HRC Global Innovator Discusses Recent Lebanon Court Ruling and LGBTQ Progress Across the Region

by HRC Staff

A Lebanese Court of Appeals recently issued a landmark ruling for LGBTQ rights in the country declaring that Article 534 of the country’s penal code does not permit punishment for same-sex relations.

Post submitted by former Senior International Policy Advocate Jeremy Kadden

On July 12, a Lebanese Court of Appeals issued a landmark ruling for LGBTQ rights in the country declaring that Article 534 of the country’s penal code does not permit punishment for same-sex relations.

HRC spoke with Tarek Zeidan to learn more about the case and what it means for the LGBTQ community in Lebanon and across the region.

Zeidan is the chairman of the board of Helem, the first LGBTQ rights organization in the Arab world founded in 2004. Zeidan was also part of the inaugural class of HRC’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit in 2016.

What did the recent court decision do?

The court decision on July 12 ushered in an important milestone for the LGBTQ movement in Lebanon. The ruling stated that same-sex relations are not punishable under Article 534 of the country’s penal code, which prohibits “sexual acts against the order of nature.” What sets apart this ruling -- the fifth of its kind -- is that it is the first ever issued by the Lebanese Court of Appeals, reaffirming the decision taken by a previous judge in January 2017.

What does this mean for LGBTQ people in Lebanon?

The ruling has galvanized the LGBTQ community in Lebanon and has proven that continued public education, outreach to lawyers and judges, and the provision of legal services to victims have begun to bear fruit. The decision is unprecedented in the history of the Lebanese court and is expected to influence subsequent rulings by judges facing similar cases. The ruling could also potentially decrease the number of individuals prosecuted by this article, thereby discouraging its application on LGBTQ people during arrests and detention.

What could this mean for the broader Middle East LGBTQ community?

LGBTQ communities across the region are fighting identical laws to Article 534 -- all of which are the products of French and British colonial legacy. The Lebanese court decision has come after decades of hard work by dedicated civil rights lawyers who not only successfully argued this case but also developed the Lebanese model defense for cases involving Article 534 and other laws that violate the human rights of queer people. The court decision has been dissected, analyzed and disseminated to other organizations and legal teams working on similar cases in much of the region and North Africa.  

In light of this court decision, what are the next steps for the LGBTQ community?

Despite the good news, sustainable legislative reform and other improvements in the civil, economic and social rights of the Lebanese LGBTQ community will require more grassroots mobilization and organization. Recently, there have been unprecedented attacks on the community by several religious authorities including the Catholic Church and the Council of Islamic Scholars who closed down a IDAHOTB celebration in May 2017 and Beirut Pride celebration in May 2018. For us fighting for equality and justice on the ground, the outlines of the future have begun to take shape.