A country where homosexual acts are still punishable with up to one year in prison is set to host the Arab world’s first gay pride celebration.
Activists in Beirut, Lebanon have organized a week-long LGBT pride event featuring exhibitions on gender fluidity in fashion, gay-themed parties and story circles for participants to share their coming-out stories.
“This is definitely a big milestone,” Diana Abou Abbas, a manager at a Beirut sexual health center, told CNN. “I’m very excited that this is happening.”
The celebration of diversity is in line with other LGBTQ-friendly measures being seen in the nation.
A recent advertisement for a prominent Lebanese restaurant chain, Crepaway, was the first to feature a lesbian couple and received an outpouring of local support.
“Now we realize more and more how much this has affected people who needed someone to give them attention or respect,” the chain’s head of communications said. “We really didn’t want to exclude anyone.”
Despite the apparent cultural shift, the majority of the country — which is 50% Muslim and 40% Christian — still reports being opposed to homosexuality, according to recent polls.
And it’s a vocal opposition.
The first two events of the landmark festivities have already been canceled due to threats from Islamic extremists like the Association of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon, or commercial concerns from venues.
But organizers said they don’t want the event to be seen as a protest. Rather than combatting any existing views, they want to celebrate their own community.
They are using the festival to promote marriage equality rights and encourage the repeal of Article 534, which describes homosexuality as “contrary to the order of nature.”
“What we need to have is to make sure that people are aware that diversity is totally okay,” Hadi Damien, one of the event’s organizers, said. “And what is not okay is when you have one mould in which you want to put everybody.”
The government seems to be listening. Lebanon embassies around the world are flying rainbow flags this week.
Next, read about the Chechen government’s mission to eliminate its own gay population. Then learn about reports that the U.S. received millions of dollars in stolen artifacts from Middle East conflict zones in 2016?.