Lebanese LGBT advocacy organization Helem held a protest this morning (11 August) in front of the Lebanese ministry of justice in Beirut, demanding immediate halt to the use of the anal probe and vaginal exams (used to test for virginity).
This historic protest was the biggest ever public demonstration of LGBT advocates and their supporter in the Arab world, and a very rare occasion. The only other protest happened in 2008, also in Beirut.
Well over a hundred people (current estimates are around 130) participated in the protest, including celebrities and families, as well as LGBT activists, in front of the Ministry of Justice, near to the public prosecutor’s office.
Protestors carried official Helem banners saying: ‘These tests are shameful!’, and there was even a toddler in a pram carrying a sign saying ‘No more of your medieval tests’, as well as others.
Other people carried makeshift banners saying: ‘don’t touch my ass’ and ‘Homosexuality is not crime – remove article 534’ - a reference to the law used to prosecute homosexuality.
Protestors shouted: 'Do you hear me minister of justice? These tests are rape!'
The protest started at 10 am Beirut time and lasted for two hours.
The protest trailed a memorandum sent a few days ago by the Lebanese medical chiefs ordering doctors to stop carrying out 'anal probe' tests to find out if men are gay.
However, Lebanon's public prosecutor has said the tests should continue.
The protest was in part a reaction to the public prosecutor and in part highlighting a case revealed by Gay Star News where 36 men were subjected to the tests - and were even forced to pay for them - after being arrested in a police raid on a porn cinema where men meet for gay sex.
The tests involve examining someone's anus to see if it has been penetrated but they are discredited as inaccurate and a form of torture by human rights advocates and the Lebanese medical association.
Speaking with LBC TV Charbel Maydaa, Helem’s director said: ‘Helem since its foundation called for the repeal of articles 534 and 522 [from the Lebanese penal code].’
‘Article 534 criminalizes gay sex.
‘We are here to ask the ministry of justice to send a decree to all police stations in Lebanon to respect human rights and halt these kind of tests.’
[Article 522 states that a rapist can be exonerated from his crime if he decides to marry his victim.]
Human Rights advocate and Helem founder Georges Azzi told Gay Star News: ‘I think the test will be very soon part of an ugly history.
‘I know many were afraid to be part of the protest because of the exposure it is getting, today there was an amazing positive energy that break the wall of fear, hopefully more more will come out in the street next time when needed.'
Speaking with Gay Star News, Ali (name changed to protect his identity), a 24-year-old graduate who participated in the protest said: ‘It was a success, and a big step forward, many young people participated, it was like a collective coming out – really remarkable, and very brave.’
‘It’s not just about being gay, it’s about human rights, and their violation using such tests.
‘It was really amazing and I believe ground-breaking for us in Lebanon; activists, friends, and just members of the public joined, even tourists!’
Bertho Makso, owner of Lebanon’s only gay friendly travel agency also participated in the protest and told Gay Star News: ‘I really salute the bravery of the people who participated in the protest.
‘The energy of the people was great, the protest was peaceful, there was respect and no violence: but the message was clear – end the shameful anal probes and virginity exams which are a violation of human rights and akin to torture.
I must admit that I was a bit afraid, but the courage of protestors around me gave me strength. We were shouting so loudly that even the minister could hear us!
‘Before I left my mother told me "if you go the demonstration don’t bother coming back home because you have to think about all the family".
‘I had to respect her wishes and I stayed out of the Lebanese media, only because she asked me, I’ve got no problems to speak to the international press, but my family draws the line on the local.
‘You’ve got to understand the local situation – standing publicly in front of the Lebanese and international media as well as being exposed to the police who took pictures of the participants is a big step and bravery.
'But I guess that is why some of people had to be careful with their identities, including myself. I hope that this is the first step to a future where we no longer have to be afraid and hide.
‘I also convinced two French tourists of mine to participate in the protest in solidarity.'
Speaking with Gay Star News, Thierry and Jacques, gay tourists from France using Lebtour’s services said: ‘We normally don’t even participate in such protests in France, but we were glad to do so here in Lebanon, to support the cause.’
Helem announced that the next step will be to lobby the Lebanese government and push for legal reform by repealing article 534 that prohibits having sexual relations ‘contradicting the laws of nature’. This is the law used against homosexuality, which is punishable by by up to a year in prison.
View pictures of the protests here:
Watch a video of the protest and short interviews by LBC TV: