Lebanese Group Wants Ban on Homosexuality Lifted
October 20, 2004
Hurriyyat Khassa seeks to abolish law which stipulates
one-year jail sentence for sexual intercourse against nature.
A rights group has launched a campaign in Lebanon to
overturn the country’s ban on homosexuality, in the first publicity
offensive of its kind to take place in the Arab world.
The group, Hurriyyat Khassa or Private Liberties, started
the campaign with a screening at the American University in Beirut of the
British movie “Victim” which helped change the law banning homosexuality
in Britain in the 1960s.
Pointing to recognition for the UN’s Universal
Declaration of Human Rights in the constitution, Hurriyyat Khassa is seeking
to abolish Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code which stipulates a one-year
jail sentence for “sexual intercourse against nature”.
The screening of “Victim” was followed by a heated
debate between activists fighting for gay rights and others who believe
homosexuality flies in the face of public morality and religious beliefs.
“We chose ‘Victim’ because this 1961 movie helped
change the law in Britain,” explained a member of Hurriyyat Khassa, who did
not wish to be identified.
“It had the same impact for homosexuals that the film
“In The Heat of the Night” had for the battle against racism in the United
States,” he said. The movie recounts the story of a young homosexual who
commits suicide to protect his lover from blackmail, a famous attorney whose
role is played by the late British star Sir Dirk Bogarde.
At the risk of losing his reputation, the married
attorney launches lawsuits against the blackmailers who had been targeting
famous people down to the local hair-dresser. Back then, Bogarde had himself
taken the same risk by defending the rights of homosexuals in Britain, at a
time when anti-homosexual attitudes were still strong. The group has published
a letter addressed to the Lebanese press syndicate to denounce the
“insulting terms” with which the Lebanese and Arab media brand
It rebuked a journalist of the London-based pan-Arab
newspaper Al-Hayat for an article strongly condemning a same-sex marriage in
France. Hurriyyat Khassa has also criticised the Lebanese magazine Al-Muhayed
for having denounced the presence of active homosexuals during a demonstration
in Beirut in 2003.
Marching under a rainbow flag, a small group of men and
women had taken part in a demonstration in Beirut to denounce the US-led
military offensive against Iraq in 2003.
But for Helem, a non-governmental non-profit organization
registered in the Canadian city of Quebec and lobbying for gay rights in
Lebanon, the conditions for homosexuals in the country was still better than
in other Arab states. Helem said on its Internet site (www.helem.net)
that a study made in 1999 showed that out of a sample of 650 Lebanese, about
five percent said they were homosexuals. The group, whose name is the Arabic
acronym of ‘Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and
Transgenders’, said Article 534 was being used as pretext for blackmail.
“The first thing that a policeman attempts to obtain
from a homosexual are confessions of sexual relations with politicians... and
it is always the weak who are caught, as the rich and powerful (gays) always
find ways for protection,” it said.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International said
homosexuals were severely punished in most Arab countries. In 2002 in Saudi
Arabia, some 44 people were condemned to jail terms for practicing
homosexuality, including four who were sentenced to death and executed.
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