- But despite that, LGBT+ volunteers are clearing debris and helping Beirut recover from the devastating port explosion.
LGBT+ people in Beirut have been left with horrific injuries and damaged or destroyed homes after the explosion a week ago.
The blast at the docks on 4 August destroyed a huge area of the city. It killed over 200 people, injured over 6,000 and left over 300,000 homeless.
It particularly damaged neighborhoods where LGBT+ people were more likely to live – so many are victims.
Meanwhile Lebanon’s LGBT+ organization Helem saw its community center, just half a mile from the explosion, severely damaged. Another center, run by Proud Lebanon, also sustained damage.
But the human cost of the explosion is even more severe. Those who survived often have life-threatening or life changing injuries.
Bertho Makso of Proud Lebanon told GSN of one colleague he works with who has suffered broken arms, legs and has lost her eye.
One of their service users was blown out of her house, where she lives on the second floor, and into the garden by the force of the blast.
Some are finding it difficult to get help because of the criminalization and bigotry LGBT+ people face in Lebanon.
However, despite that, LGBT+ people are joining with other citizens of Beirut to provide aid.
For example, Tarek Zeidan, executive director of Helem, said:
‘Helem’s staff and volunteers have joined the relief effort in Beirut and are working to remove debris, help set up community kitchens, and dispense emergency aid to members of the community who have been affected by the explosion.’
Its food distribution program has already helped more than 800 people.
LGBT+ world rallies to help Beirut
Meanwhile the international LGBT+ and allied community is also rallying to help.
A fundraising campaign for Proud Lebanon by All Out has raised thousands of dollars. It will help pay for emergency shelter, food, medical supplies and psychological support for traumatized survivors. You can contribute here.
You can also contribute to the Helem fundraiser which will provide shelter and support its food distribution work.
Meanwhile a third fundraiser, by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality is also supporting LGBT+ people and those living with HIV. It promises to support the community’s food, medical and housing needs. You can donate in Euros or US dollars.
Longer term, the future for LGBT+ people and all citizens in Beirut and Lebanon is far from clear.
Makso told GSN that the overall feeling in the city is ‘trauma’:
‘People are traumatized. I am not able to sleep properly at night, I wake up three or four times in the night. And when you speak to others, they say the same.’
The explosion came after turbulent years for the country already reeling from a financial crisis, a corrupt and failing state and the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, LGBT+ people still face criminalization and bigotry. Recent years have seen some moves to decriminalize gay sex. However religious leaders have continued to harass LGBT+ people and police have raided gay venues.
Can Lebanon change for LGBT+ people and everyone?
Now the country may be at a turning point. The prime minister and government resigned yesterday.
Meanwhile LGBT+ allies in parliament have also quit. The deputies are trying to force elections and a new political system.
Makso said the international response to the explosion has lifted the public mood.
‘When we saw all the support coming from the international community it was a relief. What made it better is when we heard all the support will come directly to the people, not to the government.’
Indeed, demonstrators on Beirut’s streets say the government is so corrupt that it and the whole political system need to change.
Makso said: ‘The LGBT situation is just part of the bigger social and human rights challenges we are facing.
‘We hope the next government will be more open minded. What we want is a neutral government that does not interfere in the wars in the region.
‘When it comes to the deputies, we need to not have religious figures ruling us. Because at the moment every deputy is representing a religious group.
‘We need Lebanon to be a secular country. When it is a secular country, it will respect all human rights and within that we will have LGBT rights guaranteed because we will be treated as citizens, not as sinners.’