BEIRUT, Lebanon — For members of Lebanon’s gay community, Beirut Pride week was intended as a way to celebrate diversity, fight discrimination and push for more rights and recognition. But that dream came crashing down this week when the Lebanese authorities detained the celebration’s organizer, releasing him only after he promised to cancel the remaining events.
The cancellation was a blow to gay men, lesbians and transgender people in Lebanon, who say they face legal and social discrimination despite living in one of the most socially liberal countries in the Arab world.
“Beirut Pride made a lot of people proud of Lebanon,” the organizer, Hadi Damien, said by phone on Wednesday, a day after his release. “And this cancellation made a lot of people sad and disappointed.”
Homosexuality is criminalized across the Arab world, although some countries look the other way as long as it remains private.
Lebanese law stipulates that “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” is punishable by up to one year in prison, but it does not specify which sexual practices are illegal.
The law is enforced irregularly, so Lebanon has developed into one of the Arab world’s most open and active gay communities. Night-life activities friendly to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are easy to find, and several organizations provide health and other services. The lead singer of the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila is one of the region’s most famous openly gay entertainers.
But Lebanon is also home to 18 officially recognized religious sects, many of which oppose homosexuality on religious grounds and have associations that campaign against gay-friendly events.
Beirut Pride was intended to be a nine-day series of events in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. Among the planned events were a storytelling night, an evening of drag performances, a legal panel and a workshop about sexual health.
The events kicked off on Sunday, but on Monday night, officials with the security services showed up at the public reading of a play and told Mr. Damien to cancel it because he did not have “prior censorship approval,” according to a statement posted on the Beirut Pride website.
Mr. Damien said in a phone interview on Wednesday that he had sought the approval, but had been told it was unnecessary since the play was “not being performed or staged and no tickets were being sold.”
He agreed to stop the reading but was still detained overnight, he said.
At the police station, Mr. Damien