Home > LGBT - Tourism > Beirut hosts the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s (IGLTA) 2010 symposium

Beirut hosts the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s (IGLTA) 2010 symposium

Beirut, Lebanon – (Raynbow Media) – The International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association (IGLTA) symposium was held at the Bella Riva Hotel in Beirut on October 14th, 2010 to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) tourism as well as the LGBT situation in Lebanon. Raynbow, a Lebanese nonprofit group that raises funds to support the LGBT movement in Lebanon, was present through its Lebanese LGBT Media Monitor to report.

Four speakers were invited to the symposium. The first speaker was LebTour president and IGLTA ambassador in Lebanon, Bertho Makso, who spoke about LGBT tourism in Lebanon. He started by describing how he first got into the business when he used to show tourists around and, eventually, how this small service turned into LebTour. He held the first Lebanese and regional LGBT tour in 2006 up until it was interrupted by the July War. Mr. Makso insisted on the importance of showing the strong will of the Lebanese people, and how the Lebanese continue to live on in opposition to war when it strikes.

Mr. Makso also announced the launching of the “Hero of the Year” award. The first winner of this award was LGBT activist and one of the founders of the Lebanese NGO, Helem, Georges Azzi. Mr. Azzi thanked all other activists who helped him along the way and spoke about LGBT activism in Lebanon. He insisted on the importance of empowering LGBT individuals in order to improve their situation in their countries. He also considered the LGBT community a hard community to be integrated in and hoped for non-discrimination within the community itself. Finally, Mr. Azzi thanked heterosexual allies who helped the community through its struggles.

Representing IGLTA was its European Ambassador, Clark Massad, who congratulated the volunteers of LebTour who organized this trip without needing help from the international committee. Mr. Massad spoke about IGLTA’s goal in connecting businesses within the LGBT community, underlining its importance in increasing LGBT visibility since 1983. According to Massad, IGLTA has 2278 members (including businesses and establishments associated with it), which is leading to the unity of LGBT businesses as an entire market segment. Media-wise, IGLTA has an important role in encouraging LGBT consumers to know which companies are LGBT-friendly as it is associated with 200 Global Media outlets worldwide. Mr. Massad later showed some research that highlighted the importance of the power of LGBT tourism globally.

Helem Board Member, Anthony Rizk, was the third speaker and started by describing Helem’s work on all levels. Helem lobbies to remove Lebanese laws that incriminate homosexuals and transsexuals and also provides legal services and advising for those who need it. Mr. Rizk also described the Helem Community Center, which is considered a safe space for all LGBTQ’s (Q for Queer) and then talked about the Helem’s health services with outreach campaigns as well as a newly formed collaboration with Al Marsa, Lebanon’s first and only sexual health clinic.

Mr. Rizk then illustrated how fighting for LGBTQ rights cannot be “depoliticized,” especially in this region, where these rights are being used by a Zionist regime to justify certain war crimes. He moved on to show how Helem fights against this “pinkwashing of Israeli crimes” by being part of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement along with boycotting IGLTA’s symposium in 2009 that promoted tourism in Tel Aviv (Click here for Helem’s statement). Mr. Rizk criticized the description of Lebanon as a “very liberal” country, since Lebanese LGBT suffer on daily basis from homophobia, blackmail, as well as harassment by the police. He then criticized the, supposedly, LGBT friendly establishments “that market themselves to the queer community, but practice transphobia, sissyphobia, and homophobia on several levels, and economic discrimination through classism.”

Eyebrows were raised when Rizk asked how this tour benefits LGBT rights. Symposium participants, including IGLTA board members, responded by stating that such tours are beneficial since they raise worldwide visibility of LGBT communities. Click here to read the complete version of Mr. Rizk’s speech.

The final speaker was director of Soins Infirmier de Development Communautaire (SIDC), Nadia Badran. Mrs. Badran spoke about the health situation of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Lebanon. She presented the outreach program that SIDC works on along with United Nations (UN) agencies, the National AIDS Program (NAP), the Internal Sercurity Forces (ISF) and its partners, Helem and “Oui Pour la Vie”. The program consists of empowering vulnerable groups through peer education and increasing the accessibility to health care settings by conducting more voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) as well as providing more information about sexually transmitted diseases (STD) through a mobile unit. Mrs. Badran insisted on the importance of peer education in easing the communication of such information to these groups.

In an exclusive interview with Raynbow’s Lebanese LGBT Media Monitor, Mr. Clark Massad said that trips like IGLTA’s one to Lebanon helps increase the visibility of the Lebanese LGBT community. Mr. Massad did concede, however, that there are risks in participating such as potentially “outing” participants, but these risks exist in all countries, not just Lebanon. When asked about the difference between the way LGBT tourists and LGBT Lebanese are treated by the government, Massad recognized that tourists all around the world will be treated differently than the local community regardless of the nature of the members of the local community.

Event organizer, Mr. Bertho Makso, spoke exclusively to the Lebanese LGBT Media Monitor about how some venues did not previously label themselves as LGBT friendly, but have now started doing so due to the IGLTA trip and its symposium being held in Lebanon. Mr. Makso said that Beirut will never be a gay capital, but it is now welcoming to all kinds of tourists.

IGLTA’s 2010 symposium was not without controversy as members of activist groups and business working with tourists conflicted in their views of the utility of LGBT tourism in Lebanon. This only further shows the diversity within the Lebanese LGBT community as well as everyone’s willingness to discuss issues in an open and friendly manner.

By Omar Harfouch

Oct. 19th, 2010

  1. October 20, 2010 at 2:01 am

    Honestly Mr. Rizk was right, we are still attempting to make this country an LGBT friendly community, and we’re trying really hard, but the harassment and bullying will always be there, and everywhere until our education changes. Most people on the street cannot tell you the reasons for anyone to be gay, most of them treat it as a ‘disease’ or a psychological problem when it is neither.

  2. Rami-ng
    October 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for the report. A couple of questions

    1- The last time I checked Helem was not founded by Mr. Georges Azzi (and as the report mentioned as his words “all other activists who helped him along the way”. Helem was a grassroots group and was founded by a group of people, some are still Helem members, and others no longer form a part of the group. It was not founded by a single individual, be it Mr. Azzi or someone else. It is a shame, that one person would take the credit for a movement no matter how small this movement is. It is also a shame that Mr. Azzi would THANK “all other activists who helped him along the way” instead of having the courage and the historical honesty to speak up as one of the founders. If he is the founder of anything, it would be being the first ever PAID employee of Helem (after Helem started receiving funds). I might be basing my opinion on the report, and the report might have failed to note what Mr. Azzi said at the time of receiving the award. In such a case, I apologize.

    Second, Mr. Harfouch, speak of raised eyebrows, but fails to give a broader overview of the fact that Mr. Rizk´s speech was condoned and supported by a wide slice of the LGBT activists in Lebanon (blogs, facebook, meetings of different groups, private conversations, lack of participation and support for the IGLTA symposium..etc.)

    Third, the mentioned responses to Mr. Rizk´s speech all fail to address the points he raised and the questions he posed. Were they listening, or busy raising their eyebrows for Mr. Harfouch?

    It is not a hidden fact that this symposium helped non but the businesses and establishments that contribute nothing to the wellbeing and the struggle of the Lebanese LGBT community.

  3. LoAnn Halden
    October 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I’d just like to correct a couple of minor inaccuracies in this article. IGLTA did not launch the “Hero of the Year” award mentioned above. We do have our own travel awards presented during our annual convention, but this particular award was created in Lebanon by Mr. Makso.

    Also, IGLTA was established in 1983.

    Gay travel in the Middle East is a difficult topic, one that understandably provokes much heated debate. But we do believe that this exchange of information can lead to greater understanding among people with opposing views and progress in the struggle for basic human rights.

  4. Anthony Rizk
    October 21, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Hello Raynbow,

    Maybe I had a different perspective of the symposium, but I feel like there’s a certain bias in the above report. The report doesn’t seem to summarize the conference, it has no mention of the content of IGLTA’s presentation at the beginning with the nice-ly put statement ‘homosexual people spend more on travel than heterosexual people’ (yes, because all homosexual people can afford travel) and also doesn’t delve deeper into the discussion of the effect of the visibility of LGBTIQ equality in Lebanon, but leaves it hanging, since as i recall the debate was rather prolonged and had more content. Also, I love the ‘exclusive interviews’ with IGLTA and Lebtour to get their ‘after-symposium’ opinion and without having the balancing force of the opposing argument, causes a feeling of bias.

    That’s just my opinion, maybe I expected an equal representation.

  5. October 22, 2010 at 4:23 am

    – Thank you LoAnn for your clarification.
    – and surely i want to thank Raynbow for the report.
    – as for now, i think i should make things clear once and for all:
    – when i gave the opportunity to Helem speaking in the IGLTA conference, i was hoping that Helem will focus more on the local LGBT community and our struggle more than focusing on an international struggle – after all Helem is THE LEBANESE LGBT Community and NOT an international human right – or i’m missing something in that? the idea on the local community came vague ! many of the foreign participants in the trip were asking me about the rights, and what were we are!

    as i remember, i gave the possibility for an other international NGO to be covering the LGBT situation in the region (Syria, Iraq & Gulf Countries & Egypt for example) but the person in charge of this speech decided to withdraw one day before the conference; and informed me that Helem’s representative (Mr. Anthony Rizk) will be speaking in her name too!
    again, i don’t see where Mr. Rizk mentioned the LGBT situation in the Arab World! while he just focused on how he should not support the local businesses – pretending that we just use the gay image to take more money!

    i think that Mr. Rizk should go back to international studies and researches to know more about gay owned or gay friendly businesses – because these businesses as well beside the NGOs, can change the community for more acceptance and tolerance.

    Anyway, now that the Symposium is done – i want you all to know that we reached our goal.
    1 – we got the number of participants expected
    2 – we highlighted Lebanon the way we see it appropriate (cultural, educational & touristy wise)
    3 – we promoted Gay owned & lots of New Gay friendly businesses – which would help the gay travelers to Lebanon to feel comfortable and welcomed whenever they decide to come to visit our city.

    and at last, i think instead of fighting each others! we should be supporting each others to reach a better tomorrow! because our enemy is just the same! so let’s get united and stop fighting!


  6. Leil
    October 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I read the report and I decided to be silent first because I know Omar personally, and second because I wanted to wait and see the reactions to it.

    First, and foremost I do think Omar was a bit biased in his reporting. I saw the fotos on the LGBT Monitor website, and using the people present as “eyebrows were raised” while failing to report on the context which surrounded the event and the amount of eyebrows raised on the event in general (especially knowing personally that he knew of this context) is nothing but pure bias.

    Now, jumping to Mr. B´s response.

    I agree with you, Helem is an LG organization and NOT an international human rights organization. But, what does this change? Are we only gays and lesbians? Don´t we have other aspects of our lives (and bodies) that are attacked by wars, economic exploitation, environmental destruction..etc..etc.? Or are we just gay people being gay 24/7, not going to work, not suffering from governmental policies, not living in the society we belong to, not having loved ones who suffer, don´t see injustice around.. and do we only see dick or pussy? Maybe you see yourself as just that, but Helem, rightfully, understands the links between oppression and injustices. Helem sees the existing links between the different branches of this system that is oppressing all of us.

    And then, I also do agree with you, we should unite and fight one enemy. But who is this “ONE ENEMY”? I see it as a wider system of oppression that is built on common grounds. Homophobia is rooted in misogyny, misogyny is rooted in patriarchy, war is rooted in patriarchy and religion, patriarchy is rooted in capitalism, capitalism only opens the door for those who can pay and afford their own inherited rights.

    We are not welcomed as gay people in the world today because they love us, or accept us. Anyone who thinks so is putting us all at risk. We are there because we can pay, we can spend (and I see that you are very clear and smart on this issue, choosing a very successful line of business (gay-dollars) that I´m sure will flourish and leave you well-off .. to pay for your rights). The acceptance we have today is a money-based acceptance and the minute this capacity to spend is lacking, acceptance is taken away. I live in Europe, and it is not a hidden fact that queer people who can´t afford a lavish life style suffer from discrimination from both the heterosexuals and from the pink-euro gay people. I would side with you, if you would be true to your own goals, you want acceptance for those who can pay, Helem wants acceptance for everyone. This is the difference that you intentionally try to ignore. There is nothing wrong with wanting that, well, there is, but lets not delve into it. You can want whatever you like, but don´t fake orgasms! You are not fighting for LGBTQ rights nor visibility, you are building a business. It is fair enough to do that, but don´t sell us empty speeches! We have enough with politicians everywhere.

    I don´t think you support gay people ONLY to take their money, I mean, I think you are gay too, right? But, in your event, and in your business, you don´t want every gay person to come, right? Like, for example, if I go, and I´m gay, and I´m dead poor, and I´m dressed in the most fashion-distressing manners, would I get a free drink in your bar (if you have one)? Oh please say yes, and tomorrow yours will be flooded! You will tell me, you are not running a charity, right! You will tell me you are a business and you need to survive, I say YES! So stick to that! A gay person interested in gay rights as a gay individual, and running a business that is interested in …. PROFIT!

    Now, it is funny how you and other IGLTA supporters are still insisting that you are helping the local community in general with symposium. And that you are helping LGBTQ rights in general, while everyone I know in Beirut, apart of two people (one of them, wrote this report), has been saying hell no, no, no, no! So it is either you are deaf, or you are simply not listening! Should they sing it Lady Gaga style for gay people to get it?

    I´m glad you met your objectives, and I do hope your business take off! but my biggest hope is for you to be true to your own ideals. The way Helem, and many of us are being true to ours when we say, injustice is one, oppression is one, we as fags and dykes stand side by side with illegal immigrants, domestic workers, Palestinians, sex workers, women, abortion campaigners, exploited workers.. we are them and they are us, because in each and every category mentioned, there are queer people, and we are true to OUR community, we want our and their wellbeing. For a Palestinian gay person is my brother, a lesbian domestic worker is my sister.. and we fight together, against homophobia and the long list of fucked up shit in this world!

    • October 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm

      Thank you Leil for your feedback. You wrote “For a Palestinian gay person is my brother, a lesbian domestic worker is my sister.. and we fight together, against homophobia and the long list of fucked up shit in this world!”

      I agree with the sentence you wrote. I am trying to understand your position better. Is a lesbian businesswoman your sister too? Is a gay architect who makes money and has a fabulous house in Broumana your brother? Is a rich transgender woman who can easily afford her sex-change operation your sister? Or are these LGBT people not worth our activism and fight? Are we allowed to alienate these LGBT people and assume they have all their rights because “they afford buying them”? Does homophobia affect their lives as well? Are they with us in our LGBT activism or on the other side of the river?

  7. Leil
    October 23, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Well, hmmm, not clear, I need more information before I answer! Can you ask Ms. Business-Lezbo if she is fighting for all human and environmental rights? Is she fair to her employees (in pay, treatment, holidays, and rights)? Is she fighting to smash homophobia and build another world, or is she fighting for Gay assimilation in the heterosexual/hetero-normative society? Does she understand her oppression as a lesbian as part of a wider and bigger system on which all oppressions in the world are based? Does she see herself as one more in the long line of people fighting for their rights and existence in this world?

    These questions apply to Mr. Architect, and the rich trans person! Once you meet them, and get the answers, let me know! And I will tell you accordingly! Cheers mate! 😉

    • November 1, 2010 at 6:16 pm

      The answer is NO. They are not fighting for anyone’s right, they are not activists like you and me, they live their life like the majority of the people around us do, day by day, for themselves and their families. They are not fighting for any rights, but they are righteous people, they do no intentional harm, ofcourse they treat their employees well. She does not understand oppression, it is not a topic she thinks about. He is environmentally aware as much as your typical Lebanese person is, a little info from here and there they gather as they watch TV but no active pursuit of ways to save the planet.

      So are these LGBT people worth our fight and activism?

  1. March 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

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