A disturbing video filmed by an onlooker shows a man assaulting two transgender women in the streets of Jounieh, a coastal town north of Beirut, on July 18. Bystanders witness the scene, but do nothing. Our Observer is a young Lebanese transgender woman. She says that this video is proof of the climate of terror for LGBT people living in Lebanon.
The incident took place on the outskirts of Jounieh. Two different videos of the assault appeared rapidly on social media and caused an outcry.
The first video shows a transgender woman running away. Then, the camera moves to show a second transgender woman lying on the ground. A man who is probably in his fifties hits her relentlessly, preventing her from fleeing.
Four people stand around the man and woman, watching as he beats her. The second video shows the same man sitting on the woman and holding her hands to keep her from defending herself.
“Give me back my 200 dollars!” he says. (In Lebanon, there are two different currencies: Lebanese dollars and Lebanese pounds. One Lebanese dollar is equivalent to roughly 0.80 euros). These two videos were widely shared on social media, notably on Whatsapp.
“Acts of violence against transgender minorities have become common in Lebanon”
Ameen Rhayem is a member of an organisation called Helem, which is an acronym for “Lebanese protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people”. Since 2004, Helem, which operates throughout the Middle East, has produced reports on LGBT people's situation and recorded cases of assault and discrimination. Since the Jounieh police did not answer any questions about the July 18 attack, Helem decided to carry out its own investigation. Rhayem explains what happened, according to testimony that his organisation was able to gather.
According to shopkeepers with who we spoke, the two young women ran out of a hotel. The man went there with them to engage in prostitution, but then he apparently realised that they were transgender and started getting violent. They had already been paid $200 and they tried to escape: one of them succeeded, but not the other one. A few hours later, the two victims were arrested. [Editor’s Note: Prostitution is illegal in Lebanon; prostitutes risk up to ten years in jail.]
This is the version of events we were told by multiple witnesses. What’s certain is that these acts of violence against transgender women have become common in Lebanon. If a fight breaks out, or if someone attacks a transgender person, the transgender person is always the one that ends up behind bars.”
FRANCE 24 contacted the Jounieh police, but they have not yet answered our questions. We’ll publish their response if we receive one. Our Observer does not know what happened to the arrested women.
Though discrimination against transgender people in Lebanon remains widespread, since 2016, they have been granted the right to undergo sex reassignment. They can thus no longer be arrested solely for reasons pertaining to their sexual orientation or gender.
“The police does not protect us”
Sasha is a transgender model in Lebanon. She regularly faces violence.
“Lebanon is considered to be more “tolerant” of homosexuality and transgender people than other Arab countries, but a big part of society does not accept LGBT people. The police regularly targets them. This video is just one example out of many. In this case, the transgender women are sex workers, because that’s the only solution they have found to integrate into society. When you are transgender, basic things like finding a job, getting an education or even renting an apartment become very difficult.
Today, I don’t feel protected by the police or by anyone else. But everyone has different experiences. Personally, I have had several run-ins with the police, where they tried to intimidate me. The hardest part of all this is the lack of support from society at large. Police officers are supposed to protect us, but in the end they’re doing the opposite. In Lebanon, this remains a taboo subject. Transgender people are allowed to change sexes, but not everyone accepts their transitioning.”