LEbanon Hub




Lebanese Police Use WhatsApp to Target Gay Men

Whatsapp-logoPolice in Lebanon have taken to using messaging app WhatsApp to target men they suspect of being gay.

Helem, a Lebanese LGBTQI organization, has released the following warning, which succinctly explains the situation:

Helem has learned that the Hobeich police station has been arresting individuals in Beirut and going through their WhatsApp contacts. They are summoning contacts from detainees based on their WhatsApp conversations to go down to the police station for questioning. If you receive a phone call DO NOT GO, call 71 916 146 and Helem representatives will instruct you on what to do. DO NOT answer unknown numbers and save the Hobeich police station numbers on your phone so you can recognize them.

This is very important, please share with all of your friends and contacts either publicly or privately.

The news is the latest in a series of extreme behavior of Lebanese police toward gay men. In the wake of yesterday's news about the flaw in Grindr, it's also a stark reminder of how apps are changing our notion of privacy.


27 Men Detained in Beirut on Suspected Charges of Homosexuality

On Wednesday, Lebanese NGOs called for the immediate release of 27 men detained in Beirut last week after police received a tip that the group were at a Turkish-style bath house looking for sex with other men.

LebanonLebanon's The Daily Star reports:

On Aug. 9, a unit with the judicial police’s Moral Protection Bureau raided the Agha hammam after a detainee told police at the Hbeish police station in Hamra that gay men sought “sexual encounters with other men” there, the NGOs said in a joint statement.

Police arrested the owner of the hammam, the employees and several clients. All clients remain in custody at the detention center, the statement said, quoting a colonel at the police station

The NGOs - Helem, Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality, M-Coaltion, Marsa Sexual Health Clinic, and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health - released a joint statement saying in part:

“We made contact with the detainees who expressed their discomfort and confusion regarding the process of the investigation and the charges. It has also come to our attention that at the time of the raid no public sexual act was taking place at the Agha hammam, and the investigation at the police station revolved mainly around the detainees’ alleged (homo)sexuality,” the statement said.

“We denounce this incident as a case of homophobic practice that aims to police the sexual rights and liberties of the individuals involved and we call on the General Prosecutor and Hbeish police station to respect the dignity of the detainees and their rights to their (sexual) bodies,” it added.

Lebanese officials informed the NGOs that none of the men were forced to undergo the widely-criticized 'gay test' - forcible anal probing - that we reported last month was being carried out by Lebanese police.    


Lebanese Police Conducting Torturous 'Gay Tests' On Suspected Gay Men

Members of the Lebanon police force’s “Moral Protection Bureau” alleged to be carrying out physical tests on men suspected to be homosexual, according to the Independent.

Screenshot 2014-07-17 08.21.08The tests, which include forcible anal probing, have been banned in the country, and are considered to be humiliating and degrading treatment by the Human Rights Watch.

While homosexuality remains illegal in Lebanon, the physical testing practices suspected of being used are considered a form of torture, and are illegal. A doctor, hired by the police to investigate the sexualities of five Lebanese and Syrian men, is said to have conducted the “test” at the authority's behest.

“We are asking the Order of Physicians to sue him [the doctor] for professional misconduct,” attorney Saghieh told The Daily Star, expressing concern that there were more unreported cases. “There are many sanctions available, so it is up to the people who are hearing this case to decide on what is adequate.”


Methodist Pastor Frank Schaefer, Defrocked For Presiding At Son’s Gay Wedding, Reinstated Following Appeal - VIDEO

Schaefer

Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer, who was defrocked last year for officiating at his son Tim’s gay wedding in 2007, has been reinstated after winning an appeal.

Until his defrocking, Mr Schaefer had been the pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

A United Methodist Church appeals committee deemed the defrocking of Schaefer, who is the father of three gay children, to be an illegitimate effort to punish the pastor for his refusal to promise not to preside at another same-sex wedding.

Although the appeals panel did not question Mr. Schaefer’s guilt and upheld a 30-day suspension as punishment for violations of church law, it ruled that defrocking was wrong because “clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future.” The panel also decided that Schaefer should get back pay dating to when the suspension ended in December.

Speaking to The New York Times, Schaefer said that the committee’s decision sends a clear message that “change is on the way.”  

On his website, he said:

“I can't even begin to describe how meaningful this "refrocking" is to me. I never did understand the severity of my punishment for an act of love for my son Tim. The committee of appeals understood that my defrocking sought to penalize me not for what I did but for what I might do in the future.”

However, according to Reverend Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, a United Methodist organization that opposes gay marriage:

“When we have people who are not only disobedient, but who find a way to not have to keep the covenant they have made with the rest of the church, it helps us see that maybe we are so different that we’ve come to the end of the road together.”

Schaefer will resume his pastoral work next month with Isla Vista Student Ministry in Santa Barbara, California.

Watch Schaefer speak about his reinstatement, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Methodist Pastor Frank Schaefer, Defrocked For Presiding At Son’s Gay Wedding, Reinstated Following Appeal - VIDEO" »


Rabih Alameddine’s ‘An Unnecessary Woman’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Aaliya Selah, the irreverent, vibrant, hilarious, and fiercely solitary narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s brilliant new novel, has practiced a strange, consoling ritual for fifty years. Over the course of twelve months, beginning on January 1st, she translates a book, perfects it, seals it in a box, and places it in the back room of the apartment in Beirut where she has spent her entire adult life. No one reads these pages, including Aaliya herself: “Once the book is done,” she says, “the wonder dissolves and the mystery is solved. It holds little interest after.”

RabihIn a world where women’s lives revolve around husbands and children, Aaliya has lived alone since her husband divorced her after four failed years of youthful marriage. In her 70s now, estranged from her family, almost friendless, no longer working in the bookshop she tended for years, Aaliya has become the “unnecessary woman” of the title. “I am nothing,” she says at her most despondent; “I’m a wholly nondescript human.”

But the space of the “unnecessary” is also the space of art, and in the absence of the usual obligations Aaliya has dedicated herself to literature. She fills her days with reading, and she works on her translations in a kind of absolute innocence, free of any taint of commerce or fame. “I’m committed to the process and not the final product,” she says. “It’s the act that inspires me, the work itself.”

One of the wonders of this novel is how, from the perspective of such an outwardly circumscribed existence, Alameddine offers a rich, variegated portrait of a community. Though she hardly talks to them, Aaliya participates in the lives of her neighbors, women who gather daily for coffee and conversation, which Aaliya follows from her room. Though she doesn’t like to admit it, she weeps with both their sorrows and their joys.

She also, at least from time to time, descends into the streets of Beirut, a city for which she feels a deep and ambivalent love. “Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities,” Aaliya says, “insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden.” She remembers its many recent traumas, including civil war and Israeli siege, the marks of which are visible in bullet holes and armored stairwells. Her own apartment was broken into by looters, which prompted her to take steps toward her own defense; for years she “slept with an AK-47 instead of a husband.”  

But it’s a different kind of intruder that disturbs Aaliya’s peace in Alameddine’s novel. Startled one afternoon by a knock at the door, Aaliya finds her brother’s family, with her elderly, senile mother in tow. They insist that it’s Aaliya’s turn to care for the old woman; Aaliya, her need for independence outweighing her remorse, even horror, at her own cruelty, refuses: “‘No,’ I say, in a low, sticky tone. ‘She is not mine.’”

But it’s the mother’s response that is most shocking. When she sees her daughter and realizes where she is, she screams, “a defiant skirl of terror that does not slow or tire.” This scream will haunt the rest of the book, finally compelling Aaliya to undertake a journey into her past that may also, in unexpected and surprisingly tender ways, be an opening toward her future.

AlameddineAaliya constantly expresses her disdain for the tidy endings that mar so many literary texts, the revelations and epiphanies that allow for the kind of resolution that real life almost never achieves. But as the novel progresses it’s clear she is approaching her own reckoning, an increasingly desperate sense that, instead of giving meaning to her life, her devotion to literature may have kept her from the work of living.

“I made myself feel better by reciting jejune statements like ‘Books are the air I breathe,’” she writes, “or, worse, ‘Life is meaningless without literature,’ all in a weak attempt to avoid the fact that I found the world inexplicable and impenetrable.” While she has prided herself on being above the myths of politics and religion that have wreaked such havoc in the world, Aaliya comes to feel that she may have made her own false idol of art. 

But this won’t be Aaliya’s final or immutable judgment, and the book bears witness to the uncounterfeitable joy she has taken in literature, a joy I found myself sharing as I read this extraordinary book. Aaliya Saleh’s voice is an indelible addition to the literary chorus she so loves, and An Unnecessary Woman is the most remarkable new novel I have read in many months.

Previous reviews...
Edmund White’s ‘Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris’
Randall Mann’s ‘Straight Razor’
Janette Jenkins’ ‘Firefly’
Gengoroh Tagame’s ‘The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Faber/FSG in May 2015. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Lebanese Court Ruling Invalidates Law Criminalizing Gay Sex

A court case in Jdeideh, Lebanon has invalidated Article 534, a law which criminalizes "unnatural sexual intercourse," and is being heralded as a major step toward equal rights for LGBT persons. Judge Naji al-Dahdah ruled that the law did not provide clear interpretation for this case, which involved a sexual relationship between a transgender woman and a male lover.  

LebanonThe Daily Star reports:

“It’s a big step; it shows we’re moving in the right direction,” said Georges Azzi, a prominent activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights who is also the co-founder of Helem, a Lebanese group that has long been campaigning to change the law.

“The more we have decisions like this the more Article 534 becomes irrelevant,” Azzi told The Daily Star. “Any legal change takes a lot of time but at least this article might stop being used to persecute gay and transgender people in Lebanon.”

A prior ruling, from December 2009, argued that sex between two people of the same gender is another extension of man's nature and therefore cannot be prosecuted. This new case was complicated by the involvement of transgender politics, but LGBT rights activists are pleased with the outcome.

In his final ruling, Dahdah said that a person’s gender should not simply be based on their personal status registry document, but also on their outward physical appearance and self-perception.

“Dahdah is not someone that we know is particularly involved in these issues,” said Azzi. “He’s not part of the circle of activists, lawyers and judges [who campaign for gay rights], which makes his decision even more impressive.”

Azzi nonetheless insisted there was still much to do. “On the judges front we are making huge steps. Now we need to change the attitude of the police and security forces,” he said.


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