This is the second in a series of personal accounts written by Bader, an LGBT refugee and current IRAP client.
Bader is a 23-year-old who decided one day that he didn’t want to live in danger and in unhappiness, and so he fled from his home country. After a long journey, he is now in Lebanon. Bader is an LGBTIQ activist and a human rights supporter, and also sometimes writes and sings songs inspired by his experience.
For reasons of security and privacy we are not using his real name. The advice below is based on his personal experiences and may not be considered official recommendations endorsed by IRAP.
The recent horrific murder of a gay Syrian living in Turkey shows once again how dangerous life is for refugees, even after they have fled their home country. Based on my experience and the incidents I have witnessed as a queer refugee in Lebanon, here are some tips for LGBTIQ people and refugees living in Lebanon:
- If you have refugee status from UNHCR, know that it’s not enough if you get stopped at a check point. You will be considered illegal. Sometimes they let people go, but if your sexual orientation is “visible” or you are a trans person, you will most likely be arrested. And if the ones who stopped you are not the police but affiliated with a militia, it’s even worse. Try not to go to places you know are under the control of militias.
- If your sexual orientation is “visible” or you are a transgender person, avoid living in unsafe places. Try not to live in the South of Beirut. Most of the safe places are in the heart of Beirut, which is more expensive but try to stay there. With time, you will become more experienced about places that are safer for you.
- Keep your phone clean. Don’t save any photos on your phone showing same sex relationships. It will be used against you as evidence. Why? Article 534 is used against LGBTIQ people, as anyone who has sex “against nature” can be detained and charged.
- If you are arrested by the police, don’t say that you have had same-sex relationships. Sometimes you will have no choice and they will force you to sign something or threaten to beat you up. But later, in front of the judge, you can say what happened.
- Keep hotlines with you at all times, for example in your wallet. If you get detained, ask for a call, then call an organization that can hire a lawyer for you. They may not let you but keep trying until they do.
- Try to let at least one person know where you are going at all times. In case you disappear, they can report it to LGBTIQ organizations or UNHCR, if you are a refugee.
- Try not to speak in a loud voice if you’re walking in the street so they won’t know that you’re a foreigner from your accent. Also try not to speak too much if you are on the bus or in a taxi.
- Go home early. There are more security procedures at night. It’s also advisable not to go out after an explosion for a while, if it’s not necessary. There will be more intense security procedures.
- Always keep your ID with you. If you are a refugee, keep your UN certificate with you and keep your passport somewhere where someone you trust can get it for you if you get detained. If you are a transgender person and you have a medical report, keep it with you as well.
- Try not to live all in one place, especially transgender people. Why? If the police came to your house, they could arrest everyone and accuse them of prostitution.
- Even though it’s often the only way to live for many LGBTIQ people, especially transgender people, it’s not safe to do sex work here. The police may detain you.
- There are a lot of health centers that do HIV tests for free. It’s recommended that you get tested very often. You can also get information about safe sex from these organizations.
- If you are homeless, stay in a safe place where there are people all the time, or in a place that is open 24 hours. Stay awake at night and sleep in the morning.
- Don’t buy a lot of things if you are on the move. It will be more suspicious if you are homeless and have a lot of bags and things with you, especially at night.
- Buy food that doesn’t need refrigeration and can stay fresh longer. Don’t buy too much at once; just buy daily, in case something happens like you become homeless, so you don’t have too much to carry.
- Buy some essential, easy to carry things: a small blanket to stay warm wherever you have to sleep, rechargeable batteries to keep your phone on even if you are homeless, and a bottle of water.
- If you are biologically female, it’s especially hard to be homeless while you are on your period. If you don’t have enough money to buy tampons, keep a lot of tissues with you. Try to keep sweet snacks with you in case you get dizzy because you haven’t been able to eat much, maybe chocolates or even sugar. Keep one other pair of clothes with you. You may be able to wash it in some public bathroom. And for trans people, try not to wear too tight things, like binders, as your body may not be able to handle the pressure; it could increase the period pain.
- You may have to live as two genders by taking care of your biologically female body and not letting anyone know about it, because you identify as a guy and don’t want to be treated differently.
- Don’t hate yourself, don’t hate your body. Love it and try to think about things that you like about your body. It might be your hands, eyes, hair, waist or anything else; just think about it.
- Try to stay busy so you don’t get depressed and if you feel like you have a lot negative thoughts that you can’t control, don’t hesitate to seek help from organizations that offer psychological help. Some organizations that work with LGBTIQ people, or UNHCR, provide it for free. It also helps to surround yourself with people you love or can make you overcome it because they are positive people. Avoid being alone as much as possible.
We all have different experiences; if you think there are more tips you can add, please do to help spread awareness.
Stay safe, strong, and positive everyone.