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Penal Codes, Sexual Practices and Sexual Health in Lebanon

November 24, 2010

For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.

Joe Hammoud

Joe Hammoud

"All sexual intercourses contradicting to nature are punished from 3 months up to 1 year, additionally to a penalty between 200 and 1,000,000 Lebanese Liras."

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code was introduced during the French colonial era. The presence of this article affects marginalized groups, as well as MARPs (most-at-risk populations) -- specifically men who have sex with men -- not only on the legal level but on the social, sexual and reproductive health levels as well. And what is "nature"? No one seems to know!

Lebanon, based on its colonial tradition, has inherited and retained French colonial law which criminalizes homosexuality. These laws are used to reinforce socio-cultural morals and ethics of the colonists; they are further used to protect the "shape of the core entity of society," which is the nuclear family, diminishing all the other forms of family. The effects of these laws have led to the persecution of hundreds of people accused of homosexuality, who have faced death, banishment, prison, torture and, castration.


Moreover, Lebanese laws based on public morality are applied oppressively only to non-heterosexual persons and actions; -- using offensive words like shazz (deviant) or luti (descendant of Lot the prophet) instead of terms of sexuality like "homosexual," which would give a scientific nature to the "accusation," and decreases its ethical and moral credibility to the public.

In some cases, article 534 expands to wider ranges of human rights abuses -- such as the threat to one's privacy and personal freedoms. There is also the application of this law by agents acting on behalf of the state, where homosexuals are subjected to arbitrary anal examination, harassment and public humiliation. Additionally, it violates many Human Rights Declarations that Lebanon had signed onto, along with the right to exist that is in the introduction to the Lebanese Constitution. These declarations include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (contradicting articles 1, 2 and 18) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 2, 5, 10, 12). Application of this practice has been justified by the Ministries of Health and Ministry of Justice (in some cases, for the latter) as unnecessary.

One of the most important consequences of this law targets the sexual and reproductive health of marginalized groups, like LGBTQs (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual and queer) and MSM (men who have sex with men), and in some cases women who are sexually active outside the boundaries of marriage.

Article 534, with the stigma and institutionalized homophobia/transphobia that it creates against small communities, plays a negative role in why people, non-heterosexuals, do not have easy access to clinical sexual health services. In some medical cases (STIs for example), one has to disclose their sexual practices as part of the pre- and post-test counseling procedure. Yet individuals from these populations would rather not do so to avoid stigma and prejudgment, keeping in mind that they cannot seek legal protection and justice -- which leads them to avoid going to sexual health services and the unwanted exposure and breached privacy they promise, particularly in a small country like Lebanon.

The presence of this article enforces this subliminal ban on certain populations' access to free and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. These cases can be even more severe in conservative and rural areas outside Beirut, the capital, because of differences in lifestyles, development, mentality ...

Hypothetical research states that lesbians are at higher risk for breast cancer than are heterosexual women due to higher rates of risk factors like alcohol and substance abuse, obesity and nulliparity (not giving birth to children). Among gay men, high rates of Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) were some of the first illustrated indicators of AIDS. Adolescents and young people are the single most likely group to contract an STI. Other studies show that adolescent MSMs show noticeably higher rates of unprotected receptive anal sex with highly associated exposure to HIV. This may be due to the fear or stigma of accessing condoms (and other contraceptives and risk-reduction methods) for safer sexual intercourse, especially with someone of the same sex.

The presence of article 534 plays a vital role in putting the MARPs at even higher risk. On the constitutional level, the abovementioned populations, specifically MSMs, tend to hold back their need of access to comprehensive and nonjudgmental sexual and reproductive health services and clinical care, as a means not to be stigmatized or reported to authorities, or becoming well known via word of mouth -- leading to further consequences like persecution, marginalization, and violations of their social and economic rights supported by the absence of legal protection.

This all goes back to the major reasons why this article exists. Laws are not formed to monitor and punish people on their personal lives and what they do, or have the intention of doing, with their bodies. The point of having laws is not to have a punishment, but to have protection. The intervention of the government and police force in a person's private life and liberties does not put society as a whole, or individual people, on a better level of protection. It violates the rights of each person abiding by this constitution -- even if the matter is not linked to homosexuality.

It is also ironic that the developed countries who introduced these laws into their previous colonies are the same ones who are using LGBTQ rights as a political agenda promoting stereotypical patterns of regression and aggressiveness on the people of developing countries. Yet this had only been the last 200 years of our history; look back before that in the literature and culture of these populations, when sex and sexuality were not taboos.

Joe began his activism at the age of 16. He has been involved in campaigns and advocacy ranging from poverty reduction to sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Most recently he's become involved in the global fight against HIV/AIDS from the perspective of sexual and reproductive health and rights on the international level. Joe makes his home in Beirut, Lebanon.

This article was provided by TheBody.

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