According to Ghassan Ali Moussawi, the Lebanese Gay Community can be characterized as a combination of informal social networks, various establishments like nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, and activism (103). A major aspect of activism within this community is represented by Lebanon’s singular nonprofit organization for the LGBTQ community: Helem. Established in 2004, Helem is an NGO that is committed to safeguarding and empowering LGBTQ individuals in Lebanon, while also uniting advocacy and community services to combat all forms of legal, social, and cultural discrimination (Merabet 123).
Helem, according to Merabet (123), offers various services including free psychological counseling and health awareness campaigns. They also provide free HIV testing and have community centers that are active. Helem aims to provide an alternative for individuals who are coming out in Lebanon, specifically aiming to move away from the perception that the gay scene in Beirut is solely focused on nightlife. The organization takes pride in creating a relaxed and intellectual environment, striving to be inclusive with both its membership and activism (125). Moreover, many of Helem’s activism efforts are influenced by Western approaches to increase visibility for social change.
The segment of Beirut society that esteems a “liberal tradition” or “Western tradition” (Chakire 2008:31) often faces scrutiny when detained, particularly regarding their association with Helem, as was evident in the 2005 raid on the nightclub Acid. This raises the question of whether the raid targeted gay life in Beirut or Helem and its efforts for visibility (Charike 2008:33). Consequently, many members of Beirut’s gay community reject Helem due to its tendency to attract attention and its adoption of strategies derived from Western gay identity rights movements (Chakire 2008:44).
According to Merabet (126), there is a prevailing belief in Lebanon that associates homosexuality with the negation of masculinity. Due to the prevalence of heterosexuality within the institution, the result often leads to the development of a hypermasculine identity. This mirrors the concept of “hegemonic masculinity” within Lebanese society, which often manifests as homophobia and a rejection of feminism (Merabet 121). The act of objectifying women is commonly seen as a display of appropriate masculine behavior (Merabet 110). This example, along with other behaviors considered heterosexual, establishes a clear correlation between homophobia and the opposition to femininity. The police and members of Lebanese society tend to target gay men who exhibit more feminine traits. Acts of homophobia, hate crimes, and discrimination primarily focus on openly gay men as they are more likely to publicly disclose their sexual orientation compared to their discreet counterparts. This is due to the fact that non-conforming gender behavior is seen as non-heterosexual, which raises concerns in the deeply patriarchal society (Merabet 117).
Both homosexual and heterosexual individuals hold negative views towards feminine gay men. The reason for this is that being effeminate goes against societal expectations, especially in a patriarchal society. Homophobia can be interpreted as a means to uphold the dominant image of powerful masculinity. Even within the gay community, gay men (regardless of whether they are open about their sexuality or not) distance themselves from feminine men to reinforce their own masculine behavior and identity. This is not only considered acceptable but also perceived as more appealing.