As the quickly evolving political scene is shaping a new face to the Arab world following popular uprisings that started in Tunisia and moved on to other countries, addressing LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, and Queer) issues is slowly becoming more public. In previous interviews with LGBTQ community members, most of the interviewees chose to keep their identity secret. They refuse to advocate publicly for their right to equality -a basic human right- in fear of being prosecuted or discriminated against.However, as social media played a major role in Arab Revolutions, it also helped spread messages of those few voices advocating openly for LGBTQ rights in the Arab world.
“Gay, atheist, activist, pacifist, Arab. Among other horrible things.” This is how 33 year old Lebanese Raja Farah describes himself on his blog “Ohmyhappiness.”
Q: You define yourself as an activist. What has your activism involved?
A: I’ve been an activist for many years, on many fronts, and on many issues. Right now, my gay activism is mostly done through my blog, and through work in Nasawiya on feminist issues. I am working on issues related to sexuality, women’s rights, and the rights of people with disabilities.
Q: How would you describe the situation of the LGBTQ community in Lebanon? Is it different from the rest of the Arab countries?
A: I can’t compare the situation in Lebanon with the situation in other Arab countries because I’ve never lived in another Arab country. In Lebanon, the situation varies between classes and cities. In Beirut, the situation for people, who are well off, seems to be getting better every day. Anyone that is outside that specific category lives a very different life, having to deal with self-esteem issues, marginalization, homophobia, and the such.
Q: What are the main challenges faced by the LGBTQ community?
A: At this point, in Lebanon, the problems of the LGBTQ community are not specific to it. We are dealing with a system that is structured in a way to keep minorities of all kinds at a disadvantage. The issues are actually much bigger than just LGBTQ. We face poverty, sexism, racism, and violence, and those have a very negative impact on being gay in Lebanon.
Q: I saw through your posts that you address issues among LGBTQ members themselves. What kinds of discrimination exist among the community? What do you think should be done about it?
A: Today, Lebanon has only one NGO working solely on LGBTQ issues, and it is Helem (Arabic for dream). I think Helem has done a disastrous job at that; and unfortunately, we have nothing else at this point (though other NGOs have begun to integrate LGBTQ issues into their work, and that is much more efficient.)
Helem has become a place where rich, Christian, gay boys hang out and feel safe. It is not a safe space for anyone else. So in many ways, it has become a reflection of the society we are fighting against. I think we need to have more independent activists.
Q: How do you picture the future of the LGBTQ community in Lebanon? And in the Arab world? Will things change?
A: That’s a tough question to answer. The area is volatile, and it is quite tough to tell what will happen to the LGBTQ community.
I am hopeful, and I do think that things always move towards the better. At what rate is the question we should look into.