Conflicts & War

Lebanon crisis robs LGBT community of one of their safe places

Beirut, Nov 15 (EFE).- The soft lighting and the typical Asian dishes that once characterized Bardo have now turned into silence and emptiness after Lebanon’s economic crisis has forced the shutdown of a Beirut bar-restaurant, one of the country’s three LGBT-friendly places.

Bardo closed its doors two weeks ago, some 15 years after Mazen Khaled decided to renovate the then-abandoned space, where a couple of Jews took refuge after they fled the Nazis in the 1940s.

“We wanted to open a place where we and everyone else felt comfortable, a place for everyone and open to everyone because at that time some sites in Beirut restricted entry,” says Khaled, one of the bar’s co-owners.

Over time, the LGBT community began to love the place due to its open door policy, although the owner insists that Bardo was a “safe space for everyone” without distinction.

Khaled explains they struggled to keep it open with the low profits and the continuous blackouts in recent months that had forced the kitchen to close. The whole place had to shut down after a sudden rise in rent.

Now only two gay-friendly places are left in the Lebanese capital, one of which was destroyed by the Beirut tragic blast in August 2020 before it reopened in a new location.

One of the owners of this safe place that requested to remain anonymous explains to Efe that everyone is welcome and free to do whatever they want “without fear of being judged for their beliefs, religion, gender or sexuality,” making it the perfect environment for drag queens and their performances.

For drag queen Latiza Bombe, being queer in the Middle East has never been easy.

“Lebanon is considered to be one of the countries that are more open-minded about the LGBT community. We do have some freedom but we do not have any rights.”

In the Arab country, article 534 of the Penal Code criminalizes having sexual relations that are “contradicting the laws of nature,” however, several courts have refused to apply the rules in LGBT-related cases in the past decade.

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