August 5, 2009
This is a rebuttal to the New York Times story about gay Beirut published Sunday August 2, 2009 entitled ‘Provincetown of the Middle East’.
Regarding Patrick Healy’s long story about Beirut being the Provincetown of the Middle East, I was impressed by the three-full-page spread in a travel section of only 12 pages. But I was not impressed by the misleading impression he offered of Beirut being a ‘gay oasis’.
True, there are some gay-friendly bars and discos scattered in and around the city where people can let their hair down but that is a far cry from the pervasive gay life that infuses Provincetown. Healy’s theme story is about a BearArabia party–half an hour drive from Beirut. But this verbal portrait is a distance from the truth.
“Inching out” is far more an apt description for Beirut than “Provincetown.” The majority of gays here only show at night and are not out to their families, and there certainly is no gay neighborhood. The popular Acid club is safely away from downtown. The original pre-war gay ‘community’ here was not from Lebanon but Europe from which people occasionally came for the beaches and winter relief.
The real story about gay Beirut is through the eyes and work of Helem rights organization (http://helem.net/node/126), which received scant mention in Healy’s story. Helem’s ‘invisible’ (non-partying) work is behind the scenes, contacting police, religious leaders, employers, even parents to resolve an endless stream of discrimination, abuse and rejection. “It’s a delicate process, given the deep-seated taboo in Arab countries,” Helem says. As well, Helem is an award-winning Human Rights organization whose activists struggle against oppression and ignorance in Lebanon. (For more, see Gay Lebanon News and Reports on this site: http://globalgayz.com/country/Lebanon/LBN)
This story also raises the controversial journalistic problem of publishing the names and locations of gay-friendly venues in an essentially unsafe culture. At a recent Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen (OutGames Conference: http://www.copenhagen2009.org/Conference/2nd_International_Conference.aspx) this issue was discussed by journalists (includingone from Helem) regarding responsible reporting of potentially dangerous subject material, especially homosexuality in the Muslim world.
This is not safe Provincetown, it is risky Beirut in essentially homophobic Lebanon.