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International Day Against Homophobia event canceled
May 16, 2017
Author: Susannah Walden
Source: The Daily Star

An event to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was canceled Sunday due to security concerns and pressure from religious groups, organizers said. The director of Proud Lebanon, Bertho Makso, told The Daily Star the organization was forced to cancel after security concerns led the venue, the Monroe Hotel in Downtown Beirut, to terminate the reservation the afternoon before the event. “We received a call from one of the managers ... to tell us that they are obliged to cancel the reservation because of serious security threats,” Makso said.
Management at the hotel could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Makso said the hotel manager told him the authorities had informed the Monroe there would be demonstrations against the event, but added that he has not heard from the Internal Security Forces or any Lebanese officials concerning the matter.
 “They said, ‘No one would be able to provide you with security ... we are obliged to cancel,” Makso said.
Earlier in the day, Makso said Proud Lebanon heard that messages criticizing the event were circulating on Facebook. Religious group Hay’at Ulama al-Muslimin posted a statement to Facebook Saturday calling on government and security officials to step in to stop the event as it was a violation of religious law and the constitution, and to “not accept it as an issue of human rights.” The group could not be reached for further comment.
Makso said Proud Lebanon received dozens of phone calls from unknown sources after the cancelation, wanting to know if the event would be moved. He suspects these were from antagonists making sure an alternative venue was not being arranged. “We were a bit worried,” Makso said. Social media posts reportedly called for people to ring and complain about the event.
Proud’s event was set to include talks from rights groups as well as cultural figures, including Paula Yaacoubian, Diana Moqadel, Joumana Haddad and Chadi Risha. Well-known entertainer Maya Diab was due to be recognized for her actions in support of the LGBT community.
“We are Lebanese citizens and we are not doing something illegal, we’re just doing a cultural ... conference to reflect the diversity of the Lebanese society. ... The message was peaceful,” Makso said.
The cancelation was condemned by rights organizations. “It is a sad violation of the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression,” Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, told The Daily Star. “We regret and deplore the hotel’s decision to yield to the pressure, and condemn the lack of responsibility by the security forces who were supposed to protect organizations working within the boundaries of the law.”
Mhanna’s sentiment was echoed by Wadih al-Asmar, secretary-general of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights. “I was shocked and surprised that the Lebanese authorities [would] obey such a request [by religious groups to cancel the event]. I believe that’s a real threat on freedom of assembly and opinion,” he said.
Proud’s event to mark IDAHOT was also canceled last year, due to pressure from Christian authorities affiliated with the hired venue.
Makso said the group remains undeterred despite the incidents. “We believe in our cause: LGBT rights are human rights and we will never end the fight until we get equal rights.” Over 1,000 IDAHOT events take place globally on and around May 17, to celebrate sexual and gender diversity.