Youth Promote Gay-Straight Alliance in Lebanon1,167 views
Activists are strengthening gay-straight ties in Lebanon, starting with the youth.
Shaniqua and Anthony are two twenty-something gay activists who have created a Facebook group called Youth Gay-Straight Alliance in Lebanon (GSAIL). Its mission is simple: “Help and support the young individuals of the LGBTIQ community of Lebanon in ‘coming out’ to their friends and family, who can often be unsupportive due to the sensitive nature of the topic.”
“I’ve been wanting to start a GSAIL for a while,” says Shaniqua. “But it never really worked out.”
The March 2009 launch of the web-based gay-straight alliance g-sail.org by a “group of citizens concerned with the escalating level of hatred, violence, and ignorance towards homosexuality in Lebanon” didn’t fit her plan. So she joined hands with her friend Anthony to develop her own initiative. “We started this group around two months ago,” she says. “We figured that the best way to see how successful this kind of group would be was to start it on Facebook.”
By hosting the group on the largest and most popular social network in the world, Shaniqua and Anthony are hoping to tap into a varied audience. “We can reach a bunch of different people at the same time and spread the idea,” Shaniqua says, adding that the duo is working on addressing the members’ complaints to make the group secret, rather than closed – closed groups still appear on Facebook users’ profiles.
To date, their membership stands at 52, a dismal figure by Facebook groups standards, but it is still a significant one, especially that it reflects both sides of the alliance. “I think we can honestly say that we have an almost half-half membership count,” Shaniqua admits. “There are a lot of people who are not listed on the group itself who belong to both camps, so we are lucky to have a lot of different, diverse members.”
Their membership is increasing slowly and evenly, mostly via word of mouth. “We advertise,” Shaniqua explains, “but we also send each member an email with the basic rules of the group and a request for them to ‘invite’ one straight friend and one LGBTIQ friend to the group. Therefore we can add members but also try to keep the half-half idea going on.”
They chose to focus on the youth, people under 25 to be precise, to bring about change from within, a change by the youth, for the youth and ultimately the larger community. “We believe that the youth need to start being active,” Shaniqua says. “[They] need a space concentrated on them. Also, they seem to be the ones who mainly have a conflict between the LGBTIQ lifestyle and their straight friends and family. So this was to help them build the bridge.”
Aware of the work and services provided by the likes of Helem and Meem, the duo welcomes and appreciates any advice or help offered by anyone outside this age bracket. They see their own initiative as both an extension of and a way to fill a gap they see in the work of others. “Both Helem and Meem do a great job at helping their members out,” Shaniqua says. “But there are a lot of people who have not joined [them] either, and there’s a lack in the efforts to build a bridge between the LGBTIQ community and the straight community. We wanted to be able to add our small input into the big pot.”
Their youth GSAIL focuses on creating a discussion around the implications and challenges of sexuality and coming out. They also receive private messages from people seeking counsel. “We provide tips and advice, based on our personal experiences,” Shaniqua says.
The next step is to bring their virtual initiative to real life, by taking the discussion to educational institutions where homophobia is rampant. “We are planning on talking to schools about issues like bullying kids of different or presumed different sexual orientations, starting clubs in universities and holding workshops,” Shaniqua reveals. “There’s a lot of ignorance about the topic that we want to address.”
To learn more about Youth Gay-Straight Alliance in Lebanon, email
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