Gay Lebanese celebrated privately Sunday the closing ceremony of the first gay pride rally in their country and the Arab world, fearing reprisals from police or Islamists.
It was part of Lebanon and the Arab world’s first week-long festival to denounce discrimination against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
Initially the Beirut Pride group wanted to organise a kind of gay pride rally in the northern coastal town of Batroun, but fearing a backlash from police they dropped the plan.
Instead they held a luncheon in a restaurant.
“We were not able to hold a real gay pride parade because the Lebanese government would not have allowed it,” said Lea.
Around 40 participants instead snacked on sandwiches and sipped wine or arak as they listened to music and traded jokes.
“This is a private place where no one can bother us… we can close our ‘gay pride’ without pressure or threats,” said Lea, speaking on the terrace of the restaurant.
She said she had been threatened with arrest.
“The police found out that I am a lesbian… after returning my stolen cell phone and reading the messages my girlfriend and I wrote to each other,” she said.
“They told me they could arrest me because I was breaking the law.”
LGBT activists are pushing for changes to the Lebanese Penal Code, which currently allows courts to punish “unnatural” sexual relations with up to one year in prison.
While Lebanon is considered more tolerant of sexual diversity than other Arab countries, the police regularly raid gay bars and other LGBT-friendly spaces.
Homosexuals are often the target of jokes, including on television.
Last weekend, a seminar in Beirut to promote LGBT rights was cancelled after organisers said the Association of Muslim Scholars “threatened to hold protests” at the venue.
But on Monday, gay Lebanese opened up about their lives at an “open mic” night in Beirut.
On Sunday, Beirut Pride closed its week of events marking the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) with a private drag show.