LBC program on homosexuality in Arab world sparks anger in Lebanon
Posted February 3rd, 2009
On Wednesday, January 28, four “gay guests” from different Arab countries took their seats on the set of “The Bold Red Line - A7mar bil Khat I 3areed” with talk show host Malek Maktabi to discuss the issues of homosexuality in the Arab world.
“Everything made me angry about that show. They victimized every single guest. The whole thing actually made me scared,” 28-year old Dalia, a member of Lebanon’s lesbian community told MENASSAT.
A flurry of comments have popped up on websites and blogs alternatively praising the show for tackling a taboo subject in the Arab press and vilifying it for the show’s choice of guests.
There was 30-year old Hanan from an unspecified Arab Gulf country. Covered in a niqab, a black veil covering her entire face except for the eyes, she told the audience in effect that she wasn’t gay.
In her own words, she said she was having sexual relations with women out of convenience and that she actually preferred men to women despite what she called “their betrayal nature.”
Strike Hanan from the lesbian guest roll?
It didn’t take long for a female caller from the Gulf to call and denounce Hanan for her actions, saying she was a disgrace to Gulf women.
There was the Arab man who hinted that his same sex relationships were somehow linked to sexual abuse in his childhood. There was another young Egyptian who’d been engaged in gay prostitution.
Another young Egyptian boy decided to “come out” to his family and friends on the show, and he linked his experience in same sex relationships to his lack of a father figure.
And there was the 40-year old lesbian Algerian woman who was brought on to discuss the emotional aspects of her relationship with women, and instead was asked intimate questions about her sex life.
Clichés and stereotypes
Critics like Dalia say that “The Bold Red Line - A7mar bil Khat I 3areed” did little as a talk show to discuss practical issues facing homosexuals in the Arab world.
Members of Beirut’s LGBTQ community told MENASSAT the program instead focused on stereotypes and clichés, doing more harm than good for LGBTQ activist groups in the Middle East trying to do community outreach on the subject.
“What they have done is diffuse misinformation about homosexuality among the population that doesn't have any details about the matter. So it is really disrupting awareness-spreading efforts,” another member of Beirut’s LGBTQ community, Jen told MENASSAT.
And the show managed to discuss every pop-psychology explanation for homosexuality.
“Abuse, prostitution, lack of a father figure, a strong mother figure that overpowers the masculine figure in the household, a woman who was cheated on and didn't get enough sexual attention from her husband so she resorted to women…these are the reasons?” Jen asked.
Instead, Dalia explained, “They could have started off by highlighting the fact that there are two camps where homosexuality is concerned: one of them believing that homosexuality is a disorder and the other who doesn’t believe it’s a disease”
That “other camp”, however, appeared to be severely underrepresented on the January 28 episode, she said.
When asked whether he found the program biased, 19-year old Joe told MENASSAT he felt the episode was “way not objective”, saying the Bold Red Line’s producers relied on “homophobic research” and the content of the discussion was fuelled by “labeling people” and not dealing with the harsh realities facing the LBGTQ community.
He also criticized the choice of guests, saying they suffered from “psychological issues that are not related to sexuality.”
26-year old Maya also felt the show only provided “one point of view”.
“It was totally subjective. And how can you speak about an issue without researching it beforehand?”
Street reactions from Arab capitals gathered for the January 28 episode were almost unilaterally homophobic:
“It’s something unnatural.”
One of the psychologists brought onto the show to “explain” homosexuality said that while the phenomenon is not a disease, it can still be “cured.”
The show generated a wave of responses from Lebanon’s LGBTQ community.
Helem, the Lebanese organization for support of LGBTQ persons in Lebanon put out a statement the day after the show aired denouncing it.
Presenter Maktabi has received a boot himself. Several of those angered by the show have posted pictures of Maktabi with “Hmar,” or Donkey, written over it in red on their Facebook accounts.
But not all the LGBTQ community voiced disdain for the January 28 Bold Red Line episode.
18-year old Sara said she thought it was good that it was aired despite its “unethical content,” adding, the very fact that it was broadcast at all should help foster more debate on the topic.
“Regardless of the content….at least it’s back into the open. People are talking about it. It had to be aired. Now, we have an even stronger motivation to respond to this injustice. It’s time to bring out the positive side,” she said.
Sara is among a contingent of activists who told MENASSAT that Maktabi and The Bold Red Line are not “worth reacting to,” highlighting what they say is the need for a discussion about homosexuality on a more serious program.
“This kind of program is not worth our anger or our outreach,” she added.
Searching for proper TV forums
Could the show have been less “biased” and “victimizing” if representatives from the LGBTQ community who are more comfortable with their sexuality would have participated in the program?
MENASSAT put the question to members of the LGBTQ community this week, and most said that they’d “never go on a show like A7mar bil Khat l 3areed.”
“I’d participate if I knew there was a serious panel discussion and if I knew that I’d help change people’s perceptions. But Maktabi’s show? No way. It’s a zoo,” Dalia told MENASSAT.
“But who is willing to buy our "product" so to speak? No one wants to deal with homosexuality in this part of the world or appears remotely interested in our perspective,” 24-year old Rana said.
Jen stressed that she would not be “associated with such a show," adding sarcastically that Lebanon's LGBTQ activists should open their own station that airs “proper shows that spreads proper awareness."
But Sara said any opportunity to discuss issues openly should be taken by LGBTQ activists.
“I would have been delighted to go on the show so they could attempt to be disrespectful to me. I know how these people operate. I would have been able to counter them, and they would have appeared stupid and it would have been great,” she said.
(Names in this article are changed to protect the identity of the speakers.)
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