Since April when an award winning LGBTI social media campaign was launched ‘free speech spaces have been shrinking’ in Lebanon.
Religious extremism is leading to the crackdown of the LGBTI community including the closure of many events. Lebanese advocates said more activists are take in for questioning, while others are under travel restrictions.
So, to win a prestigious journalism award from a non-LGBTI organization is a really big deal.
This week the #NoLongerAlone campaign won the Wajih Ajouz award from Samir Kassir Foundation for best social media campaign.
Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) and Human Rights Watch created the campaign to show that LGBTI people in the Arab world exist. It also highlighted the diverse stories and experiences of LGBTI people in the Arab world.
‘It felt like a breath of fresh air (to won),’ said Elie Ballan who accepted the award on behalf of AFE and HRW. Ballan is a LGBTI activist and the AFE’s LGBTI health program director.
‘In the months after the campaign launched on April 16th this year, the free speech spaces have been shrinking.
‘So to receive this award from a non LGBT organization is refreshing and hopeful that we are not alone, interestingly that was the title of the campaign.’
Ballan told Gay Star News #NoLongerAlone hoped to do more than just raise awareness.
‘The stories go beyond how each of these strong people got over their hardships and continue to thrive even in oppressed places,’ he said.
‘Finally this video had the main message of reaching out to our communities letting them know we have faced the same struggle and that they are not alone.’
More than three million people have viewed the video, which Ballan hoped means people are getting the message that they are not along.
‘There are people like them, who feel and love as they do and who are trying to make this region a little safer,’ he said.
‘This award means that what we are doing is working and it is making a difference. We had testimonies from people who became more tolerant (because of the video).’
‘However this award is more than just tolerance, this means that there are allies supporting us and that more and more people are accepting and supportive.’
What comes next?
The AFE team has not had time to celebrate their historic win because it is working on a new campaign about sexual harassment in the workplace.
‘But we have some team time around the holidays where we will celebrate all our achievements this year,’ Ballan said.
Ballan is clear that much work still needs to be done for LGBTI equality in Lebanon.
‘Though we have made some progress in the last few years for the LGBTIQ community in Lebanon, we have been under a lot of pressure lately and continue to work against criminalization and illegal arrests,’ he said.