Helem Launches Report on Institutional Discrimination against LGBT People In Lebanon

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 4.83 out of 5)


Lebanon-based LGBT organization Helem launched on Monday, February 8, 2010 in Beirut  a report on institutional discrimination against LGBTs in Lebanon, consisting of two studies.

Funded by the Ford Foundation, the report included a series of thematic researches that address the effect of Article 534 on the political, civil, economical, social, and cultural rights of people of non-conforming gender identities and sexual orientations.

In December 2009, Helem released a groundbreaking report on the legal situation of homosexuals in Arab countries, with cases studies from Tunisia and Lebanon.

The organization said that all three researches would serve as the basis of its future planning and advocacy campaigns.

Dr. Faysal El-Kak and Ms. Tamam Mroue

  • Homophobia in Universities in Lebanon

Entitled “The Right of Gays and Lesbians to Universities,” the first study was prepared by social worker Tamam Mroue.

It covered a representative sample from five different universities in Lebanon, namely the Lebanese University, the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Lebanese American University (LAU), Université St. Joseph (USJ), and Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik (USEK), which teach public health, philosophy and psychology, as well as social service.

The study was also based on focus group discussions with heterosexual students, interviews with professors and three case studies of homosexual students who suffered discrimination, two of which are included in the report.

“Homosexuals find it hard to completely integrate social and emotional communities,” Ms. Mroue explained, “some times due to the Lebanese society’s limited acceptance of their orientation or identity in general, and others due to discrimination against them going as far as ostracization, marginalization, and psychological as well as physical abuse. Add to that Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code which criminalizes ‘unnatural relations’ and with which legislators strictly define homosexual relations. Their acceptance differs from one university to the other, and from one faculty to the other even, not only due to the students’ diverse cultures, walks of life and religious affiliations which all forbid homosexual relations, but also due to universities’ educational approaches.”

Even though the reasons for university-based discrimination against LGBT people are not entirely clear, the study supposes that negative or positive practices affecting homosexuals are influenced by the positions of the Lebanese educational system through what it produces in terms of positions, cultures, concepts, tools to spread knowledge and perpetuation of positions on social causes, including homosexuality. It attempts to venture into public and private universities in Lebanon to explore how homosexuality is addressed in their regulations, by-laws, curricula and treatment of homosexuals.

Discriminatory Practices on Campus: By virtue of universities’ ideologies and structures and in the absence of any related and proper codes of conduct, homosexuals are subject to discrimination, including harassment, insult and ostracization.

“The identities and cultures of the university are not strictly influenced by the ideas and ideologies of its current and past founders, professors and lecturers, as well as its academic material,” noted Ms. Mroue. “They are also influenced by their geographic location, architectural design, by-laws, and students’ communication spaces outside the classroom, which all allow or forbid the existence of tools to express opinions and positions and allow cultural, and religious minorities to show themselves and take part in the public sphere. The multitude of these tools of expression encourages homosexuals, as minorities with psychological and social particularities, to proclaim their difference, problems and demands.”

Homosexuality in Academic Approaches in Lebanese Universities:
Homosexuality is mentioned in the curricula of the aforementioned specialties in Lebanese universities, however the means to address it differ depending on the professors, administrations and students, and they’re not all positive.

Approaches are always marked by openly racist positions on the part of students,” said Ms. Mroue, “and moral condemnation of homosexuality on the part of professors.”

Drawing on the works of such educational theorists as Paolo Freire and Pierre Bourdieu, Ms. Mroue stressed that education reproduces the existing social system with its positions and values. As such, “the Lebanese educational system is a mirror of the Lebanese society with its contradictions and diversity,” she concluded. “Universities are at the service of the interests and values of those in charge, be they religious sects, universities with religious affiliations, or sectarian parties in universities and campuses where they play the role of the ‘de facto authority’ as is the case in the Lebanese University.” Consequently, LGBT people find it difficult to integrate such environments.

Recommendations: Notwithstanding the need to address homophobia in schools, Ms. Mroue called upon all stakeholders to actively work together to end discrimination against LGBT people in Lebanese universities. She recommended that human rights organizations in particular document and report on gay rights abuses, that homosexual people stand up for themselves to break stereotypes and misconceptions about their behavior, that public and private universities amend their curricula in conformity with research and science developments and in compliance with human rights and anti-discrimination conventions, and that the state enact modern and just laws that conform to international rights-based conventions it adheres to.

  • Homophobia in Clinical Services in Lebanon

The second study entitled “Homophobia in Clinical Services in Lebanon: A Physician Survey” was authored by Dr. Faysal El-Kak, a medical doctor specialized in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and a seasoned public health professional.

Based on a sample of 120 – mostly married – providers of different specialties, namely obstetrics/gynecology, family medicine and internal medicine, from both urban and semi-urban areas with an 8-year average of years of practice, the quantitative study assesses attitudes, knowledge, and practices of health care providers.

Not a far cry from the university system, the medical system in Lebanon is another place which LGBT persons find it difficult to integrate or be accepted in, “because all the people in charge of these systems adopt positions that are based on inherited cultural traditions that still reject and oppose homosexuality,” Dr. El-Kak said.

He added: “As much as we’d like to think that an academic’s or physician’s positions on providing services must be based on scientific and professional evidences, the study proved otherwise.”

Findings: The study included a list of pertinent findings, of which we cite the following:

  • Slightly more than 50% of physicians discussed safe sex practices, sexual health, and took a sexual history, however only a third asked about the sexual preferences of the client, making their practice contradictory. “Physicians assume that patients are heterosexuals, which makes clients uncomfortable disclosing their sexual preferences and practices,” Dr. El-Kak explained, adding that patients’ reception is highly heterosexist and heteronormative.
  • Less than 30% of physicians reported being aware of a homosexual relative or friend, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and to a smaller extent transsexuals.
  • 60% and 72.9% of physicians respectively viewed homosexuality as a disease that needs medical assistance and psychological counseling, “which underlines extreme homophobia in the medical professional as well as the grave lack of sexual health teachings, particularly the range sexualities, in medical schools,” Dr. El-Kak explained.
  • Less than 13%, 28.6% and 15.7% of physicians viewed homosexuality as an acceptable behavior, a personal preference and a natural sexual orientation respectively.
  • Only 50% of physicians said they would attend to homosexuals. Physicians aware of a homosexual relative or friend and who live in urban areas were more likely to attend to homosexuals.
  • Roughly 85% of physicians reported that special skills were needed to approach homosexual clients, while only 7% had received training related to LGBT health. “This signifies that while a physician does not feel comfortable in dealing with a homosexual patient,” Dr. El-Kak noted, “they are also aware that they are competent to do so and would be giving substandard levels of care.”
  • Only 64% of physicians stated that they would be willing to receive training related to homosexual health since only 50% were willing to tend to the medical needs of a homosexual patient, “signifying that 14% of the sample is not as homophobic or opposed to treating homosexuals as they think themselves to be,” Dr. El-Kak concluded.

Recommendations: In an attempt to counter discrimination against LGBT people in health care services and contribute to the changing of societal mentalities, Dr. El-Kak cited a series of recommendations, including integrating questions about sexual identity into health assessments, teaching health care providers on the health needs of LGBT individuals, educating health care professionals on how to communicate effectively with LGBT clients, minimizing homophobic attitudes with clients and among workers in the workplace, including LGBT health in the curriculum of medical schools, promoting the role and work of LGBT organizations and sensitizing homosexuals on health care services required.

“Doctors take an oath to do no harm,” Dr. El-Kak stressed. “It is their duty to respect individuals’ choices, without any kind of stereotyping or discrimination.”

Sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, Joelle found queer and feminist activism, which only added to her always being lost – in thought, that is. Joelle likes to wander (or is it ponder?) the world, read books, listen to her – yes, her – music, and mull over her existence, the human condition, and the thoughts zooming through her mind when she’s running or biking in the city and beyond. Queer existentialism anyone?

Leave a Reply