Queer communities at huge risk in Lebanon, Oxfam warns

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Lebanon’s queer communities have few safe spaces left and have been among the hardest hit by the combined impacts of the 2020 Beirut blast, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing economic crisis, according to Oxfam research published today. The combination of crises has destroyed entire neighbourhoods where queer people had found refuge over the last decade.

The report, Queer Community in Crisis: Trauma, Inequality & Vulnerability, is one of the first studies conducted in Lebanon to understand the impact of the multi-layered crises facing the LGBTQIA+ community and their unique needs. Oxfam interviewed 101 individuals, civil society organisations and informal aid groups, an urban planner, and business owners in the areas affected by the blast.

The research found 70 per cent of those surveyed lost jobs in the past year, compared to an unemployment rate of 40 per cent among the total workforce. Almost half said they had relied on family support and humanitarian aid to make ends meet.

The LGBTQIA+ community in Lebanon is facing a housing crisis: 41 per cent of LGBTQIA+ individuals cannot pay their rent, and 58 per cent reported that their homes were damaged in the blast: 35 per cent were forced to relocate or change their living arrangements, 39 per cent do not have a safe living space, and a further 11 per cent had been forced back with their families where many said they faced abusive, unsafe or unaccepting environments. Others were forced to move to overcrowded houses where they faced physical and mental health problems from Coronavirus.

Overall, nearly 73 per cent of survey respondents said that their mental health has worsened to a large extent due to the three-layered crisis.

Nizar Aouad, Oxfam in Lebanon’s Gender Advisor, warned the Beirut blast and the subsequent reconstruction efforts could have devasting structural and cultural repercussions for the queer community.

He said: “The blast has been the final straw for LGBTQIA+ people in Beirut. It destroyed whatever safe spaces were left in the city. The city’s reconstruction efforts will likely lead to gentrification, making the areas unaffordable to its current residents.

“Swathes of neighbourhoods are set to become less accessible to queer individuals because of high rent and the destruction of already limited public spaces and venues that catered for them. We fear the loss of cultural diversity in Beirut.”

The discrimination and lack of social acceptance that queer people, especially transgender people, face in Lebanon correlate with fewer opportunities for them to make a living. Trans people who face systemic and longstanding barriers to formal education and employment are often forced to work in low-income jobs in the informal sector. Many of them are forced into sex work to make ends meet. During the pandemic, many informal businesses struggled to survive and demand for sex work services sharply decreased, making an already dire situation even worse.

One interviewee noted: “We don’t have safe spaces to exist. We are stifled from all angles. We can’t go out, we can’t work, and we can’t receive proper support”.

Queer refugees, who have been struggling for years under legal restrictions that bar them from the formal job market and limit their mobility, also found in this crisis another burden.

The research shows a huge and pressing need to rebuild queer friendly spaces and create new ones in Beirut. However the government of Lebanon has shown little interest doing so.

Oxfam is calling on the government to prioritize the reconstruction of safe spaces for the queer community and offer basic assistance, including cash, shelter, and access to services, to those who are not included in current aid projects. It is also urging Lebanese authorities to decriminalize homosexuality and ensure all members of the community have equal rights.

Aouad said: “Queer people in Lebanon are systematically discriminated against and have been denied equal access to general healthcare and mental healthcare services for far too long. There must be a focus on the impact of the current crises on their mental and physical wellbeing, so that their opportunities to recover are equal to their cis-hetero counterparts.”


Notes to editors:

  • 75% of survey respondents said that their mental health was negatively impacted to a large extent due to the three-layered crisis.
  • 62% respondents reported increased exposure to violence in their current houses.
  • 48% reported inability to access support systems.
  • 39% reported not being able to access safe spaces.
  • 46% reported great difficulties accessing general healthcare services.

On August 4, 2020, Lebanon was ravaged by a disastrous blast in Beirut’s port, resulting in over 200 deaths and 6500 injuries, and causing massive destruction over a 10 kilometers radius from the explosion site. The areas most severely affected by the Beirut Blast, particularly the neighborhoods of Mar Mikhael, Gemmayze, and Achrafieh, were known for their reputation as the most queer-friendly neighborhoods in Beirut.

Oxfam has used the word queer to refer to the LGBTQIA+ communities in Lebanon because that is how the communities refer to themselves. This word has been reclaimed by the LGBTQIA+ community as a positive form of self-identification however it is important to recognize that it has been used in the past as a perjorative term.

Lebanon is facing its most precarious economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990. Since 2019, the Lebanese Lira has devalued by more than 85 percent and unemployment has reached a record high, leading to economic recession, high inflation, leading to , devastating social conditions.

Oxfam has been working in Lebanon since 1993. We provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people affected by conflict, and we promote economic development, promotion of good governance at a local and national level, and women’s rights through our work with our partners. Oxfam also works with local partners to contribute to the protection and empowerment of marginalized women and men. Oxfam in Lebanon works on active citizenship and good governance, economic justice and humanitarian programmes.

To respond to the impact of the blast Oxfam is working with 11 partners to deliver emergency support including distribution of food parcels and the provision of emergency and temporary cash assistance, household rehabilitation, legal assistance and consultation, psycho-social support and medication. The services are provided to families and individuals in the affected areas including women, girls, LGBTQIA+ community members, people with disabilities and migrant workers.

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