Growing up gay in Lebanon meant hiding my feelings, my attitudes and more importantly my true self.
It took time and pain to learn to accept myself and to become immune to homophobic slurs.
Walking down the street was never very safe, but I have become strong enough to not give a damn about what ‘they’ say.
Lebanon, albeit considered a more progressive country in the Middle East, still criminalizes same-sex relationships.
Thinking of Stonewall, I don’t have to imagine what it was like back then, I live in the same conditions. The law thinks we are guilty, a crime I can only describe as love. Society despises us and thinks we are perverts and sick and an abomination.
Being in LGBTI clubs in Lebanon during police raids
Throughout the years, I have been at different clubs in Beirut during three different police raids. I can describe the fear, but I cannot do it justice. Not the fear of prison in itself, but the fear of what might happen to me that the law will not protect me from.
At Stonewall, those brave queer men, women and trans people of all color and walks of life rebelled. They fought back, they refused to succumb to the constant violence and limitations on liberties. We did not fight. We could not fight.
Being outed to your family meant the end of you: isolation, rejection and a lot of the time disownment. For many of us, culturally raised to live with our families until we get married, this mere thought is terrifying.
My own act of rebellion
I did come out to my parents eventually, and it was quite an act of rebellion. Not that I would compare it to what happened 50 years ago in New York, but for me, it was the beginning of a long way of rejection and pain.
I am one of the lucky few whose family came around to accept me and love me, but then again, there aren’t many like me.
The greatest act of rebellion I went through was not long ago, when I came out as an HIV positive gay man on TV. That was the scary part. The key is to use this power to educate and advocate and that is why I became an activist to fight for LGBTI rights.
My community in Lebanon and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region still suffers from violence, imprisonment, verbal, mental and physical abuse today.
In some countries in our region, they are condemned to death just for loving one another.
My team and I at the M-Coalition decided we want to rebel. We understand how important taking a stand at Stonewall was in order to achieve equality.
We cannot achieve all rights overnight, but we have to start somewhere. Equality comes from getting back those basic rights that have been snatched from us. Right to live and exist, right to love, right to decide our own destinies and our right to a healthy and fulfilling life.
Helping LGBTI people getting better medical treatment
We created Sanadi.org, an online portal that has information on 165 centers in our region about their support to the LGBTI community.
The data is not very positive, but at least our brothers and sisters can try and avoid discrimination.
The web app allows you to search for centers that provide services based on their friendliness or location. Many might think that it is something simple, but if you live in an oppressed environment you would want to go get a health checkup and not be denied service, or stared at or humiliated.
On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, I can only imagine the day they decriminalize same-sex love in my country, and what the celebration would look like.
But for now, we have to stand strong, we have to be resilient. One day, we will riot and we will make history as others did before us.