Gays in Lebanon More Outspoken About AIDS, Rights... and Partying
The persistent belief that AIDS is primarily a "gay disease" has long been part of the Western world’s discussion of the topic. But in Lebanon, where sexuality and AIDS are not discussed openly, the association of HIV with homosexuality is a recent one, and is being touted by the country’s religions, according to a Lebanese newspaper.
An Aug. 10 article in Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star quoted GLBT equality activist Georges Azzi, who said, "The stereotype that AIDS is a ’gay disease’ is a stereotype of the West."
Added Azzi, who heads the GLBT equality group HELEM, "I didn’t have this idea that AIDS was a gay disease until I went to France," but now religious Web sites are pointing to gays as the demographic that is typically afflicted with the disease.
Public awareness about AIDS is increasing in Lebanon, and with it moere people are being tested. Before, the article said, more heterosexuals than homosexuals were being tested for AIDS by HELEM, which makes testing services available to all.
But as the stereotype of gays as the group primarily at risk takes hold, Azzi worries that gays will be discouraged from getting tested.
Already, efforts to stem the spread of HIV have been made more difficult because the police view possession of a condom as evidence of illicit sexual practices, the article said.
The article noted that Lebanses law criminalizes "sexual acts against nature"--heterosexual nature, that is, with consensual sexual intimacy between adults of the same gender being legally banned.
Of course, that doesn’t stop men who have sex with men (MSMs) from carrying on with the practice, but it might mean that fewer people will be willing to undergo testing to find out their HIV status.
Recent testing statistics show that just over half of those found to be HIV+ in 2007 identified as straight, with slightly more than one-quarter of new HIV cases identifying as gay.
This year, however, 40% of new HIV cases involved heterosexuals, with gays making up 34%.
The article said that Azzi thought increased testing accounted for the demographic shift in testing results, proving the importance of stopping stigma from being attached to testing.
A growing public awareness of HIV and of gay issues, at least in Beirut, where HELEM is based, might also be due to Beirut’s comparative acceptance of gays.
Indeed, an Aug. 9 travel article in The New York Times refers to Beirut as the "Provincetown of the Middle East," where gays congregate not only from around Lebanon, but also from other Arabic nations and even from Western countries, including the United States.
To be sure, the article said that security guards even in gay clubs might break up any displays that are too sexual, but even so gay Arabic men say Beirut is a center for companionship, maybe even romance.
A gay Syrian man identified only as Asu was quoted in the article as saying, "I thought I would meet other gay men at university in Syria, but it didn’t happen, and then I thought as an adult man living in Damascus that it would happen, but it hasn’t."
Added Asu, "I’m 35 years old. I feel very lonely at home. There’s only the Internet for me, to e-mail with other gay men.
"The Internet, and Beirut," Asu continued. "I try to come here every year now, because it is a relief."