Lebanon's First Gay Pride Event Seen as Major 'Milestone' in Recognition of LGBT Community

Beirut Pride organizers say they don't seek to repeal law forbidding homosexual acts, but simply to 'banalize' gay community

This file photo taken on April 30, 2013 shows a gay pride flag bearing the cedar tree in the middle of it during an anti-homophobia rally in Beirut.
AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID

Lebanon's first-ever gay pride celebration took place this week in the capital Beirut, marking a significant "milestone," as one activist called it, in the LGBT community's social standing in the Middle Eastern country, according to a CNN report published on Tuesday.

According to the report, homosexuals in Lebanon have faced serious discrimination and Article 534 of the penal code specifically bans sexual acts "contrary to the order of nature."

"This is definitely a big milestone," said Diana Abou Abbas, a manager at Beirut's sexual-health center Marsa. "I'm very excited that this is happening."

Those behind the event told CNN Beirut Pride is not meant to advocate for a repeal of Article 534 or for the legalization of gay marriage, but instead hopes to "banalize" the LGBT community.

"This is an initiative that is coming to denounce - and in very peaceful means - all kinds of hate and discrimination, but we specifically work with sexual identity," organizer Hadi Damien told CNN.

Though several pro-LGBT events have taken place in Beirut in the past, Damien said that Beirut Pride is the culmination of community advocacy work with NGO and other institutions and individuals to shine light on the issue and bring in out in the open.

Indeed, according to the CNN report, there are many signs that public view toward the gay community in Lebanon is liberalizing, as demonstrated by the response to a recent advertisement for Crepaway, a restaurant chain, depicting a lesbian couple.

Crepaway's head of communications Mario Thoumy said the restaurant received a wave of public support for the ad. "Now we realize more and more how much this has affected people who needed someone to give them attention or respect. We really didn't want to exclude anyone."

Such displays of normalization go a long way for the LGBT community in Lebanon, according to Abou Abbas. "It's really significant that a corporation as huge as Crepaway and that has been present as part of Lebanese culture for a while acknowledges that even if you are a lesbian couple you are welcome to come to Crepaway."

But CNN noted that there remains considerable opposition to the LGBT community in Lebanon. A hotel in Beirut that was to be used as a venue for Beirut Pride reportedly canceled its participation after receiving security threats.