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Rise of Helem in Beirut, Lebanon

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    Ghassan Ali Moussawi defines the Lebanese Gay Community as “informal social networks, institutions (such as nightclubs, bars, and restaurants) and activism”(103). Activism is mainly expressed through the use of Lebanon’s only LGBT non-profit organization, Helem, which was created in 2004. Helem is an NGO “dedicated to the protection and empowerment of LGBTQ individuals in Lebanon, bringing together advocacy and community services towards liberation from all types of legal, social and cultural discrimination”(Merabet 123).

    Helem offers free psychological counseling, conducts health awareness campaigns, provides free HIV testing and has active community centers (Merabet 123). Helem tries to provide an alternative for people coming out in Lebanon rather than the nightlife that most believe comprises Beirut’s gay scene. Helem prides itself on providing an easy-going and intellectual atmosphere and tries to be as inclusive as possible with its membership and activism (125). Many of Helem’s activism efforts mimic Western efforts of visibility for social change.

    This segment of Beirut society looks up to a “liberal tradition” or “Western tradition”(Chakire 2008:31). Often when arrested, detainees are asked if they are members of or associated with Helem, as was the case in the 2005 raid at a nightclub called Acid. This poses the question whether the raid was on gay life in Beirut or on Helem and its visibility efforts (Charike 2008:33). As a result, many members of Beirut’s gay community reject Helem because of its tendency to create an aura of conspicuousness and due to its strategy, which is appropriated from Western gay-identity rights movements (Chakire 2008:44).

    There is a widespread belief in Lebanon that “homosexuality is the negation of masculinity”(Merabet 126). Because heterosexuality is so institutionalized, the result is often a masculine identity that is hypermasculine. Lebanese society mirrors the ideo of “hegemonic masculinity” in which there are clear enactments of homophobia and anti-feminism (Merabet 121). Telling stories about women as sexual objects is usually considered a demonstration of appropriate masculine behavior (Merabet 110). This example, alongside many other forms of behavior deemed heterosexual”, shows a clear link between homophobia and anti-femininity. Police and other members of Lebanese society clearly tend to target more feminine gay men than others. Homophobic behavior, hate crimes and discrimination almost always targets overtly gay men since they are the most likely to publicly reveal their sexual identity compared to their “discrete” counterparts. This is because acting in a gender non-conforming way signifies non-heterosexuality, which causes much concern in the deeply patriarchal society (Merabet 117).

    Both homosexual and heterosexual individuals consider feminine gay men undesirable. This is because to be effeminate does not promote the social norm, which is of high importance in a society with institutionalized patriarchy. Homophobia can be seen as a tool used “to promote and protect the phallic image of the potent male”(Merabet 118). Within the gay community, homosexual men (whether out or not) distance themselves from feminine men in order to assert one’s masculine behavior and identity. This is not only seen as acceptable, but also as more attractive (Merabet 119).

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