This week marks the first Pride celebration in Lebanon, considered one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East.
The weeklong festival in Beirut eschews the traditional parade in favor of more low-key event, like a workshop on staying safe online, an exhibition on gender-fluid fashion, and a coming-out storytelling event. There’s room for fun too, though—including a screening of Carol, a drag workshop, and a gay party in one of the city’s biggest nightclubs.
“This is definitely a big milestone. I’m very excited that this is happening,” Diana Abou Abbas, manager of Beirut sexual-health center Marsa, tells CNN.
Unlike other Pride events in the West, participants aren’t pushing for marriage equality—or even the decriminalization of homosexuality. The goal, says organizer Hadi Damien, is “to denounce, in very peaceful means, all kinds of hate and discrimination,” especially attacks on sexual minorities.
Progress for the LGBT community has been slow in Lebanon: Previous Anti-homophobia campaigns have been met with protest, and there have been crackdowns by authorities on gay-friendly nightclubs and bathhouses. (At least one hotel scheduled to host a Beirut Pride event canceled at the last minute, citing security concerns.)
Still, courts have started to challenge Article 534 of the penal code and, in 2013, the Lebanese National Center for Psychiatry declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder (a first in the Arab world). This year Crepaway, one of the country’s biggest restaurant chains, featured a lesbian couple in one of its commercials. A public gathering like Pride takes visibility to another level, but after years of secret grassroots meetings, organizers believe the time is right.
“Now is the right moment,” says Damien. “I just feel it. We must be catalysts.”
Find out more on the Beirut Pride website.