After the daughter of a Lebanese politician posted an Instagram with her best friend, tabloids mistakenly reported the pair were married, sparking an onslaught of homophobia.
Last week, Dalia Jumblatt, whose father, Walid Jumblatt, is the leader of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party, posted a pic cozying up with her childhood best friend, Tala Mortada. “My superstar wifey, to have you in my life is a privilege,” read the accompanying caption. “Side by side until we’re old & brittle, baby.”
Almost immediately, reports circulated that Jumblatt had gotten married to Mortada. The Instagram itself received hundreds of abusive comments and death threats.
“There must be a law that legalizes the execution of homosexuals because they’re animals,” one commenter wrote. Others called Jumblatt “garbage” and referred to the photo as “indecent.”
Others defended the apparent relationship.
“Love is love is love is love,” wrote one supporter. “Beautiful post!” wrote another. “Love comes in different forms and shapes. We need to love more and hate less, or even better; not to hate at all!”
But while “wifey” can mean spouse, it’s also slang for a good female friend. “The best friend anyone could ever ask for,” writes Urban Dictionary. “No matter what happens she stays true to you, and your friendship couldn’t be taken down by anything or anyone.”
“So funny how fabricated news can spread,” wrote one user commenting on the misunderstanding. “You can’t post a picture with your best friend calling her a wifey without the tabloids turning it into something to have fun with.”
Jumblatt soon clarified her caption in a follow-up Instagram, denying that the pair were romantic partners: “An innocent picture with my childhood best friend & this is what some people’s imagination leads them to!!!”
This isn’t the first time Jumblatt had posted a photo embracing Mortada. A previous image of the pair hugging was similarly met with homophobic comments.
The incident prompted some to encourage Jumblatt to use the opportunity to more overtly support Lebanon’s LGBT community, even if she’s not part of it.
“Dear Dalia,” one commenter wrote, “while I agree that the media’s response was ridiculous and people who made a big fuss about this are boring and need to find something better to do with their lives, I think you missed a massive opportunity in helping push Lebanese society forward when you responded. Please take it into consideration.”
While Lebanon is often seen as one of the more progressive Arab countries, LGBT people still face discrimination and violence. The country’s courts have ruled that laws prohibiting sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature” shouldn’t be used to arrest homosexuals, but a 2007 Pew Research poll found that nearly 80% of Lebanese people believed homosexuality should be rejected by society.
The country’s first Pride celebration was held in Beirut in May 2017.