Lebanon’s gay pride week brought to halt after crackdown

May 15, 2018
In this picture taken Saturday, May 12, 2018, bracelets decorated with the rainbow colors are displayed at a restaurant during the launch event of Beirut Pride week in Beirut, Lebanon. The organizer of Lebanon's struggling gay pride week has been briefly detained days into the celebrations and the rest of the festival's events cancelled. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s beleaguered gay pride week was cancelled a couple of days into the celebrations after its organizer was briefly detained, he and his lawyer said Tuesday.

Lebanon became the first Arab country to celebrate gay pride last year. In the conservative region, homosexuality is illegal in most countries and punishable under a number of vaguely worded laws that often cite debauchery or public decency, including in Lebanon.

The gay, lesbian and transgender community is largely shunned and often persecuted in widely publicized and humiliating mass arrests.

In Lebanon, however, the community has enjoyed a margin of freedom. Activists have been vocally campaigning, including backing a popular candidate in the country’s parliamentary elections earlier this month, against laws that criminalize homosexuality and other laws concerning public morality.

Organizer Hadi Damien told The Associated Press that he was detained overnight for organizing Beirut Pride week, which began Saturday, allegedly following complaints from critics.

Damien said authorities first tried to halt a theater reading Monday night at a small studio, complaining it was not approved by the censorship authorities. Damien was then summoned by the police and questioned over the week’s events, which included a street party, a drag show, legal workshops, concerts and poetry readings.

Lawyer Layal Saqr, said her client was interrogated over allegedly “encouraging debauchery and offending public decency.” She said the authorities are not required to identify the plaintiffs.

Authorities asked Damien to sign a pledge to call off the rest of the festival’s events, she added.

There was no immediate comment from the police.

“This was a warning...and the aim was to stop the events,” which have become widely publicized, Saqr said.

If he didn’t’ sign the pledge, Damien could have faced misdemeanor charges or a criminal case punishable by up to two years in prison. “I advised him to sign. We want him outside not behind bars,” Saqr said.

The weeklong festival was packed with ground-breaking initiatives and performances that defied gender stereotypes.

Beirut Pride opened with an event for parents who openly support their children’s sexual orientation. Organizers launched a campaign for businesses to address discrimination in the workplace against LGBT+ professionals.

Lebanon’s gay pride week last year — the first in the Arab world — was also disrupted after Islamist groups complained and threatened to attack a planned parade. Some events were cancelled, including the parade, but no one was detained. This year, there was no parade planned.

Damien that said although he was locked up in a crowded cell for over 12 hours, he was not verbally or physically abused. He added that he collaborated with the security agencies to avoid a wider crackdown.

“I didn’t want to cause panic or disappoint the LGBT community,” Damien said.

Regionally, only Israel and Turkey organize pride week celebrations, include a parade. In Egypt, authorities cracked down heavily on the LGBT+ community last year when concertgoers raised a rainbow flag during a performance.

Georges Azzi, a Lebanese who founded the region’s first LGBT advocacy group in 2004, won a prestigious award at the annual gala of the global campaigning OutRight International in New York Monday.

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press.All rights reserved.