze neighborhood.

Three days ago, a group of nine gay men were asked to leave Kayan by the staff (read more here).  Kayan is not a gay bar, but it is known to be an alternative place where all kinds of clientele could go without facing discrimination. Following that incident, a group was started on Facebook calling for people to boycott Kayan. Gay and gay-friendly people joined the group, everyone was scandalized, and the campaign reached the owner and staff of Kayan. The response? Lame excuses such as “The group had no reservation.” The management of Kayan did not even bother to present a single excuse. I am not sure if Kayan will change its attitude next time, but we definitely made a point.

As for Acid, the (in)famous “gay” nightclub of Beirut closed once again the day after the reopening. The closure had nothing to do with the fact that it was a gay club, contrary to what was mentioned in some media and blogs. Charges for public indecency were dropped, and it was ultimately closed by the Ministry of Tourism for its proximity to residential buildings.

When Acid reopened, I heard a lot of LGBT people expressing their happiness for the return of the almighty “gay” club. I lost track of the number of people who were kicked out, insulted and beaten up by the security bulldogs of Acid. Gay men were pushed and shoved, and treated badly for dancing too close to each other and lesbian women were beaten by the security guards. Acid has always refused to cooperate with Helem because the place “is not gay,” according to the owner… Despite all that, Acid was always overcrowded and overflowing and people were willing to spend their money in a place that never showed any respect to them: 99% of Acid clients were LGBT.

Few other bars have homophobic policies, like “Behind the Green Door” (for example) who denies entrance to male only groups, yet many of its clients are LGBT people.

Why don’t we boycott these bars the same way we boycott Kayan? Does the fact that some of these bars are owned by gay individuals automatically make them immune to our criticism?

I think Boycott is a good strategy and a good way to say that we won’t sit back and accept to be taken for granted.

However, it is legitimate for a bar to have its rules and regulations, as long as these rules are applied to everyone without any discrimination, and as long as the clients are informed about these rules and regulations in a respectful way. That’s why it is important to engage with the owners of the bars and listen to what they have to say before we call for a boycott, otherwise we will lose our credibility.

We have the power to change this situation, by communication first and then with boycott. I think it is the responsibility of LGBT organizations (Helem , Meem) to engage with bar owners and share the names of homophobic bars and businesess so we can spread the work , inform our friends and boycott them.

Posted by: G-AZZI | January 19, 2011

عن الثورة

قرأت هذا الاسبوع مقال في “بخصوص” بعنوان ” عن تونس الثورة والحراك الخارق للقلوب” ، تطرح كاتبة المقال العديد من الأسئلة على النا شطين  المثليين والمثليات  و عن طريقة عملهم ، وإن كنت اتفق مع الكاتبة على العديد من النقاط ، من الضروري الاجابة عل بعض الاسئلة بهدف فتح الحوار .

مين منّا مستعد، أو بيعرف حدا مستعد يحرق حاله إعتراضاً على رهاب المثلية؟ بالنهاية، ما بدنا ننسى إنّو الثورة مش حفلة

حرق النفس والتظاهر والعنف ليسوا الطريقة الوحيدة للتعبير عن الغضب والثورة ، الكثير من المثليين عرضوا ومازالوا يعرضون أنفسهم للخطر والموت بخروجهم إلى العلن. الكثير خسروا عائلاتهم وعملهم  لأنهم رفضوا أن يعيشوا بالصمت

لا ينقصنا  التظاهر والموت عل الطرقات  في لبنان، فيكفي أن يطلب السيد حسن نصرالله من مؤيديه النزول إلى الشارع فتمتلئ الطرقات بملايين المواطنين، وإذا قرر الفريق الاخر الرد فسوف نجد مليوناً أخر مستعد للمواجهة والموت والقتل في سبيل الزعيم والسيد.

تصلنا يومياً دعوات للمشاركة في تظاهرات تطالب بحقوق مدنية واقتصادية وإجتماعية مهمة جداً ، لكن للأسف هذه الدعوات لم تحظى بالإهتمام الكافي من المواطنين ، المظاهرات المطالبة بالزواج المدني و حق المرأة لإعطاء الجنسية و قانون لمكافحة العنف الأسري وغيرها لم تجذب أكثر من مئة إلى مئتي شخص

ما يحتاجه لبنان هو القليل من المظاهرات والكثير من الثقافة السياسية والإجتماعية ، من هنا أهمية حملات التوعية

في ما يخص النقطة المتعلقة بالملاهي الليلية، عددها واموالها قليلة جداً   مقارنةً بعدد وأموال الملاهي الاخرى الكثيرة جداً في بيروت. إن تغير سياسة الدولة اللبنانية تجاه المثليين والمثليات  هو نتيجة ظهورهم  إلى العلن وعملهم السياسي والإجتماعي فأصبح لهم صوت وحلفاء.

على المجتمع المدني اللبناني التكثيف من حملة التوعية على الحقوق السياسية والإقتصادية والخروج من بيروت للوصول إلى المناطق النائية حيث يملأ احزاب لبنان حافلاتهم بالمواطنين للمشاركة في مظاهرات تابعة لهذه الأحزاب

 

Posted by: G-AZZI | January 13, 2011

We have no government …

…thus begins the national panic.

So what is going to happen now?

Seriously?

What was the government doing anyway? What were your expectations from this government? Why did you vote for them? Excuse my ignorance, but as far as I know, the normal process for a political and electoral campaign is the following:

A candidate presents his political program with the practical ideas that he believes can be implemented. As a voter, I decide if what the candidate presented fulfills the needs of the people as well as fits my concerns. The one that makes the most sense is the one I will vote for.

What are the political programs of our famous parties and leaders? I am interested to hear from those who vote March 8 or March 14 if they actually have any idea how these so-called coalitions will deal with matters that govern their daily lives: social justice, corruption, economical issues, unemployment, etc…

We have the most perverted coalitions in the world:

–          A so-called secular party is in the same coalition with an extremist religious group.

–          Parties who are responsible for the bloodiest battles in the mountains of Lebanon are now allies.

–          The socialist party is now an ally of one the most capitalist parties in Lebanon… Sorry, I mean, it is now an ally of an extremist religious party… Oh sorry, it is actually neutral… Did I say neutral? No. It is actually absolutely against Syria… No, no, pro-Syrian regime… You know what? I am sorry, but the alliances of the socialist party will have changed several times before I have the time to click on “publish”… So, um, never mind that.

As a gay activist, I have been asked by many LGBT people and journalists what political parties support gay rights so we can vote for them. It is a very legitimate question. The answer is that no political party is adopting any social issues, and very few laws presented by the civil society have actually made it to the government for discussion. I wonder what the government will meet for after the end of the international tribunal.

As an atheist, secular, pro-equality and social justice gay man, the presence or the absence of the government will not affect my professional, personal or sex life.

 

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