Amid the turmoil of Syria’s civil war, LGBTQ+ individuals have faced intensified persecution and violence, both from state and non-state actors. Syria, a mainly conservative society, criminalizes same-sex relationships, leading to imprisonment for those who dare to be open about their sexuality. As the conflict raged on, the surveillance, entrapment, and public exposure of LGBTQ+ individuals escalated, with reports of torture and rape by armed groups.
Mahmoud, a 23-year-old gay man, shared his harrowing experience of fleeing Syria after his father violently rejected his sexual orientation. In Lebanon, which once held a gay Pride week and was considered a sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community in the Middle East, attitudes have hardened. Recent incidents, such as a drag show disrupted by homophobic chants, highlight the worsening state of LGBTQ+ rights in the country.
Homosexuality is not expressly outlawed in Lebanon, but vague laws have been used to prosecute LGBTQ+ individuals. Syrian refugees, particularly transgender women, face the most discrimination and violence. Despite a thriving LGBTQ+ club scene in Beirut, LGBTQ+ Syrians like Osama struggle to live openly, facing ridicule and slurs. Going back to Syria is not an option, as many receive death threats from their families.
Helem, the first LGBTQ+ group in the Arab world, reported numerous cases of violence and harassment against LGBTQ+ Syrians. Some activists blame politicians for inciting homophobia to divert attention from the government’s negligence. The influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah further complicates the situation, with its leaders condemning LGBTQ+ individuals and even advocating for their killing.
While there are efforts to decriminalize same-sex relationships in Lebanon, there are also bills being introduced to further punish LGBTQ+ individuals and those who support them. LGBTQ+ refugees from Syria find themselves caught in a web of rising hostility, struggling to find safety and acceptance in a country that was once seen as a beacon of hope.
As the plight of LGBTQ+ refugees in Lebanon continues to worsen, the international community must address the urgent need for protection and support for these vulnerable individuals, who have already endured so much in their pursuit of freedom and acceptance.