A group of nine Lebanese parliamentarians have introduced a bill to repeal a provision of the Penal Code that criminalizes LGBTQ groups, sparking a backlash from some political and religious leaders.
The bill, which was submitted in early July but only made public in recent weeks, aims to abolish Article 534 of the Penal Code, which states that “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” is punishable by up to one year in prison. The bill’s sponsors include independent members from Forces of Change and Christian parties.
The bill’s introduction is a historic step for LGBTQ+ rights in Lebanon, where same-sex relationships are still widely stigmatized and discriminated against. Lebanon is one of the few Arab countries where LGBTQ+ activism has been visible and vocal, despite the legal and social challenges.
However, the bill has also triggered a wave of hostility and threats from some influential figures who oppose LGBTQ+ rights. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, described same-sex relations as a “sexual perversion” and a “threat to society” in a speech on August 31. He also called for killing gay and lesbian people and urged people to use derogatory terms to describe them.
Nasrallah’s remarks have reportedly led to online harassment and death threats against LGBTQ+ people, especially on dating apps such as Grindr. A gay man residing in Beirut’s southern suburbs told Human Rights Watch that he received a message on Grindr that said: “We will find you and expose you one by one. We have your pictures, chats, and numbers, you ‘faggots.’ We have been monitoring this platform and all the data is ready. The zero hour is here.”
Human Rights Watch’s Report
Human Rights Watch also reported that anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns in Lebanon have been ongoing since 2017, involving security forces breaking up events, Lebanese General Security prohibiting conferences, and high-ranking officials issuing directives to ban pro-LGBTQ+ activities. The current Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi issued two directives in June and November 2022 to ban any “conference, activity, or demonstration related to or addressing homosexuality.”
The bill’s supporters have expressed their determination to continue their fight for LGBTQ+ rights despite the backlash. Paula Yacoubian, a parliamentarian for Forces of Change and a signatory to the bill, told Al-Monitor that she had hoped to decriminalize same-sex relationships since her election in 2018. “LGBTQ+ people who choose to love and be in a relationship aren’t causing harm to anyone,” Yacoubian said. “So why should we imprison them for a year?”
Bertho Makso, executive director and cofounder of the NGO Proud Lebanon, was extensively involved in advancing the bill. He told Al-Monitor that the bill only aims to repeal Article 534 because society is not prepared for anything beyond that. He also said that he received messages of support from many people after the bill was leaked. “The only thing we can promise is that we will never give up on this fight,” he said.