This isn’t the 90s: Health Services for LGBTs in Beirut467 views
You’re almost in your mid-twenties and your mother still thinks you should wait until you’re married before spreading your legs in front of a gynecologist. What she doesn’t know is that you’ve been sexually active for quite some time now; you’ve had a few flings, three one-night-stands (four, if you count that accidental quickie with your gay friend), and three girlfriends. Your mother still chooses to ignore you when you tell her that young women should see gynecologists regularly by the time they are 21 years old, regardless of whether or not they’re sexually active.
Unfortunately for you, visiting the gynecologist can be expensive and uncomfortable to say the least. Nevertheless, with all that talk about cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections buzzing in your circle, you decide that the time has come to scrap up some cash and schedule that first appointment.
“Are you sexually active?” - the question that many queer women dread when visiting a doctor in Beirut for the first time. Those few seconds during which you conceive possible scenarios emerging according to your answer, remind you of your world literature class discussions on Borges’ labyrinth. You ask yourself, why, oh why, must a visit to the gynecologist’s clinic be so complicated? Let’s face it, if this is not a safe space for you to come out and get appropriate treatment, then you might as well zip your pants and walk out that door to never come back again.
A few months ago, Bekhsoos dedicated a special issue celebrating 10 years of LGBT activism in Lebanon. What remained missing in that issue however, was an overview of available health services for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons in Beirut.
Catering for lesbian, bisexual, queer & questioning women, and transgender persons, Meem’s health services, including individual/group therapy, a support hotline, and peer counseling, are available to all members, along with a psychiatric referral program with special reduced visit rates. A list of LGBT-friendly doctors and specialists is also continuously updated and accessible for members upon request. Activists in Meem address issues related to queer women and transgender persons’ health from a holistic perspective, one that takes into account mental and social factors that often go hand in hand with whichever physical symptoms one experiences.
Open 5 days a week, from 10 am to 6 pm, Helem’s Community Center offers a safe LGBT space for a variety of health services such as psychological counseling, a help line, and an HIV Voluntary Testing Center (VTC) supported and approved by the governmental National AIDS Program. More importantly, activists in Helem are working hard to continuously develop and enhance the group’s psychological, sexual and physical health programs in order to meet the needs of Lebanon’s LGBT communities.
It is clear that the introductory account of one queer woman’s access to lesbian-friendly doctors should not be an issue in today’s Beirut. After all, groups and organizations such as Meem and Helem are both developing and cooperating on health programs designed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Lebanon. And they are not the only ones either. Nevertheless, the next time you visit your gay-friendly gynecologist or your counselor for LBP 5,000 consultations, keep in mind that many of these services are unfortunately privileges in Lebanon that most of the Lebanese population does not have access to.
For more information on health services for LGBTQs, you may reach Meem through coordinator[at]meemgroup.org, call Helem’s 24/24 Help line +961 (70) 123 687, or send an email to lgbtq-centre[at]helem.net.