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Hard-line Christian group attacks queer-friendly bar in Lebanon

The LGBTQ community in Lebanon has faced increasing violence in recent weeks amid a rising wave of hate speech against them.
Lebanese protesters denounce violence the LGBTQI community and others in downtown Beirut, July 31, 2022.

BEIRUT — A group of hard-line Christian men who call themselves Jnoud al-Rab (Soldiers of God) attacked a queer-friendly bar in Beirut on Wednesday evening, amid a rising wave of hate speech against the LGBTQ community in Lebanon.

According to the local news outlet L'Orient Today, a drag show was under way in the Om Bar, in the capital's bustling Mar Mikhail neighborhood, when a group of men stormed in, hurling insults and trapping people inside.

“Jnoud al-Rab attacked the venue and held everyone hostage and refused to let people out. . . . It was a good hour, more than an hour,” Tarek Zeidan, executive director of the Beirut-based LGBT rights group Helem, told L’Orient Today.

Videos of the brawl went viral on social media. One attacker can be heard saying, “This is Satan’s place. It’s promoting homosexuality on the land of the lord. . . . This is forbidden. . . . This is only the beginning.”

The attack is the latest incident targeting Lebanon’s LGBTQ community amid increasing homophobic rhetoric. In an Aug. 1 report, Human Rights Watch documented a rise in attacks against the queer community after remarks by Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite Hezbollah movement.

On two occasions in July, Nasrallah incited violence against the LGBTQ community, telling followers that gay people “are to be killed” and calling homosexuality a “sexual perversion” and a “threat to society.”

Politicians have also escalated their attacks against the community. Earlier this week, Abbas Halabi, caretaker minister of education, banned the popular children’s game “Snakes and Ladders” from public schools because it includes the colors of the rainbow, a symbol of the LGBTQ movement.

Lebanon was once hailed as one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East, but in recent years its queer community has encountered increasing harassment and crackdowns. Authorities use Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code — criminalizing “sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” — to prosecute gay people.

The government has also banned several movies for content deemed queer-friendly. In June, it blocked cinema screenings of Sony’s new Marvel movie, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” due to a frame containing the transgender flag. Last summer, “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” an animated film, and Disney’s “Lightyear” were banned because of same-sex kissing scenes.

More recently, the release of the blockbuster film “Barbie” caused a weeks-long heated debate over whether to allow it to be shown in the country. Caretaker Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada had called for its ban, arguing that it promotes homosexuality and contradicts the values of the Lebanese people.

On Wednesday, however, Lebanese General Security, in charge of censorship and the inspection of films, decided to allow "Barbie" to be shown in local theaters. VOX Cinemas announced on its website that it premieres Aug. 31.

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