Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Helem board member and fundraiser Shadi Ghrawi: “It is a great honour to be selected. We hope it will help advance the struggle for human rights for LGBTI people in Lebanon, and throughout the Middle East.”
photo courtesy IGLHRC

NEW YORK, January 23, 2009 – Helem, the first organisation in the Arab world to set up a gay and lesbian community centre, has won this year’s Felipa de Souza Award, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) announced today.

Based in Beirut, Lebanon, Helem was founded in 2004.

“Helem works in very challenging circumstances to make a very real difference to the lives of countless LGBTI people in the Middle East and beyond,” IGLHRC executive director Paula Ettlebrick said this afternoon.

“We applaud their courage and commitment to human rights for all.”

The organisation’s work is multifaceted, ranging from advocacy to public education.

A major focus of its human rights advocacy work revolves around eradicating Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which is used to criminalise homosexuality; another advocacy focus addresses HIV/AIDS.

Its community centre has consistently offered the local LGBTI community a wide range of services ranging from HIV testing and counselling to workshops and publications about how to respond to harassment and arbitrary arrest.

“We are very proud to accept the Felipa Award from IGLHRC,” said Shadi Ghrawi, Helem board member and fundraiser.

“It is a great honour to be selected. We hope it will help advance the struggle for human rights for LGBTI people in Lebanon, and throughout the Middle East.”

The Felipa Award embodies the spirit of Felipa de Souza, who endured persecution and brutality after proudly declaring her intimacy with a woman during a 16th Century inquisition trial in Brazil.

Nominations for the award are solicited each year from activists around the world. Nominees go through a rigorous review by the staff, board and the International Advisory Committee of IGLHRC. This year IGLHRC received 23 nominations, and Helem was ultimately selected from a group of five, highly competitive finalists.

Previous Felipa Award winners include: Andrés Ignacio Rivera Duarte; the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO); the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) of Nepal; Rauda Morcos, founder of ASWAT (Voices) the first group for Palestinian lesbians; Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), the first organization to push for the human rights of LGBT people in Zimbabwean society and to provide counseling services and HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns; Simon Tseko Nikoli, the famed LGBT/HIV activist from South Africa; Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, whose leader Brian Williamson was murdered in 2004; Lohana Berkins, a globally recognized transgender activist from Argentina; and Maher Sabry, the Egyptian activist who notified IGLHRC of the arrests of the Cairo 52, a group of 52 men who were arrested by the Egyptian police at a Cairo gay nightclub in 2001.

The Felipa Award will be presented to Helem as part of IGLHRC's A Celebration of Courage gala event on March 30, 2008 in New York and on April 2, 2008 in San Francisco.

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