In the Newsroom

April 30, 2009
Beirut’s underground gay community congregates discreetly

Gemayze has a vibrant night life. Photo: Kristen Gillespie

Worldfocus special correspondent Kristen Gillespie reported on the signature story “From streets to clubs, sexual attitudes shift in Lebanon.” Here, she writes about her experience reporting on the underground gay community from a small bar in Gemayze. 

It’s Friday night at a bar on a side street in Gemayze.

Two young women sitting at the end of the bar discreetly hold hands. The female DJ wears a T-shirt that reads, “My boyfriend is out of town.” Everyone in the bar is female. In the underground gay community, Friday nights at this particular bar is known to be ladies’ night. The gay scene in Beirut, says one woman while sipping her drink, “is big, but people aren’t open about it. You have to know where to go.”

The woman, 33, lives at home, but her parents don’t know that she is a lesbian. For now, they don’t have to. For younger people looking to date casually, it’s not difficult to meet people, have fun and stay in the closet.

But for homosexual couples looking to have a serious relationship — or children — the choice often boils down to staying in Lebanon and compromising, or moving abroad. I ask if it bothers her that she can’t be “out” with her partner. “What I want is to live with my partner and have a family. But realistically, I wouldn’t be able to have children and give them a good life here.” It upsets her that she would have to leave the country to do that. “We’re not there yet,” she says about Lebanon.

As it gets later, the music gets louder, the drinks keep coming and the narrow bar fills up. Another woman, 32 years old, sees me taking notes and comes over to chat. She echoes the sentiments of the first woman, emphasizing that she will remain in the closet. Her parents ”will never know” about her, even as they pressure her to get married. She is unsure how things will turn out for her.

The bar hosted at least a couple of dozen women that night, most of whom probably live at home with their parents. While Beirut is the most gay-friendly city in the Arab world, it is still a conservative society where gay couples are not socially accepted.

Homosexuals are at the beginning of a struggle for rights in Lebanon. It is one that will set an example for the rest of the Arab world.

- Kristen Gillespie

See more Worldfocus coverage on Homosexuality Around the World.

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Comments

8 comments

#8

Charles: what a stupid generalization is that: muslims! i am muslim and live my gay life with my bf. here in turkey. you have to be more respectful when you are talking about beliefs.

by the way thanks to eve and ralph.

منذر: if it happen again as you said everyone gonna pay their own bill. So.. what’s that to you???

#7

Muslims! you are uncivilized people!, please let’s do something to rescue gay people from those countries!!

#6

Thank you Ralph - you gave an awesome come back to Alex’s ignorance!

i’m not an arab. I live in Los Angeles and am bisexual. i see “cultural imperialism” - the domination of US and western culture and it creeps me out. I can imagine if i were born in another country I would reject it. I would likely resist watching stupid hollywood movies, for example, because they didn’t express my culture and they encourage consumerism, egoism and stupidity. But in the case of gender and sexual preference I don’t see it as a part of “western decadence”. I believe deeply in my heart that being queer is totally natural and human. Before religion people were queer. Same gender love/sex definitely goes back to ancient history for muslims. There is nothing dirty or immoral about preferring your own gender. There may be some crappy morals in western culture, but homosexuality isn’t one of them! Sexual preference freedom is a part OUR human evolution.

#5

Ralph and the others,
The nations before you were destroyed if not by a “nature” disaster it will be by time, none of you will stay alive you all will be gathered on that day, don’t you see? Sodom and Gomorrah are not enough for you as an example? do you want it to happen again? well if it happen again there will be no coming back that’s it, do you want to bring disasters to Lebanon? Peace is a blessing from the Creator, and it will never be given to our country as long as there is people like what is described in the artical.
و لو كان عمر بن العاص حيا لقال في من يقولون بقولك ما لن تحب سماعه

#4

There are many religions like the Episcopalian Christian religion that accepts and embraces homosexuals. God loves everyone so stop the hate..

#3

Thank you Ralph,
Ignorance is bliss ! ya Alex look how backwards Egypt is

#2

“Alex”,
First, what you see homosexuality as doesn’t mean a thing. According to all major mental health organizations (whose views actually matter), homosexuality is NOT a disease. Homophobia such as yours, however, I see as deviant, immoral, and unhealthy behaviour which perhaps can be cured.
Second, morals and religion have NOTHING to do with each other. More people have been killed in the name of religion than any other sick excuse. Religiosity is no more than an antiquated set of mores for people who are either too lazy or stupid to think for themselves. As an Arab, I feel disheartened if people like you represent “moderates”. Until the Arab world manages to escape from underneath the yolk of this kind of lazy ignorant religious so-called “morality”, we will not be able to escape our very Dark Age.
I am very proud of the progress in the fight for gay rights taking place in Lebanon, spearheaded by Helem, the first gay rights organization in this dismal Arab world.
Besides, you Egyptians should bury your heads in shame for the state of your country and your authoritarian puppet government.. Why don’t you just go back to what you’re good at: slaughtering pigs. Amr Ibn el-3ass was so right when he said about Egypt:
“ارضها ذهب، مياهها عذب، نساؤها لعب، رجالها عبيدٌ لمن غلب”
Pity the nation!

#1

each country (or people/nation) define what is “moral” or not. morals are either “man-deduced” or taken from religious teachings. The Western world no doubt has many admirable accomplishments. however, there abandonment of THEIR own religious traditions (even the Bible forbids homosexuality) is shocking. As an Arab and Muslim, I try to be “moderate.” I see homosexuality as a disease which perhaps can be cured. It is not “normal” and it is like attempting to fit a ciruclar peg into a square hole. I do hope that the Arab/Muslim world will not “cave-in” to the globalization of ideas espoused by the Western world, including their acceptance of deviant, immoral, and unhealthy behaviour.

Thank you.
Alex
Cairo, Egypt
also I lived in Beirut for 3 years.

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