When I think about LGBT rights in Lebanon, a swinging pendulum comes to mind. Slow progress met with backlash and arbitrary detention. A recent study showed that 81% of a representative Lebanese sample believed homosexuality was not normal. Nevertheless, LGBT activists stood fast in this environment and fought the institutional discrimination facing this community. LGBT health advocates even managed to stir up conversation on sexuality among their peers and the broader community.
Arguments rooted in public health principles supported many LGBT rights issues. Until 2012, forensic doctors performed anal tests, humiliating and torturous acts conducted on gay men and transgender women to ‘prove’ that they had anal intercourse. LGBT health activists successfully pressured the Lebanese Order of Physicians to ban them. As a consequence, the Order started investigating physicians who performed these tests and publically threatened to suspend their medical license.
The Lebanese experience proves that public health can be a tool used in fighting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But reflecting on these successes also highlights that health care disparities still persist in Lebanon and other countries where LGBT communities face stigmatization.