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Beirut's underground gay community congregates discreetly

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Gemayze has a vibrant night life. Photo: Kristen Gillespie

Worldfocus special correspondent Kristen Gillespie reported on the signature story “From streets to clubs, sexual attitudes shift in Lebanon.” Here, she writes about her experience reporting on the underground gay community from a small bar in Gemayze. 

It’s Friday night at a bar on a side street in Gemayze.

Two young women sitting at the end of the bar discreetly hold hands. The female DJ wears a T-shirt that reads, “My boyfriend is out of town.” Everyone in the bar is female. In the underground gay community, Friday nights at this particular bar is known to be ladies’ night. The gay scene in Beirut, says one woman while sipping her drink, “is big, but people aren’t open about it. You have to know where to go.”

The woman, 33, lives at home, but her parents don’t know that she is a lesbian. For now, they don’t have to. For younger people looking to date casually, it’s not difficult to meet people, have fun and stay in the closet.

But for homosexual couples looking to have a serious relationship — or children — the choice often boils down to staying in Lebanon and compromising, or moving abroad. I ask if it bothers her that she can’t be “out” with her partner. “What I want is to live with my partner and have a family. But realistically, I wouldn’t be able to have children and give them a good life here.” It upsets her that she would have to leave the country to do that. “We’re not there yet,” she says about Lebanon.

As it gets later, the music gets louder, the drinks keep coming and the narrow bar fills up. Another woman, 32 years old, sees me taking notes and comes over to chat. She echoes the sentiments of the first woman, emphasizing that she will remain in the closet. Her parents ”will never know” about her, even as they pressure her to get married. She is unsure how things will turn out for her.

The bar hosted at least a couple of dozen women that night, most of whom probably live at home with their parents. While Beirut is the most gay-friendly city in the Arab world, it is still a conservative society where gay couples are not socially accepted.

Homosexuals are at the beginning of a struggle for rights in Lebanon. It is one that will set an example for the rest of the Arab world.

- Kristen Gillespie

While Beirut is the most gay-friendly city in the Arab world, it is still a conservative atmosphere in which gay couples are not socially accepted. Worldfocus correspondent Kristen Gillespie writes about her experience reporting on the underground gay community from a small bar in Gemayze.

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