“It really felt like they wanted to just distract the masses from everything going on and focus on this hot topic,” Nour, who asked to use a pseudonym because he has not come out to family, told AP.
Security forces have since cracked down on several events catered to the LGBT community, forcing their organisers to eventually shut them down. They also visited the offices of Helem, the country’s first registered LGBT advocacy group, asking for their registration papers and other documents.
The move followed loud complaints from religious officials who publicly described them as ungodly and said they were not in line with Lebanese customs.
In a statement on Jun 24, the Interior Ministry said that LGBT-friendly events “violate our society’s customs and traditions, and contradict with the principles of the Abrahamic religions”.
Helem’s Executive Director Tarek Zeidan blasted the statement, saying it “pits Lebanese people against each other”.
“It was very clear that it was a deliberate decision to manufacture moral panic in order to divert attention from the general political and economic disaster that is Lebanon today,” Zeidan said.
Lebanon since late 2019 has been reeling from a crippling economic crisis that the World Bank says is among the world’s worst since the mid-1800. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 per cent of its value against the dollar, while much of the population has struggled to cope with soaring diesel fuel, gasoline, medicine and food prices.
Citizens and experts blame decades of financial mismanagement and corruption at the hands of Lebanon’s entrenched ruling elite for the crisis.
Human rights organisations say the recent setback for the LGBT community is part of a broader clampdown on civil rights and freedoms, coupled with the economic crisis.
In May, religious clerics were up in arms after recently elected lawmakers and advocacy groups promoted civil marriage and state-mandated personal status laws independent from religious courts.
Last month, comedian and rights activist Shaden Fakih stood before the Military Court, accused of harming the reputation and insulting the country’s Internal Security Forces in a prank call during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown, in which she asked for permission to leave the house in order to buy sanitary pads.
And earlier this month, the Lebanese government announced that it has been in talks with Syria over a forced refugee returns plan for over a million Syrians in the country.
Some activists and human rights advocates say Lebanese authorities are trying to find scapegoats, as they stall probes linked to a host of financial crimes, the 2020 Beirut port explosion and soaring cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“The state seems either completely unwilling or unable to crack down on violations of grave rights like corruption, torture, hate speech, but on the flip side acts very quickly under pressure from religious and other powerful institutions in the country to crack down on the rights of marginalised groups,” Aya Majzoub, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AP.
In some cases, residents have responded to religious leaders by taking matters into their own hands.