MON 20 - 1 - 2020
Nov 14, 2019
The Daily Star
LGBTQ, women’s rights part of uprising conversation
Mehr Nadeem| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Eleven days into the protests that have dominated Lebanon for nearly a month, a march was held in Jounieh in support of President Michel Aoun. In an OTV broadcast from the rally, local TV producer Charbel Khalil claimed that if the uprising succeeded, the whole country would turn gay. “If this revolution is successful, and they implement nonsectarian laws, they’ll pass laws related to their homosexuality. We know what they think. Your homosexualities and your demons will not pass,” he said, wagging a finger in the air.
While politics in Lebanon has long been subject to patriarchal standards, some hysteria around gender and sexuality has come as marginalized groups have taken active and visible roles in the protests.
This includes the participation of women and LGBTQ people.
In the battle to move politics away from the sectarianism and cronyism that have plagued it for decades, a conversation about gender and sexuality has begun. And as protesters have taken a stand, marginalized people have put themselves at the center of the conversation.
Daubed on one metal barrier in Riad al-Solh Square in bright pink are the words: “Queers for Marx.” On other street corners, “LGBTQ,” “Love wins” and “Feminism” can be seen spray painted alongside other protest slogans.
On Oct. 25, Hezbollah supporters violently clashed with protesters in Riad al-Solh Square.
In addition to beating many female protesters, the men took down a tent set up by the organization Helem, the first LGBTQ advocacy group in the Middle East. Their banner, which read “Kilna yaani kilna” (All of us means all of us) in rainbow colors, was cast to the ground. The tent, complete with lawyers, in case of any homophobic attacks, had been set up as a safe space.
“It wasn’t geared toward increasing the visibility of LGBTQ [people], but it was to encourage queer people to feel safe in joining the revolution,” Tarek Zeidan, executive director of Helem, told The Daily Star.
LGBTQ protesters have continued to participate in the movement, largely mobilized by their own economic grievances.
“We made it a point to keep all of our demands under social and economic rights, in tandem with all the demands of the street. Queer people are disproportionally affected by poverty and homelessness,” Zeidan said. “We thought it was important to show that we are part and parcel of this community, and that we have also been affected by this system.”
For Ralph, a college student still in his teens, participating in the protests has made him feel a certain optimism about his future as a gay man in Lebanon. “What’s happening is giving me more hope,” he said. “I don’t think that these changes are going to happen right now, but we’re getting there.”
Ralph said he had noticed a change in how comfortable some of his peers had felt. “I know a lot of people who came out of the closet just because of the protests - because they feel more secure, and finally included, and that’s a start.”
However, a number of LGBTQ people have opposed the protests.
“I am an LGBTQ person, I am a business owner and I believe entirely in Lebanon,” one man, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
But the founder of a large multinational media company argued that the demonstrations were pushing the country toward a total economic collapse.
As for the question of gender equality, a number of chants and songs have become popular over the last 28 days, none more so than “Hela Hela Ho,” which originally ended with a curse directed at the mother of now caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is also the president’s son-in-law. But there have also been conversations about the role of women in the movement.
“We’ve been talking about sexism and patriarchy on the streets, in different parts of Beirut, in different contexts, and we have seen an unprecedented support for these conversations,” said Ghiwa Sayegh, editor-in-chief of the feminist journal Kohl.
On multiple occasions during the protests, women have come together to form a human wall, separating protesters from the lines of riot police and Army soldiers.
Many people have attributed the largely nonviolent character of the protests to the presence of women.
But Sayegh added that the role of women in the demonstrations should not be diminished to that of mere physical presence. “We have political and intellectual standing in this revolution, and we’re not just there to stop the violence,” she said.
Under the country’s current sectarian personal status laws, child marriages are permissible, Lebanese women cannot pass their citizenship to their children and they often face great difficulty obtaining divorces.
Across the world, women remain unequally represented economically. According to U.N. Women, they are globally overrepresented in vulnerable employment, and less likely to have access to proper social protection, such as unemployment benefits and maternity protection.
Lebanon ranked 138 out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 gender gap and labor participation assessment.
“Girls, just like boys, have the right to demand their rights,” 16-year-old student Alaa told The Daily Star last month, as she joined rainy protests in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square.
For Manar Shourbaji, a representative of the Secular Club at the American University of Beirut, the demands of protesters for economic and political justice cannot be separated from their gendered aspects.
“We’re not only fighting a system that is sectarian, but one that abuses women, does not give them their rights and criminalizes the existence of queer people,” she said.
While some critics have argued that the social demands of the uprising could take attention away from demands for basic necessities, such as electricity and jobs, others believe that this is the time to voice all grievances.
“You do not go into a meeting and start compromising from the beginning,” Shourbaji said. “If the next people that come are not sectarian but they are sexist or homophobic or do not tend to the environment, I feel we would be at a place where we did not achieve anything,” she said. “This is not just a battle [against] sectarianism. We want much, much more.” -
Additional reporting by Emily Lewis
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