Rise of Helem in Beirut, Lebanon

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Ghassan Ali Moussawi defines the Lebanese Gay Community as “informal social networks, institutions (such as nightclubs, bars, and restaurants) and activism”(103). Activism is mainly expressed through the use of Lebanon’s only LGBT non-profit organization, Helem, which was created in 2004. Helem is an NGO “dedicated to the protection and empowerment of LGBTQ individuals in Lebanon, bringing together advocacy and community services towards liberation from all types of legal, social and cultural discrimination”(Merabet 123). Helem offers free psychological counseling, conducts health awareness campaigns, provides free HIV testing and has active community centers (Merabet 123). Helem tries to provide an alternative for people coming out in Lebanon rather than the nightlife that most believe comprises Beirut’s gay scene. Helem prides itself on providing an easy-going and intellectual atmosphere and tries to be as inclusive as possible with its membership and activism (125). Many of Helem’s activism efforts mimic Western efforts of visibility for social change. This segment of Beirut society looks up to a “liberal tradition” or “Western tradition”(Chakire 2008:31).

Often when arrested, detainees are asked if they are members of or associated with Helem, as was the case in the 2005 raid at a nightclub called Acid. This poses the question whether the raid was on gay life in Beirut or on Helem and its visibility efforts (Charike 2008:33). As a result, many members of Beirut’s gay community reject Helem because of its tendency to create an aura of conspicuousness and due to its strategy, which is appropriated from Western gay-identity rights movements (Chakire 2008:44).

There is a widespread belief in Lebanon that “homosexuality is the negation of masculinity”(Merabet 126). Because heterosexuality is so institutionalized, the result is often a masculine identity that is hypermasculine. Lebanese society mirrors the ideo of “hegemonic masculinity” in...
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