Lebanese group wants ban on homosexuality liftedHurriyyat Khassa seeks to abolish law which stipulates one-year jail sentence for sexual intercourse against nature.
A rights group has launched a campaign in Lebanon to overturn the country's ban on homosexuality, in the first publicity offensive of its kind to take place in the Arab world.
The group, Hurriyyat Khassa or Private Liberties, started the campaign with a screening at the American University in Beirut of the British movie "Victim" which helped change the law banning homosexuality in Britain in the 1960s.
Pointing to recognition for the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the constitution, Hurriyyat Khassa is seeking to abolish Article 534 of Lebanon's penal code which stipulates a one-year jail sentence for "sexual intercourse against nature".
The screening of "Victim" was followed by a heated debate between activists fighting for gay rights and others who believe homosexuality flies in the face of public morality and religious beliefs.
"We chose 'Victim' because this 1961 movie helped change the law in Britain," explained a member of Hurriyyat Khassa, who did not wish to be identified.
"It had the same impact for homosexuals that the film "In The Heat of the Night" had for the battle against racism in the United States," he said.
The movie recounts the story of a young homosexual who commits suicide to protect his lover from blackmail, a famous attorney whose role is played by the late British star Sir Dirk Bogarde.
At the risk of losing his reputation, the married attorney launches lawsuits against the blackmailers who had been targeting famous people down to the local hair-dresser.
Back then, Bogarde had himself taken the same risk by defending the rights of homosexuals in Britain, at a time when anti-homosexual attitudes were still strong.
The group has published a letter addressed to the Lebanese press syndicate to denounce the "insulting terms" with which the Lebanese and Arab media brand homosexuals.
It rebuked a journalist of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat for an article strongly condemning a same-sex marriage in France.
Hurriyyat Khassa has also criticised the Lebanese magazine Al-Muhayed for having denounced the presence of active homosexuals during a demonstration in Beirut in 2003.
Marching under a rainbow flag, a small group of men and women had taken part in a demonstration in Beirut to denounce the US-led military offensive against Iraq in 2003.
But for Helem, a non-governmental non-profit organization registered in the Canadian city of Quebec and lobbying for gay rights in Lebanon, the conditions for homosexuals in the country was still better than in other Arab states.
Helem said on its Internet site (www.helem.net) that a study made in 1999 showed that out of a sample of 650 Lebanese, about five percent said they were homosexuals.
The group, whose name is the Arabic acronym of 'Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders', said Article 534 was being used as pretext for blackmail.
"The first thing that a policeman attempts to obtain from a homosexual are confessions of sexual relations with politicians... and it is always the weak who are caught, as the rich and powerful (gays) always find ways for protection," it said.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International said homosexuals were severely punished in most Arab countries.
In 2002 in Saudi Arabia, some 44 people were condemned to jail terms for practicing homosexuality, including four who were sentenced to death and executed.