Lebanon’s beleaguered gay pride week was canceled a couple of days into the celebrations after its organizer was briefly detained, he and his lawyer said Tuesday.
Lebanon became the first Arab country to celebrate gay pride last year. In the conservative region, homosexuality is illegal in most countries and punishable under a number of vaguely worded laws that often cite debauchery or public decency, including in Lebanon.
The gay, lesbian and transgender community is largely shunned and often persecuted in widely publicized and humiliating mass arrests.
Regionally, only Israel and Turkey organize pride week celebrations, although the 2017 Gay Pride march in Istanbul was banned by authorities due to “safety concerns.”
Israel has a number of parades, with the flagship Tel Aviv march held annually in June attracting hundreds of thousands of revelers from around the world. The smaller Jerusalem parade takes place under tight security after it was the scene of a deadly attack almost three years ago, and often draws protests from the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox community.
In Egypt, authorities cracked down heavily on the LGBT+ community last year when concertgoers raised a rainbow flag during a performance.
In Lebanon, the community has enjoyed a margin of freedom. Activists have been vocally campaigning, including backing a popular candidate in the country’s parliamentary elections earlier this month, against laws that criminalize homosexuality and other laws concerning public morality.
Organizer Hadi Damien told The Associated Press that he was detained overnight for organizing Beirut Pride week, which began Saturday, allegedly following complaints from critics.
Damien said authorities first tried to halt a theater reading Monday night at a small studio, complaining it was not approved by the censorship authorities. Damien was then summoned by the police and questioned over the week’s events, which included a street party, a drag show, legal workshops, concerts and poetry readings.
Lawyer Layal Saqr said her client was interrogated for allegedly “encouraging debauchery and offending public decency.” She said the authorities are not required to identify the plaintiffs.
Authorities asked Damien to sign a pledge to call off the rest of the festival’s events, she added.
There was no immediate comment from the police.
“This was a warning…and the aim was to stop the events,” which have become widely publicized, Saqr said.
If he didn’t sign the pledge, Damien could have faced misdemeanor charges or a criminal case punishable by up to two years in prison. “I advised him to sign. We want him outside, not behind bars,” Saqr said.
The weeklong festival was packed with groundbreaking initiatives and performances that defied gender stereotypes.
Beirut Pride opened with an event for parents who openly support their children’s sexual orientation. Organizers launched a campaign for businesses to address discrimination in the workplace against LGBT+ professionals.
Lebanon’s gay pride week last year — the first in the Arab world — was also disrupted after Islamist groups complained and threatened to attack a planned parade. Some events were canceled, including the parade, but no one was detained. This year, there was no parade planned.
Damien said that although he was locked up in a crowded cell for over 12 hours, he was not verbally or physically abused. He added that he collaborated with the security agencies to avoid a wider crackdown.
“I didn’t want to cause panic or disappoint the LGBT community,” Damien said.
Georges Azzi, a Lebanese who founded the region’s first LGBT advocacy group in 2004, won a prestigious award at the annual gala of the global campaigning OutRight International in New York Monday.