On November 8, 2018, the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH), an organization of professional health practitioners, held an event to launch a campaign against “conversion therapy, “the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation. . . using psychological or spiritual interventions.” Conversion therapy falls into the category of procedures known as Sexual Orientation Conversion Efforts (SOCE).
The campaign, entitled HINAD, short for “Homosexuality Is Not A Disease“, follows multiple reports of gay people being subjected to various forms of SOCE, as well as a 2017 seminar where a urologist advocated for electroshock therapy.
Claiming that he practices such therapies, the urologist cited U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as a supporter of this practice and claimed that in China “80% of people undergoing this therapy were cured.” It should be noted that no study was provided justifying that last claim.
After that incident, LebMASH teamed up with HELEM, a Lebanese LGBTQ+ advocacy group, and started an investigation into SOCE practice in Lebanon by interviewing victims that were subjected to those types of ‘therapy’. People requesting SOCE range from parents who take their children ‘to be healed’ to individuals who feel shamed by society.
LGBT+ individuals face hostility in Lebanon for cultural, religious and legal reasons. A 2015 study found that 72% of Lebanese people think homosexuality is a mental disorder, and 79% agree with homosexuals being subject to conversion therapy. Police raids on homosexual spaces are common.
This is not to say that LGBT advocacy groups have not made gains in the past few years. In 2013, the Lebanese Psychological Association and the Lebanese Psychiatric Society stated that homosexuality is not a disease and requires no treatment. They condemned the use of ‘conversion therapy’.
In January 2016, LebMASH published a video titled “Shou El Sabab”(What is the cause?) clarifying common misconceptions regarding homosexuality.
On the legal front, one of the major hurdles to LGBTQ+ rights is Article 534. The clause, present since the 1920 French mandate of Lebanon and instated into the penal laws when Lebanon declared independence in 1943, punishes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” with up to one year in prison.
While it does not explicitly mention homosexual acts, it has usually been left to a court’s discretion whether to deem homosexuality as unnatural or not, leading to LGBT individuals often being incarcerated.
However, there are have been cases with more progressive interpretations.
In 2016, a judge interpreted the law differently, arguing that homosexuality is not against nature, and proceeded without issuing a condemnation.
In July of 2018, there was even more progress towards decriminalization of homosexuality. An appeals court upheld a challenged verdict to not convict a group of gay and transgender people.
Still, as it stands, the law is still left up to judges’ interpretation and discretion, and article 534 is yet to be abolished. This is a primary demand of all LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in Lebanon
In 2018, LGBTQ+ groups have been attacked on multiple occasions. While Beirut Pride 2017 faced challenges, it was still able to happen. In 2018, however, one of the organizers was brought in by security forces for investigation, and was subsequently forced to cancel the events.
A speed dating event organized by the American University of Beirut’s Gender and Sexuality Club was also recently cancelled following threats sent to the club after it was condemned by a former cleric, Mohamad Rashid Qabani.
This article by Elias Abou Jaoude originally appeared on Global Voices on Nov. 12, 2018