Health officials in Lebanon link rise in chemsex to the 2020 Beirut explosion
Life in Lebanon can be tough at the best of times, but the massive chemical explosion that rocked Beirut in August 2020 has devastated the capital city and presented a whole new raft of challenges for people to try and navigate.
The epicentre of the explosion was in Beirut’s port. It killed over 200 people, wounded thousands, and caused immeasurable trauma.
The blast hit Beirut at a time when Lebanon was already in disaster-mode. Covid-19 exacerbated a pre-existing political and economic crisis, bringing Lebanon to the brink of collapse.
Two of Beirut’s LGBTQ hubs, Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze, were only 500 metres away from the point of the blast’s detonation. These areas have been utterly devastated and, like many other parts of Beirut, are now uninhabitable.
The blast wiped out bars, clubs and cafes that were a lifeline for the LGBTQ community in Beirut.
Openly reports that health officials are now warning of a spike in risky behaviour including drug use, sex work and chemsex.
Alcohol and drug use are known to trigger risky sexual practices and sexual health experts say the lack of sex education in Lebanon makes the problem worse.
Chemsex parties in Lebanon risk re-fuelling epidemics of HIV among gay men, with hook-up apps used to seek out drug-heightened and often anonymous and unprotected sex.
According to reporting by Openly, HIV rates have risen to well over 12% among gay and bisexual men in Lebanon. According to the available data, only about 65% of Lebanon’s roughly 3,000 HIV positive people are taking anti-retroviral drugs. Another factor that increases the risk of transmission is that PrEP is not widely available.
What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Lebanon?
While still a socially conservative country, Lebanon is slightly more liberal than other countries in the region.
There’s been no official decriminalisation of homosexuality, but recent judicial interpretation of the relevant laws seems to have established that sodomy is not a crime and people should not be prosecuted for same-sex sexual activity.
Article 534 of Lebanon’s Penal Code includes a prohibition on sexual relations that are “contradicting the laws of nature” – punishable by up to one year in prison – but, in recent years, a number of court decisions have found that this prohibition doesn’t extend to same-sex encounters on the grounds that homosexuality doesn’t contradict the laws of nature.
However, there is still quite widespread homophobia and police harassment of LGBTQ people. Authorities frequently use public morality laws to ban LGBTQ Pride events.
In Beirut, there is a community of LGBTQ people – working together to tackle homophobia and to create safe spaces such as bars and cafes and other meeting points.