This is an important blog. It’s written from the heart, by a generous-spirited young man surviving in Beirut, Lebanon, whom we have come to know through a New Canadian now living with us. He is part of an LGBT community that is forced to remain largely ‘underground’ because their gender orientations lead regularly to arrest, detention, harsh treatment, beatings. Iyan is a natural leader, wanting to make public his knowledge of what he and his friends contend with, and working continually to assist them in getting to safety. He lives among those he works to help. Several Canadian friends have connected with him and applied to sponsor his coming to Canada. It’s a long process. We’re hopeful. RGS
Voices of the Rainbow, from Beirut, Lebanon
A friend of mine—a trans woman—got stopped recently by police and was treated very badly. They pulled her by her hair into a car, and detained her for three days. Someone tried to rape her, and someone else took a video of her. She wasn’t allowed to eat or drink and had to beg to go to the bathroom. LGBT advocates tried to see her but no one was allowed in. Luckily her refugee application was already with the Canadian embassy—it was the reason they released her. The Canadian embassy then worked on speeding up the resettlement process, and my friend left within a few days.
Her story is the story of a community of LGBT refugees from all over the world living in Lebanon. I’m a member of this community and decided to write about it.
We gather wherever we feel safe. Most of us don’t have families anymore, because they kicked us out or because we ran away from them or from other threats. Now we’re left to depend on ourselves in a country and a community that does not accept us.
Not a month goes by where everyone is safe. Being LGBT is criminalized here, and even though the United Nations recognizes most of us as refugees, we are considered illegal. This makes everything dangerous. There are no laws to protect us—we can’t go to a police station and complain if someone beats us up, kicks us out of our home, refuses to hire us, rapes us, or threatens us. We get sent to jail for being who we are.
There are no shelters for LGBT people in Lebanon, and most of us can’t afford rent because no one will hire people like us. Even if we can afford it, landlords refuse to rent to trans people or anyone whose sexual orientation shows in the way they move, talk, or dress.
Being hungry and homeless leads many of us to sex work, where there is more abuse. We get used, beaten up, and often go unpaid, but still there’s no choice but to go back down the same road just to have a place to sleep, even if it’s only for one day—just to be given food, even if it’s only a slice of something. Friends often reach out to me in the middle of the night after being used and thrown in the street. They use WhatsApp because they can’t afford to call, and I try to reach out to any advocates I can through assistance hotlines. It becomes harder on me when I also can’t afford to make a phone call.
Some organizations arrange activities for LGBT people. They give money for transportation, so I’ve often walked to their offices and saved that money for food. Sometimes they bring us simple things like cake and juice which feel like heaven for someone who hasn’t eaten anything in a full day or more. A friend of mine used to shower at one organization, and another sleeps there because he is homeless. Away from these organizations, we are not very loved. People stare or laugh at us—or worse, attack us. We’re not respected.
Most of us are still young, and it’s such a waste to lose these precious years living like this, not getting our education. Education is something that was taken away from us. After I finished high school my family didn’t allow me to complete studying because they were afraid their reputation would be ruined if they let me out. I was locked at home for one year. I try to make up for lost time by joining any free courses the aid organizations offer, but not all of them are for LGBT people. One of my friends couldn’t attend a course because she was told that the other students wouldn’t be accepting—she would be called by a male name during the class, the very name she’s trying so hard to forget. This means we have a generation of LGBTs who are not educated enough to know how to raise their voices. They were never taught the basic things every loving family teaches their kids. Instead, they’ve been thrown into dark places, where they learn bad behaviors and attitudes. The Lebanese community in turn sees these individuals negatively, not realizing that they helped create these circumstances in the first place. It becomes one more reason on the list of reasons to reject and hurt LGBT people.
We’re all seeking a place where we can enjoy our most basic human rights: safety, health, education, and work. How can we do anything else? We have no choice but to look for a new home—where we’re not wanted dead by the family that’s supposed to love us, the community that’s supposed to support us, or the government that should provide protection over jail, abuse, or death.