Since its inception, Proud Lebanon has been committed to advancing human rights, particularly those of the LGBTQI+ community. We know the gravity of the situation concerning Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which has been misused to criminalize homosexuality.
In 2013, a man was arrested and charged with “habitual debauchery” under Article 534 after he was seen kissing another man in public.
In 2015, a man was arrested and charged with “habitual debauchery” after he was seen holding hands with another man in public.
In 2018, a group of men were arrested and charged with “indecent acts” after they were seen kissing each other in a nightclub.
In 2020, a transgender woman was arrested and charged with “public indecency” under Article 534 after she was seen wearing women’s clothing in public.
Article 534 of the Penal Code, initially inspired by French law to criminalize relationships with minors under 12 (1), has been ambiguously phrased and misapplied to target the LGBTQI+ community, which is unacceptable.
In 2017, the AFP reported that Lebanese police subjected a transgender woman to a “shame test.” The police forced her to undress and examined her genitals. They conducted the test in public and filmed it.
In 2020, the AFP reported that a mob attacked a group of LGBTQI+ activists in Beirut while they protested against Article 534. Human rights groups condemned the attack, but authorities have not arrested or charged anyone.
In 2018, a young gay man was being blackmailed by two strangers. After that, he went to the police to report the blackmailers. The police arrested him, and later found guilty under Penal Code 534.
In 2020, a couple were arrested by an armed authority in a part of Beirut and then transferred to the official law enforcement bodies after seeing on their mobile phones personal pictures of them. Following this incident, the cases were found guilty, and Article 534 was used against them.
These are a few testimonies, among many others, about the misuse of Article 534 to criminalize LGBTIQ+ people and intimidate them. Various reports state, “Article 534 remains extremely ambiguous and is still being used by security forces as ground for the arrest of LGBTIQ+ people on the sole basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.” “As long as Article 534 exists as such in the Lebanese Penal Code, it will continue to give room for violations perpetrated against LGBTIQ+ people who live in Lebanon in a quite hostile and conservative social environment.”(2)
# Why Repealing Article 534 is Crucial
The repeal of Article 534 is not just a legal necessity but a moral imperative. The repeal aims to reduce inequality, and discrimination. The article has been used to perpetuate intimidation, discrimination, violence, and a climate of fear among LGBTQI+ individuals. It contradicts international human rights standards CAT (3) (Convention against Torture and the Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment), CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), and ICCPR (4) (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), recommendations. Furthermore, it contradicts the UPR (United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review) main recommendations by States (such as Germany, Czechia, Iceland, Australia, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Austria) for Lebanon to revise article 534 of the Penal Code so that its scope is clearly defined. It does not discriminate against persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. As well as we must follow the recommendations of countries such as Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji, Argentina, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden, Mexico, and France (5), to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Decriminalize consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex and expand Lebanon’s anti-discrimination legislation to include a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is the main recommendation, that various states presented, and Lebanon noted, and that was also a prime recommendation in various CSOs reports to OHCHR, and that confirmed to Proud Lebanon, that its work on abolishing legal provisions that criminalize homosexuality and combat all forms of discrimination in Lebanon was on the good path.
Article 534 of the Penal Code goes against the progressive judgments of Lebanese courts, such as the landmark ruling by Judge Rabih Maalouf in 2017, stating that “homosexuality is a personal choice and not a punishable offense. Also, in 2019, Judge Ghada Aoun ordered the release of two men arrested for homosexuality. In 2020, Judge Chafic Abou Haidar ruled that same-sex couples should have the same inheritance rights as heterosexual couples. In 2021, Judge Elie Aoun ordered the government to provide medical care for transgender people. In 2022, Judge Tarek Bitar dismissed charges against a man accused of sodomy.
Then, our focus on repealing Article 534 gained a stronger footing after several judges participated in a 2017 roundtable discussion that we organized with various members of the LBTIQI+ community and legal professionals. These legal professionals unanimously agreed: Article 534 will continue criminalizing LGBTQI+ individuals as long as it exists. Their advice added urgency to our mission and confirmed that our initiative rests on data, clear evidence from the ground, activism, and sound legal and professional guidance. # A Long-Standing Commitment
Our work on this issue began in 2018. It is a work that external funds did not fund. We believed it was our fundamental responsibility towards the community to work on the long-time recommendation appearing in various shadow reports for CEDAW and UPR to repeal article 534 from the Penal Code. We paused our efforts in 2020 during the Thawra (revolution) to avoid any political affiliation, allowing them to pinkwash.
However, with the new democratically elected representatives in 2022, we’re engaged with 13 different entities that are part of the political spectrum and could help us lobby inside the national institutions to repeal Article 534, as the prominent human rights activists were calling for. We ensured working with a vast spectrum of political forces that could help us lobby inside the parliament as a leading institution to legitimate as well as with their constituencies as usually, political forces do, to raise awareness on discrimination, hate incitement, intimidation, violence, abuse as well as exclusion that LGBTIQ+ people in various communities face.
# Inclusive Approach
Our journey has involved extensive consultations with various stakeholders, including scholars, academics, activists, civil society organizations (CSO), media representatives, deputies, former deputies, and political parties, whether in the parliament or not. We have conducted parallel sessions across different political entities and forces, whether new or traditional, to ensure they are all aware of the violence, discrimination, and hate comments and actions received by LGBTIQ+ people living in Lebanon. While doing so, we fully acknowledged each party has sensitivities concerning their voting base and religious backgrounds. However, we ensured that the human rights-based approach is used to raise awareness in all those spheres on the exclusion and violence facing LGBTIQ+ people and communities in Lebanon. Proud Lebanon conducted this work while ensuring the do-no-harm approach is implemented first-hand while ensuring that in all roundtables and participatory discussions that we organized, people from the community gave testimonials and addressed decision-makers on all levels with clear demands and recommendations to reduce inequality and discrimination.
# Why Political Engagement Matters
As a human rights advocate, Proud Lebanon strongly emphasizes the strategic importance of actively engaging with political entities as they have access to power circles, mainly the parliament, to legislate, ratify, and publish bills. Proud Lebanon’s approach transcends conventional advocacy methods, as we wanted tangible actions to protect the community members. At the same time, we are expanding the umbrella of partners and building a new allyship network, including within the political parties. We have successfully convened meetings and advocated for change, going beyond mere fundraising. Concurrently, we continue to provide a comprehensive range of services, from mental health support to medical check-ups offered in our safe and inclusive environment, while respecting the privacy and confidentiality of our beneficiaries, benefiting our immediate community, and extending aid to those beyond our usual scope. Recognizing the substantial role political parties play in shaping legislative landscapes and public sentiment, fostering dialogue with these critical stakeholders is essential. We were able to tour Lebanese regions to raise awareness in very conservative communities on the rights of all.
Our engagement aims to facilitate a discourse rooted in the universal principles of human dignity and equal rights, thereby creating a conducive environment for repealing Article 534. This multi-partisan dialogue is a cornerstone in our efforts to mitigate hate speech against the LGBTIQ+ community and advance a more inclusive societal framework. # Community Engagement
LGBTIQ+ survivors of violence also gave testimonials while we ensured their safety during those meetings and respected the do-no-harm principles. We organized these meetings in different parts of the country and engaged various entities and organizations. In addition, Proud Lebanon was and is still working to build the capacities of LGBTIQ+ individuals across the country, in multiple regions, for them to know their rights, be aware of the International Conventions Lebanon has ratified, and introduce them to the International Instruments that can help and support them, because we believe that change should come from the community members themselves. Proud Lebanon held this work in parallel with sessions within universities, CSOs, and parties in various regions of Lebanon. We aim to raise awareness of violence and discrimination facing LGBTIQ+ people in Lebanon and try to reverse the rhetoric of hatred, exclusion, and shame with comprehension, acceptance, and respect for rights.
# A Coordinated Effort
We have never claimed sole ownership of this initiative. Our work is based on years of recommendations and reports sent to various rapporteurs, UN agencies, and partners. The draft bill proposed is for the collective benefit of the community.
We have worked collaboratively and smartly with representatives of civil society organizations working on gender and human rights, with scholars, experts, political parties, and media to develop the best version of the bill that ensures the safety and dignity of LGBTQI+ individuals in Lebanon.
# Addressing Unfounded Criticisms
Some groups and NGOs attempt to discredit our efforts by claiming our actions were against the community’s safety. These claims are unfounded and detrimental to our country’s collective struggle for human rights in our country. This rhetoric fuels the backlash against freedoms of expression that Lebanon has abided by since the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) in 1948. This rhetoric parallels the regional backlash that was witnessed targeting Human Rights and Gender-related themes. Our work has always made LGBTQI+ individuals in Lebanon feel safe and secure, not about promoting or imposing a lifestyle on anyone. Our work has always been for the full acceptance of LGBTIQ+ people in Lebanese society without discrimination in any public or private sphere.
Our volunteers, staff, and team are answering and replying to hatred and comments that we are reporting and receiving.
In conclusion, Proud Lebanon remains steadfast in its commitment to human rights. It will continue working diligently to repeal Article 534 and other discriminatory articles from the Lebanese legislation to ensure a safer, more inclusive Lebanon for everyone.
We call upon all stakeholders to join us in this critical endeavor to improve human rights conditions in Lebanon.
https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/2021-11/Matrice-Recommendations-Lebanon.docx Here are some of the main recommendations that were noted by the Lebanese Republic during the UPR of Lebanon (3rd Cycle – 37th Session) and that were given by various countries (Source OHCHR) “Introduce legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual identity or gender expression (Canada); Incorporate into its legal framework the prohibition and punishment of acts of discrimination or inciting hatred for any reason, including national or ethnic origin, and sexual orientation and gender identity (Ecuador); Continue with efforts to strengthen the legal framework to ensure that it contains a comprehensive list of grounds for discrimination, including sexual orientation and gender identity (Fiji); Modify the existing legal framework on non-discrimination, especially on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and nationality (Argentina); Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (Luxembourg); Guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, particularly for persons with disabilities, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex persons, migrants and refugees (Mexico); Fight against harassment and intimidation of journalists, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex persons and human rights defenders, and ensure strict respect for the right to peaceful protest (France); Decriminalize consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex and expand its anti-discrimination legislation to include a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (Iceland); Abolish legal provisions that criminalize homosexuality and combat all forms of discrimination (Italy);”