Extensive studies have shown repeatedly that there is a direct and indirect relationship between discrimination and marginalization against LGBT people and major health issues especially in the areas of mental health, HIV/AIDS and access to care.

In Lebanon, while stigma and taboo provide an overall context for the marginalization of LGBT issues, including LGBT health, government and media censorship pose a direct obstacle to any efforts of promoting the health of LGBT individuals. This year, we share with you an unfortunate example of this censorship.

While TV and radio stations routinely host individuals who freely spread myths and misconceptions about homosexuality, LebMASH has been banned from appearing on several TV programs and radio shows to discuss its awareness campaigns and the reasons vary between “we don’t talk about these things out of respect to our viewers” to “these issues are taboo in Lebanon”.

And earlier this month, despite several candidates in the recent parliamentary elections speaking publicly in support of LGBT rights, the Lebanese General Security decided, without a given reason, to ban the airing of a series of billboards that were meant to be part of a LebMASH campaign aiming at raising awareness around homosexuality not being a disease and more importantly highlighting the harmful effects of attempts to change people’s sexual orientation. The billboards were meant to display the three following messages:

– Homosexuality is not a disease
– Homosexuality is a natural state
– Attempts to convert gay people are harmful and should be banned

It’s worth mentioning that these messages are backed by science, have been endorsed by major mental health professional organizations around the world, and have been endorsed by our own Lebanese Psychiatric Society and Lebanese Psychological Association in 2013. But, due to government censorship, 72% of the Lebanese public will continue to believe erroneously that homosexuality is a mental illness, and numerous parents will continue to drag their teenage gay sons and lesbian daughters to mental health professionals so they can be subjected to various forms of harmful mental and physical practices in the futile attempt to “convert” them from gay to straight.

By Omar Fattal, MD, MPH LebMASH Executive Board Member