Lebanon: Homonationalism at Beirut “Pride”
Tue 06/06/2017, 12:00

To mark this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), an informal group of people organized Beirut “Pride,” publicizing it as the “first” pride ever taking place in the Lebanese capital on many international, regional, and local news platforms. The initiative’s website listed the IDAHOBIT-related events of many NGOs that work on sexual rights, showcasing Beirut “Pride” as an ambiguous collaboration between the organizing team and some Lebanese NGOs, with no publicly-defined terms or political grounds. It is worth noting that a few other NGOs that work on the same issues refused to be included under that umbrella.

Beirut “Pride” was a setback for the long history of non-normative activism in Lebanon. In the many years of organizing for IDAHOBIT, radical queer and feminists movements and activists pushed for an intersectional approach to non-normative sexualities, beyond a narrow understanding of identity politics.  The week that catered to a cis, gay, Lebanese, and middle upper class audience had no political message other than “positivity” and “pride.” Not only did Beirut “Pride” adopt a stale, neoliberal approach to the concepts of pride, identity politics, and visibility, but it also obliterated years of feminist activism and resistance. It actively refused to even touch upon article 534 of the Lebanese law that criminalizes “unnatural sex acts,” one of the few rallying points among various sexuality movements in Lebanon. It erased the histories of individuals with non-normative sexualities who refused to adopt identity politics because of their radical, political stance. It silenced, marginalized, and sidelined most of those who do not conform to rich homonormative masculinities.

While Beirut “Pride” promoted itself as an “apolitical” endeavor, there was nothing apolitical about their perception of visibility and their ignoring of the queer concept of ambiguous visibilities. Choosing to include civil society is not an apolitical decision, especially when the organizations in question have pushed the various sexuality movements into a slow and painful process of NGOization, accepting funding from and collaborating with the US department of state and other embassies in Lebanon, and monopolizing resources in the region by weakening feminist initiatives and positionalities through various means, such as appropriating feminist language and discourse. In other words, the ample credibility of certain NGOs among foreign funders is built off the emotional and political labor of those they claim to represent. To add insult to injury, those very same NGOs acted as mediators and recipients of funds dedicated to queer Syrian refugees, thus treating Syrian refugees as internal colonial subjects and appropriating their struggle as a new “hot topic” designed to attract financial resources. One of the partnered NGOs that received massive amounts of funding to implement “projects” for Syrian refugees was accused of sexual trafficking of queer Syrian refugees by many activists, and the allegations were swept under the rug. Not only did Beirut “Pride” collaborate with that particular organization, but other NGOs had no qualms listing their events under the same umbrella, despite their knowledge of the accusations.

What Beirut “Pride” did is give further legitimacy to a handful of NGOs that claim to represent the “movement.” The debate around Beirut “Pride” on social media platforms conflated “movements” with “NGOs,” and shunned those who dared to speak up by accusing them of dividing the “movement,” as if a “movement” restricted to identity politics, service provision, and supposedly apolitical messages should necessarily encompass any type of resistance that touches upon non-normative sexualities. When some of the events were attacked by The Association of Muslim Scholars, forcing them to either cancel or adapt their activities to social media videos and press releases, debate became impossible and suffocating. Any criticism was bashed as traitorous or inconsiderate of a “common enemy,” promoting an apologetic culture of “with us or against us.” The fateful week ended on a sickening display of rainbow flags in a neighborhood populated by bars, under a heavy deployment of Internal Security Forces. The organizer of Beirut “Pride” thanking the Internal Security Forces for “protecting” LGBT citizens was the cherry on the cake which further affirmed that the current state of LGBT politics in Lebanon is but a local version of homonationalism, where the rich Lebanese gay citizen is hailed as a hero for his state-approved privileges, while women, trans, non-Lebanese, refugees, domestic workers, sex workers, and other marginalized communities are treated as “emergency cases” and as constructs to be exploited by dominant and hegemonic discourses, whether gay or Islamic.

This Our blog appears in South Feminist Voices and is tagged with Lebanon, Pride, IDAHOBIT.