Opinion | Penal Code 1943, Article 534, at the heart of the uprising, by Ibrahim A, Lebanon

In 1943, Lebanon gained its independence from the French. Originally enacted by French colonizers, article 534 was put while drafting the new Lebanese constitution, stating that any ‘sexual intercourse against nature’ is a crime under the sovereignty of the Lebanese government, with a penalty of up to one-year imprisonment. Such a vague law with no clear definition of what lies within our perception of nature has been implemented ever since.
In 2011 and under the pressure of religious entities, the Lebanese government rejected recommendations to decriminalize consensual homosexual conduct. Although the US Department of State Human Rights Report had indicated that according to local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), few criminal prosecutions were carried out until 2013, the Lebanese Psychiatric Society released a strong statement denying assumptions that homosexuality arises from psychological disturbances. Nevertheless, no governmental policy was altered. Throughout 2014, policemen had been tracking gay men down, asking them to attend the police station and interrogating them with false accusations. The local NGO Helem condemned the arrest of 27 men that year over allegations pertaining to their sexual orientation. 
Later that year, a first happened in court where a judged had dismissed a claim concerning a transgender woman accused of having same-sex sexual relations with a man. Although such instances have been taking place since 2009, Lebanon is a civil law system not based on precedents and therefore negative judgements can still arise while the criminalizing legislation endures. Over the few following years and due to societal and official discrimination against the LGBTQ community, a lack of discrimination reporting arose from the fear of further discrimination. In 2017, Lebanon hosted its first pride celebration, the first of all Arab countries, despite numerous threats of violence. Beirut’s bars and exhibition centres buzzed with around 4,000 people attending concerts, talks and performances despite the persisting criminalizing law. Following pride celebrations as well as exhibitions and concerts by the LGBTQ community were shut down claiming that they offend public decency and other unjustified grounds. In the latest Lebanese elections, decriminalizing homosexual acts became the mainstay of several political parties running for election claiming that they will abrogate legal provisions that criminalize homosexuality if they gain majority after national elections. Well, they did not.  
In July 2018, a district court of appeal issued a groundbreaking decision, where it denounced the law’s discriminatory intrusion into people’s private lives, and declared that consensual sexual intercourse between people belonging to the same sex is not unlawful and in indeed natural. 
As people spontaneously rallied the streets of Beirut on the 17th of October, 2019 demanding their basic human rights and protesting against governmental corruption, denouncing sexism, discrimination and homophobia, their voices were echoed throughout the city. These chants reflected defiance of the Lebanese uprising and certainly shifted the fight toward LGBTQ rights. From these protests emerged a novel profound openness of thinking that would put an end to all forms of social exclusion. Protests have gathered people from all the different walks of life creating a unique space for dialogue. Through sit-ins and open discussions, protestors increasingly shared their aspirations of a discrimination-free Lebanon with mutual respect. Rainbow flags were seen everywhere in the Lebanese capital right next to revolutionary slogans. According to several activists, changing attitudes towards stigmatizing sexuality commenced before protests took place and then found a new platform to rise to the surface with the community being at the heart of the uprising. Protestors were accused by the government of using the streets to advocate for homosexuality. Such accusations aimed not only to tarnish the uprising but also to spread hatred against gay people. Protestors, on the other hand, did not shy away, they stood ever firmly assuring their right to freedom, and claiming their visibility.
The protests had proved their efficacy when the Lebanese prime minister declared his resignation. Nevertheless, not much changed since the new government took charge. Following the announcement of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent movement restrictions, new social media groups have emerged planning for a major comeback when the pandemic is over. Activists have formed new platforms in which they call for direct interventions on the policy and society levels once the revolution is reignited. As the economic situation has been successively reaching dead ends since the beginning of 2020, it is largely anticipated that even more people will raise their voices in the face of corruption. As members of the LGBTQ community, we look forward to whatever is coming. We have been making huge leaps towards a more just Lebanon and we are not moving back.

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