BEIRUT: On a clear sunny morning during the IDAHOTB week (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia), it was not fishermen on a boat near the famous Pigeon Rocks in Raouche, Beirut, but activists raising two pride flags on the rocks.
Above stood reporters and photographers taking pictures of the four activists on the boat that stood proudly waving two flags, one was a rainbow-colored flag representing the LGBTQI+ community; and another was blue, pink, and white, which represents the transgender community.
The activists chose to remain anonymous, as article 534 of the Lebanese penal code is still used to criminalize same-sex relationships, and it announces them “contrary to nature,” and the LGBT community still faces discrimination, harassment, and bullying.
However, despite all the challenges, the group of activists didn't back down and made multiple laps around the ancient rocks, as photographers and people gathered around them.
“We chose the Pigeon Rocks because everyone knows the iconic emblem,” one of the activists on the boats told Annahar, adding: “We are here today, practicing our legal right of freedom of speech and expression. We are also speaking against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, which we cannot remain silent about anymore, and we choose to stand up for our rights.”
Charged with this spiritedness, the month of May was packed with events and awareness campaigns apropos of IDAHOTB, organized by NGOs and activists committed to the LGBT cause. Whether it’s a storytelling night, a talent show, an exhibition, or a play, the LGBT community was celebrated in the midst of the economic crisis the country is currently facing.
Another local event that was hosted during pride week was a story-telling, open-mic night hosted by Cliffhangers. Cliffhangers, a safe space created by a community of storytellers that meet once a month to share stories with an audience, collaborated with Station Beirut, a hybrid cultural space dedicated to visual and live arts, to bring to life the event that hosted a huge crowd who shared their struggles and experiences as part of the LGBTQI+ community in Lebanon.
"This is the third year we have done this event. Two years ago, I was approached by the organizer of first Beirut Pride, and that’s how it started. This year, the storytelling’s goal is to highlight the struggles and reality of the LGBTQI+ community in Lebanon,” Dima Matta, the organizer, and host of Cliffhangers said.
The event hosted six scheduled speakers who read poems and stories that covered their personal experiences and traumas.
“I think usually when we gather, it’s around drinks with music, bars, clubs, or we are on dating applications. Here at Cliffhanger, it’s us saying let's do something other than getting drunk and dancing. Let’s do something culturally empowering,” Matta added.
Following the events of 2018, during which several LGBT-themed activities were canceled due to external pressure, this year’s IDAHOTB marks the first major LGBT event to take place in Lebanon.
Tarek Zeidan, the executive director of Helem (Lebanese Protection for LGBTQI+ Individuals), told Annahar: “We need to be very aware of the ramifications of all of our steps and to ensure that we understand the system and how far we can push, and push to the limit of that extent.”
Thirteen Samandal Comics affiliate artists collaborated with Helem to produce and exhibit nineteen pop art posters that unveil themes of love, acceptance, and resilience within the community.
“Art has always been the greatest tool to any movement,” one of the attendees of the show told Annahar. “I'm certain that, in the future, we will look back and realize we were part of history.”
The Samandal posters were scattered on the walls of the exhibition place for everyone to engage with and potentially buy.
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