These organizations are advocating for change in a system that finds no shame in homophobia.
“The minute the dermatologist heard he was gay, she was just certain he had HIV—despite him having safe sex with the same partner for the past eight months, nor receiving a blood transfusion or using IV drugs,” says Omar Fattal, a psychiatrist and co-founder of the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health, or LebMASH for short. He pauses and sighs with a look of disgust as he recounts the story of one of his close friends.
“A friend of mine told me about this time he had a skin infection in beard for a while,” Fattal says. “He went to see an infectious disease doctor, and told her that he was gay…and suddenly, she just said: I think you have HIV.”
Lebanon’s healthcare system has an abundance of problems; it lacks universal coverage, it favors those with expensive private insurance, and—like the rest of Lebanese institutions—succumbs to clientelism (treatment is heavily affected by political affiliation and socioeconomic status).
When it comes to Lebanon’s LGBTQ community, its increased organizing and activism towards a more inclusive, non-discriminatory health care system seldom makes headlines. Cases of people who rely on on Lebanon’s limited National Social Security Fund (only available for Lebanese nationals) dying on the doorsteps of hospitals are not uncommon either.
Following a meeting with The World Bank in Washington, DC, Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani confirmed that Lebanon will be receiving $150 million in loans and grants for its health care sector. While he has expressed interest in health care reform such as building more institutions and including mental health care on the NSSF via The World Bank, not much else is known about how or if any of that money will be allocated towards make health institutions inclusive and accessible for Lebanon’s LGBTQ community.
“Heterosexism is as bad as homophobia in clinical practice in the way it affects patients,” says LebMASH co-founder, and OGBYN Hasan Abdessamad. “In Lebanon it’s not a social taboo to be homophobic—not yet.” Heteronormativity, he says, is an implicit form of homophobia that makes way for more abuse and discrimination. He says that people who identify as transgender deal with this the most.
“Healthcare providers made loud remarks and giggles about the way a gender nonconforming individual looked and they mocked the name that person chose for themselves,” Abdessamad says while recalling instances of discrimination he witnessed in Lebanon.