“Marginalization is bad for health”: A unique initiative by the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LEBMASH)

Beirut, March 13th 2017: With the support of the Dr. Agnes Varis Trust, the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) launched its first LGBT health Week entitled “Marginalization is bad for your health”.

This unique initiative, taking place from March 11th till March 17th 2017, aims to raise awareness among the media, the public and health care professionals on the effects of discrimination and marginalization on the health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals.
It consists of a variety of activities that include medical workshops and lectures targeting health care professionals and students, media appearances, and the launching of three short promotional videos.

The LGBT health week 2017 and the related promotional videos were launched at a press conference on Monday March 13th2017, at SmallVille Hotel in Badaro, Beirut, in the presence of NGOs representatives, medical professionals and members of the press.

On behalf of the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH), Dr. Omar Fattal, co-founder and executive board member, welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. Dr. Fattal explained the objectives of the campaign and spoke about the negative outcomes of marginalization on the health of LGBT individuals. He said that” Legal discrimination takes place through article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code that states: Any intercourse that is against nature is punishable by up to 1 year in jail.” “This law is used to persecute and intimidate LGBT people. However, homosexuality is not against nature and homosexuality is not an illness and does not need treatment”.

Dr. Fattal also spoke about the different forms of marginalization including family rejection, bullying in schools, discrimination at the work place and within the health care system. He explained that marginalization affects three main health areas: HIV, mental health and access to health care.
Dr. Nuhad Dumit, president of the order of Nurses in Lebanon, initiated her speech by reminding everyone of the Nurses oath which “emphasizes on approaching all individuals with equal respect as nurses pledge to see patients as equal humans”.

She also declared that the order’s council has recently adopted the following statement:

“It is well documented that homophobia, stigma, marginalization, and discrimination lead to health disparities and reduced access to care. If we are to remain faithful to our profession’s mission and the public’s trust, we must take a proactive approach to addressing the health needs and safety of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual patients. These persons are bound by experiences of stigma, discrimination, marginalization, and, specifically with respect to healthcare, a long history of discrimination and lack of awareness of health needs by health
professionals. The Order of Nurses finds it crucial to address the issue of homosexuality in Lebanon in hope of promoting better health for this vulnerable group of people”.

In conclusion Dr. Dumit applauded the various efforts of LebMASH, especially the inclusion of medical and nursing students and service providers in such initiatives which prepares to better serve LGBT people.

Nadia Badran, president of the order of social workers in Lebanon, said that “social service respects humanitarian and cultural diversity and It aims at providing better life opportunities for marginalized groups as it helps them advocate for their rights and policy change and the creation of supportive environment on a variety of levels, including public health”. Badran added that “homophobia is considered as one of the main obstacles facing individuals and professionals. These behaviors make individuals address others based on personal believes and stereotypes where people are categorized as sinners, ill or disease creators”. “The outcomes of such misconduct might prevent affected population from seeking any kind of services” she said. She concluded that “social service providers must be aware that marginalization affects the wellbeing of individuals thus affects the wellbeing of the society. Therefore lays the necessity of spreading awareness and capacity building on the level of dealing with marginalized groups in order to advocate for change”.

Nour El Kik, Policy and Advocacy Officer from the National Mental Health program at the Ministry of Public health, said she was “happy to see that mental health has been incorporated in this campaign”. She said that “the Ministry of Public Health prioritizes Mental Health and has launched the National strategy for Mental Health and Use of addictive substances 2015- 2020, that classifies LGBT individuals as marginalized groups due to their social circumstances”. EL Kik described the content of the strategy and spoke about the partnership with LebMASH in the provision of a training toolkit targeting mental health professionals and service providers enabling their capacities in dealing with LGBT care seekers. As a closure, she said that “the Ministry of Public health is keen to maintain collaboration with all parties acting for the improvement of mental health in Lebanon and the wellbeing of all citizens equally”.

At the end the audience screened the released promotional films, now available online, and there were time for press interventions before moving to the hotel lobby where attendees shared brunch.

For more information, and to view the promotional videos and event photos, please call +961 70 173782 or email: media@lebmash.org or visit: http://www.lebmash.org/healthweek.

About LebMASH The Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that was founded on September 4th 2012. In April 2014, LebMASHbecame officially registered with the Lebanese government allowing it to operate in Lebanon in full compliance with the Lebanese law. LebMASH aims at advancing sexual health for all individuals in Lebanon, with particular focus on LGBT and other marginalized populations in Lebanon.