A couple of weeks ago, a fellow tweep tweeted about how her friend who was visiting Lebanon from France was discriminated against because he “looked gay”. I contacted her and asked her if he would be interested in writing about his bad experience.
Check out his story below, called: On Beirut, its Prejudice and Being an Outlaw
Thank you Matthieu (an alias) for writing this. And Thank you D.M. for translating it and for contacting your friend about writing this! Appreciate it, girl. =)
On Beirut, its Prejudice and Being an Outlaw
I am no stranger to Beirut. I have spent many summers in the city visiting family and friends and this past summer was no exception… apart from this time, where I was left with wounded memories. It was during one hot summer day in Beirut that my entire outlook on this city changed and I share my story in hopes that someone out there reads my account and conjures up social change.
A Frenchman by name and heritage with a Lebanese mother, I am naturally mistaken for a pure white man, thanks to my height, fair-skinned features and long blond hair. I came to Lebanon that summer to visit my Lebanese family and continued to acquaint myself with the language that I can fairly understand and speak, albeit the linguistic intricacies that I constantly come across.
On this particular day, I went out with my cousin and decided to take a stroll to Downtown Beirut. This area never ceases to amaze me with its novelty and consistent change every time I visit. My cousin, eager to show me around some more landmarks of this grand city, suggested we take a break and have some ice cream in one of the convenient shops of Downtown. During a previous visit to a friend’s place in a “less affluent” area – and given the hot weather – I asked one of the Ethiopian women in the area to braid my hair. Little did I know that this move will provoke prejudice and be the result of my frustration.
As we sat down to enjoy our ice cream in a café overlooking the Martyr Square (which reminded me a lot of home), a police officer (a darak) passed by our table and shot me demoralizing stare and walked off. My cousin turned to me and shook his head in disbelief. We did notice that several onlookers would often stare incessantly or whisper to their friends about us. I was the “white guy with black people’s hair”, afterall. 10 minutes later, this darak (I would have preferred to use another term at this point) came back, stood behind us and in English asked me if I was ‘Ajnabeh’. I said no and told him I was French but proceeded to ask him why he wanted to know.
He replied in Arabic and I wish I could have understood what he said. In retrospect, I think it was due to my heart beating so quickly out of fear that I may have committed some crime by either sitting in public, having dessert, sitting with my cousin… After shaking off this fear, I asked him in English what is the problem and he told me that the style of my hair made me look “gay”!
I then remembered a conversation I had with some friends the other night when they told me about the recent scandals against the homosexual community in Lebanon and how some were arrested for being “gay”.
At this point, I could no longer feel my heart beat, my body or my legs.
The darak then proceeded to tell us that normally, “gay” people would be fined (excuse me!?) 500,000LBP for being out in public (my heartfelt sympathy goes out to the lost legacy of this country and those individuals that suffer from this backwards bigotry), but, because I am French, he will let us go and told us to leave now before further interrogations ensue.
That’s exactly what we did. We walked quickly to the nearest exit out of the Downtown area, while avoiding any potential dangers of other hateful daraks and the infamous ‘hajiz’.
I was beyond disgusted by the way I was spoken to, treated and asked to leave. I am French and where I am from, they drill us, from the time that we’re born, about the importance of understanding History because our liberty is the result of all the events of our past which has granted us with the freedom of expression, the right to exist, freedom of speech and freedom to live. I think it’s been over 15 years that anyone has had any say in the way I speak, act, dress or style my hair and my first experience in feeling my rights being infringed made me feel stripped of my identity.
When I arrived home, I was feeling very down and upset about how the day panned out and tried to think of the best solution to tackle this horrible problem. At some point, I even said to myself that this isn’t my problem and that I should just pack up and leave because I shouldn’t feel obligated to have to dress or look a certain way to please this society.
Instead, I decided to take action. I wrote an email to the relevant authorities representing foreigners in the country and composed a long and detailed letter to the French Consulate in Lebanon and the Ambassador of France in Lebanon asking for action to be taken against this prejudice and chauvinism, especially given that I am half-Lebanese and demand for my rights, as a French-Lebanese, to be treated with equal dignity and respect. Unfortunately, no one cared to regard my plea with any importance and received no reply for the remaining week I spent in Lebanon.
The day before my departure, I went to the beach with my (Lebanese) family and, with my braids still perfectly in place, we had approached a Hajiz. This time, I battled my fear and looked at the army officers in full confidence. They let us pass without any hesitation and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Looking back, I think I had come across a homophobic racist officer who felt it was his duty to dust off any European tourists that did not fit the part of an ‘ideal’ Eastern society. This was also during the Ramadan period and so I feel this was also in response to preserve a conservative image of the city where several Gulf nationals and rich Arabs visit and spend their ‘petrodollars’.
I may have been victim of a homophobic and racist interrogation that compromised my stay in my mother’s native land and I may have an advantage over many Lebanese because I do not live here and do not have to face this discrimination, but it pains me to know that this is still an on-going issue in what used to be known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East”. This hate and revulsion towards homosexuals and other ethnicities is a regression in the evolution of Lebanese society. No one should feel the need to have their identity kept in the dark because of laws that prohibit misconceived apprehension of them.
Humanity is not illegal and neither is one’s sexual and racial profile.
Written by Matthieu Dupuis