From Lebanon, in a Hurry

The brave new book Bareed Mista3Jil (a Lebanese Arabic phrase that means "Express Mail") documents queer women's stories for the Arab world.

BY Amita Parashar

July 07 2009 11:00 PM ET

Bareed Mista3Jil POSTER XLRG | ADVOCATE.COM

Moawad, who lives in Beirut and works for Lebanon's Feminist Collective, says that the LGBT community often mistakenly uses a "take it or leave it" approach to gain acceptance. Activists expect society to automatically celebrate members of their community, but the effort lies on both sides, she says. "We should also put our stories out there so people can see our perspectives."

The book's introduction argues against the view in many Eastern countries that homosexuality is a modern Western construct (in 2007, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously quipped that his country has no gay people). Fluid sexuality was widely accepted in the Arab world before colonization, as evidenced by celebrated poet Abu Nuwas, who wrote erotic celebrations of male sexual desire.

Despite Lebanon's ancient history, more recent times have not been so kind to LGBT people. Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code currently bans "unnatural sexual intercourse," punishable by imprisonment. Still, Lebanon enjoys a higher degree of free speech than its Middle Eastern neighbors, allowing its citizens to organize around LGBT rights through networks like Meem and Helem, a more visible activism group working to repeal Article 534.

As homophobic as Lebanese society can be, though, Moawad says, "it really needs and wants to listen to these stories."

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