Threats of violence have shutdown a queer Halloween mixer at a prominent university in the Lebanon capital of Beirut.
The Gender and Sexuality Club at the American University of Beirut (AUB) planned the small Halloween mixer as a dating event.
But Lebanon’s former Grand Mufti, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, caught wind of the event. He called for its cancellation and tried to exert his influence on government bodies to cancel it. A Grand Mufti is the highest official of Sunni Islam religious law in a country.
Sheikh Qabbani’s supporters soon inundated the Club’s social media with threats of violence forcing it to cancel the event.
‘As we value safety first and foremost, we cancelled the event,’ the Club said in a statement.
‘We understand the disparities among people of different backgrounds and the inability to afford the luxury of public visibility.’
The former Grand Mufti known for his conservative views incorrectly labelled the event as hosted by the ‘AUB Sex Club’. He also said it promoted immorality.
‘It’s highly unusual that such a powerful figure would focus on a small mixer,’ said Tarek Zeidan. He founded and is the director of Helem Lebanon. Helem is a LGBTI support and advocacy organization.
‘He (Sheikh Qabbani) was using misinformation and hyperbole to inflame public opinions. He called it the “sex club” and said it was spreading perversion that would bring a divine retribution against Lebanon.’
LGBTI events have been shutdown before
The pressure to shutdown the queer Halloween mixer was not ‘unconnected to what has been happening in Lebanon in the past couple of years’, according to Zeidan.
Just in the past 18 months alone, several LGBTI events have been shutdown or banned due to public or religious pressure.
Even Helem’s own IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) was banned by authorities last year.
Earlier this year the police detained the head of Beirut Pride, Hadi Damien, and forced him to cancel all remaining events.
‘We’re seeing a resurgence of extremist religious authorities that are publicly challenging LGBT organizations,’ Zeidan told Gay Star News.
‘They are bullying and are putting their weight on Lebanese government and security apparatuses to interfere with and illegally shut down perfectly legal activities.
‘What we’re witnessing is a flagrant violation of Lebanese law.’
Same-sex relations are criminalized in Lebanon. But homosexuality is not illegal nor are any of the LGBTI identities.
The freedom of assembly is also not outlawed under the Lebanese constitution.
The success of LGBTI groups are making the community a target
Despite the cancellation of a number of LGBTI events, the community has also celebrated some wins.
In July this year, Lebanon’s top court ruled that homosexuality was not a crime. The Lebanese Court of Appeals made the historic ruling and became the first time an appellate court ruled on the matter. Four previous court hearings about the issue were all heard in criminal courts.
Public support for decriminalizing homosexuality is also on the rise, at 37% in 2015 up from 18% in 2009.
Zeidan argued these successes and the increasing crackdown on the community are a direct result of successful campaign by LGBTI and human rights organizations.
‘The opposition we’re experience is relation to LGBTI organizing, it’s not raiding bars or cafes like in other places,’ he said.
‘It’s a signal that increased effectiveness of civil society has become requires organized opposition. It’s a measure of the effectiveness of the work being done.’
Shaken but determined
Knowing that their work is making a difference, has made the LGBTI groups determined to keep at it.
‘They’re (the Club member) very shaken by the experience and the priority is to protect the members of the club and give a message of tolerance and acceptance,’ Zeidan said.
‘We absolutely want to say that we support that the coexistence of minority sexual and gender identities and religious values are not mutually exclusive. We are reaffirming we are not opposed to religious values.’
Zeidan said the backlash ‘against the mobility and visibility’ of LGBTI groups has made them more resolute that ‘building power from the community is our strongest weapon’.
‘We are not at all backing down,’ he said.
The members of the Gender and Sexuality Club agreed.
‘We will remain strong in our stance,’ they said.
‘This will not deter us from future events or struggles, we use the experience from this and many others to build ourselves up as we fight for justice.’