LGBT rights advocates protested in front of the Lebanese Ministry of Justice in Beirut, after gay club goers were victims of abuse and illegal detention.
The rally shows growing confidence and anger in the country’s LGBT population. It is the first time people have come out in such a high-profile way specifically to fight for gay rights and have been prepared to challenge a government department and criticize the use of religion to justify homophobic oppression.
Just over a hundred participants assembled yesterday evening (30 April) calling for justice, and holding banners stating ‘Illegal detention is a crime – we call for penalizing Dekwaneh mayor, Antoine Shakhtoura’, reported Bertho Makso, owner of Lebanon’s only gay friendly travel company.
The protest came after Shakhtoura, mayor of the Beirut suburb Dekwaneh, had six gay and trans club-goers arrested and transported in car boots to the police station where they were forced strip naked, photographed, beaten and humiliated, in a incident reported by GSN last week.
Shakhtoura also leaked the photos and identity of the detainees to social networking sites, outing them to further risks and reprisals.
According to the protestors, who were lead by Lebanon’s LGBT rights advocacy group, Helem, it appears that Dekwaneh’s mayor had no legal warrant to do conduct such a procedure violating both local and international human rights laws.
He also illegally shut Ghost, the country’s main gay friendly club, where the arrests were made.
Shakhtoura answered criticism by posting banners all over the municipality of religious leaders, including Lebanon’s Patriarch supporting campaign against gays, while another banner reads ‘Dekwaneh is a fortress against gay depravity’.
Joseph Aoun, manager of Beirut’s gay friendly Bardo bar told GSN: ‘We’re fed up with human rights abuse in the name of morality or religion or any other “cause”.
‘We will not accept such crimes silently, that’s why we were out in front of the Lebanese ministry of justice yesterday, against an illegal arrest and torture of gay men, demanding an investigation of Shakhtoura.
‘He’s facing two lawsuits, one by Helem & Legal Agenda [a local charity] laywers for illegal arrest and torture, and the other by the six people who were arrested and abused physically and verbally.
‘This is about justice and setting an example, so that public figures think ten times before they try to scapegoat and abuse anyone else.
‘We are also appealing to the Australian city Parmatta, twinned with Dekweneh to denounce the mayor and his actions, although our appeals to the municipality down under have not yet been answered’.
Selim, a 25-year old protestor, told GSN that this protest marks a new phase: ‘We are now openly fighting for our rights.
‘People had rainbow flags and held banners, one reading: “We will resist homophobia, transphobia, oppression, Shakhtoura”, another made fun of the mayor’s banner stating: “We are the fortress”.
‘I remain both optimistic and pessimistic, not sure of Shakhtoura will face justice but there will be repercussions.
‘On the other hand we out and demanding our rights, so that is one way we are turning this horrible incident into a positive fight.’
In a remarkable turnaround, celebrity host, Joe Maloouf attacked Shakhtoura live on his program Enta Horr, on Lebanese MTV last night, saying that the Dekwaneh incident violated human rights.
Maloouf previously aired a program that caused the arrested and torture of 36 people who attended a porn cinema for gay sex.
Shakhtoura for his part remained unmoved and said if he’d caught his son going to ‘one of those places’ he’d shoot him.
During an earlier interview with Radio Free Lebanon, he also called upon religious leaders to join in a campaign against ‘depravity’ (meaning gays).
Georges Azzi, the executive director for the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, told GSN: ‘I think the mayor and any person in power should realize that gay people cannot be used and a abused anymore for political reasons.
‘We are not as weak as we used to be before, the mayor is so desperate that now he is trying to get the support of local churches.
‘Joe Maalouf change of politics is welcomed, however we need to monitor his future episode carefully, after all we want people to change to the better don’t want to create enemies.’
Watch a brief video of the protest taken by Bertho Makso here: