Monday, July 31, 2006

Gay.com Sorta Covers Lebanon, Almost

Two articles on Lebanon recently appeared on Gay.com, one about Helem helping out in relief efforts, and one semi-interview with a Helem member about the war. The articles aren't very good, but here's the first one:

Remy is a member of the Montreal chapter of Helem, an Arabic acronym for "Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People." As Israel massed tanks and troops on the Lebanese border July 21 in readiness for a likely ground invasion, Remy shared with Gay.com some background on the crisis in Beirut, its impact on LGBT people, and his feelings about the upcoming observation of WorldPride in Jerusalem.

Helem is a Lebanese group, which started in Lebanon, so we are always in close contact with the chapter there. Helem has the one and only LGBT center in the Arab world. That center is now being offered by Helem as a relief center for refugees. Helem is offering its offices, computers, Internet access and volunteers to help with the crisis.

The thing Helem Beirut members miss the most (as gay people) is probably the fact that they can't be together right now. Everyone is with his or her family, and some are giving volunteer time in different places, so they are not meeting every week as they used to; they don't gather and do group activities. I suspect they are going back to a stage of isolation -- being gay, and having to stay within the mainstream community (which can be difficult for some who have had Helem as a support for a while now).

Gays and lesbians have always lived in Lebanon (and other Arab countries) a life of isolation and fear. The law is against us (article 534 of the Lebanese penal code). Society is against us; religion is against us. All we have is each other . . . and Helem (the Dream!). We are seeing an evolution in mentalities (younger people are more open-minded than older generations), but things are changing slowly.

Lebanon has always been known for its more modern way of living and thinking than other Arab countries. Gay clubs, gay shops, gay cafes and restaurants were starting to allow LGBT people to lead a kind of normal life. I say "kind of" because even though there seems to be more freedom for gays to meet and go clubbing and organize events, it is still a sense of freedom, an impression that we are free at last. But living as a gay man or woman is still a day-by-day situation: You never know when the government will decide Helem is not allowed to exist anymore, or when the government will start jailing LGBT people. But the situation was more or less improving.

I was personally in Lebanon for three weeks last spring, and I was very impressed by how far we have gone as LGBT community. Gays and lesbians are working as a community. They are supporting each other, doing business with each other, empowering each other, clubbing with each other. It could be seen as creating a ghetto, but that ghetto is doing wonders because LGBT people now rely on themselves and each other instead of relying on heterosexual society. [...]

WorldPride in Jerusalem -- a parade for love and acceptance in an occupied land, a land which knows no acceptance nor love? Helem supports the international boycott of Jerusalem WorldPride. Lebanese (and many other Arabs) have no right to enter Jerusalem. If our passports are stamped by Israel, we are considered to be fraternizing with the enemy or condemned for treason.

Right now, Helem Lebanon (as well as Helem Paris and Helem Montreal) is putting all its efforts toward the crisis in Lebanon in different ways: volunteering in Beirut, fundraising in Paris, marching for visibilty and fundraising in Montreal. Our main priority right now is to save Lebanon.
And here's the interview:

As Israel massed tanks and troops on the Lebanese border July 21 in readiness for a likely ground invasion, a Lebanese member of Helem, an Arabic acronym for "Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People," made time for a short interview with Gay.com about the current situation in Beirut and what it's like to be gay in wartime.

What's happening with gay people there now? Are gay clubs closing?

Almost all the clubs -- gay and nongay -- are closed since the Israeli aggression, so I suppose that means the gay clubs are closed.

How is the war affecting gay people in Lebanon?

The war is affecting gay people the same way it is affecting straight people for the moment. It is depressing for both gay and nongay people to see that all the effort Lebanese people have made for the past 15 years has been destroyed within five days.

Are gays able to support one another at this time?

Helem Lebanon joined a network of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working to provide aid for refugees coming to Beirut from south Lebanon and the city's southern suburb. We also suspended our normal activities and transformed our offices to a relief center. Somehow it is nice to see gay and heterosexual people working together to help the refugees.

That is all I can say for the moment -- but I will provide you with more information when possible.
Even though I'm glad Gay.com is covering the Arab World, the articles aren't very informative.

In the first article, why did Gay.com not consult anyone in Beirut to get information? Helem liss phone numbers on its webpage, can Gay.com not afford an international call? It seems like simple journalistic methodology to me.

In the second article, why is gay clubs the first thing they ask about? How superficial! Plus, who is this guy they're talking to? Is he someone who's word is important? Also, al-Fil told me that his friends are still going to gay clubs. Is he lying?

I'd like to find out more details on what Helem is doing in Beirut, not about World Pride, which is not so important now, or on the status of the clubbing scene. Nice try, Gay.com. Next time, do some legwork.

3 Comments:

Blogger Ryan said...

Hi Mustaqbal,

I am really enjoying reading your blog. My name is Ryan, and I live in Chicago, USA. I am a gay man and was intrigued by your description of gay life in Lebanon. I am completely opposed to what Israel is doing to your country and have been since this entire thing started. I had the privilege of marching with thousands here in Chicago against the Israeli attacks. There are pictures of the march on my blog. There is just such a racist and ignorant view here of the Arab world. People on some blogs, like this one: http://americanprincess.mu.nu, have even been saying that the dead children in Qana were staged deaths and Hezbollah actually killed them. They go on and on about how all Arabs are muslim fascists who want to destroy the west. I cannot stand to read these things but I try to correct the lies and errors I see. I pray the gay community and all other Lebanese will be safe. You are in my thoughts!

August 01, 2006 8:14 AM  
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