Beirut In the Arab world, where several nations have seen killings of gay men in recent months, it can be startling to see a rainbow flag unfurled in public.
But the region’s only overt gay rights organization, based in Lebanon, says it is slowly making progress in preventing discrimination and violence.
Now the group, Helem, is preparing for a campaign to overturn the law that makes homosexuality illegal.
In a dramatic step, Helem organized what may have been the only gay rights protest in the Arab world. In February, nearly two dozen gays and lesbians waved rainbow flags in a downtown Beirut square, carrying banners demanding homosexual rights. They protested what they said was the beating of two gay men by police.
It has been several years since a man was thrown in prison for being gay, said Helem activist Charbel Maydaa. But Lebanon’s Article 534, which prohibits having sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature,” remains a threat.
“One of the major problems we face is that some parents threaten their gay children with article 534,” he said.
Helem is treading carefully. The group, founded in 2004, is talking with legal experts on how to approach lawmakers and lobby to have Article 534 abolished. Helem members would not comment on how they intend to carry out the campaign.
It’s a delicate process, given the deep-seated taboo in Arab countries against even discussing homosexuality. Everyone from religious leaders to family members condemn homosexuality.