OPINION: The recent Beirut explosion revealed the fragility of LGBT+ rights

Thursday, 10 December 2020 09:41 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Volunteers and a Chilean rescue team member dig through the rubble of buildings which collapsed due to the explosion at the port area, after signs of life were detected, in Gemmayze, Beirut, Lebanon September 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Life in Lebanon after the Beirut explosion will never be the same again - particularly for the LGBT+ community

Omar Sfeir is a Beirut-based filmmaker and photographer

For the queer community of Lebanon, and the nation’s wider population as a whole, there exists a life before and after the revolution, COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, and, most importantly, the explosion on August 4 in the capital Beirut that killed more than 200 people.

This year is like a love-hate relationship with Lebanon. It resembles a breakup to me, where I finally take down the rose-coloured glasses of infatuation that I had for a better Lebanon and its non-hostile approach to LGBT+ rights. The explosion deconstructed my understanding of what security and safety I thought I was guarantee; the level of control I thought I had.

It left me running down a massacre-like scene on Beirut’s highway to reach home and see whether my family and friends were still alive.

This breakup of an event came after being so hopeful for a country, after feeling that protesting every day and voicing our basic needs, whether national or LGBT-rights based, will produce systemic change.

A majority of the Lebanese people went down the streets singing, chanting and screaming for the fall of the government. We were hopeful and dreaming for peace and stability in this country, but unfortunately, as disasters begin to pile on top of one another it becomes hard to see hope through the wreckage.

This didn’t stop me from loving Beirut and believing in change. I am still in love with Beirut, but it’s the same feeling you have entering a new relationship marked by emotions of underlying fear. You already project the end. That’s how I am feeling now as I am ready to love again, but also traumatised to believe blindly.

The notion of blind-sighted love for Beirut is one that many subscribe to, and was the main inspiration for my photography piece “Lovers in the Time of Revolution”, where our admiration for the nation compels us to overlook its flaws and reimagine better change.

Along with capturing the socio-political climate of Lebanon, in my artistic quest, I'm interested in discovering the complexity of human relationships, their feelings, their deepest secrets, and their psyche.

My mission as an artist is to capture the LGBT+ individuals of Beirut in their raw authenticity, in a place where they can simply be, behind all the layers of fear and their daily practice of public self-censorship in concealing their queer selves in their pursuit of survival. A habituated act each of us in the community instilled due to discriminatory laws, such as same-sex sexual activity is punishable by up to a year in prison.

The October 17 revolution in Lebanon made space for the LGBT+ community’s voice to be heard and was our first participation in a big national protest.

“مسبي مش لوطي “or “Gay is not an insult” was one of our main slogans. It was written across the walls of Beirut, chanted across the nation, and plastered on protestors banners. It was beautiful to see a diversity of all people, whether belonging to the queer community or not, unapologetically demanding for our rights.

The revolution manifested vortices of awareness, for minorities to have a voice, one that had been legally and socially tamed for decades.

Whatever sense of security we had fostered throughout our widespread efforts this past year was shattered following the August 4 explosion, as we all entered our zone of self-preservation and locked ourselves into survival mode. The blast was a reminder of the state’s power to induce a tragedy so big that it will go down in history as one of humanity’s largest non-nuclear explosions.

Life in Lebanon after the explosion will never be the same. Our regards to our “politicians” will never be the same. Life for the LGBT+ community will never be the same.

A collective national state of “survival-mode” was established. This collective fear was reflected in military power & state control, where security was ever-increasing and laws were strictly implemented, with no exception to the anti-LGBT laws that had been lurking under constitutional presence.

The LGBT+ community’s reversal to our acts of self-censorship was brought back and heightened, perhaps more than ever before. The increase in military checkpoints, car searches, and ID checks was only a reminder of the need to conceal our queer identities. Every time I drive, I wonder whether the general upheaval of the state’s military force will result in an arrest.

A constant reminder of the power that the سلطة (establishment) has on us, and how much we fear its representatives.

Every checkpoint I pass is a reminder of how far along there is to come. Our community is experiencing state opposition to our sexual and gender identities, one of the most powerful pushbacks in a while. The increased implementation of our laws subjugated our rights, our progress. It has only further proved to me how much work we still have to do by revealing the discriminatory nature it holds against my identity. But for now, this new chapter in my love-hate relationship with Beirut is yet to be written, with the promise of progress to come.

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