The second event of Asfari Institute’s Feminist Roundtable Series entitled “Analysing Current LGBTQ Activism in the Region: Who Are the New Authors of the Public Narratives?” was held on April 29, 2021.
The conversation with two renowned civil society activists within the MENA queer movement unpacks the historicity of the queer movement, its positionality with MENA civil societies, and the role it is playing today in shaping civil society actions as well as bringing in new understandings of inclusivity, human rights, and political and social transformations.
In the discussion, Bouaziz shared how the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted LGBTQ activism in Tunisia, as it further pushed the LGBTQ community down the pyramid of priorities and worsened already existent inequalities. Not only did the activists have to deal with the crisis, but also with police forces and private political groups that always attack the queer movement.
In terms of Lebanon, Zeidan discussed how the pandemic, economic crisis, and August 4 Beirut blast created a shift in the queer movement. To achieve human rights, particularly for queer individuals, the movement has shifted from focusing on achieving civil and political rights to focusing on attaining social and economic rights.
The second roundtable discussion revealed the changes and challenges pertaining to LGBTQ activism in the region. Some of the current challenges that the guest speakers shared include the increased need for resources, capacity, and funding to keep up with having to help provide people with their basic needs, may it be providing them with shelter or food. Another challenge mentioned was the lack of regional bodies with which LGBTQ activists can advocate.
Moreover, guest speakers shared that responding to the changes and challenges was not a matter of leadership, but rather, it was a matter of survival. As Bouaziz said,
“I don’t think that we should romanticize it and say it’s, you know, resilience, or courage, or any of that. For me, it’s really just, improvise, adapt, overcome, over and over again. It’s a continued process of having to, you know, survive, more than anything.”
On a more positive note, the guest speakers shared how LGBTQ organizations in the region work together on projects such as advocacy, awareness, and lobbying, despite not having the same struggles or histories. The collaboration was not only due to the sharing of knowledge of data and knowledge but also due to the funding for multi-country, regional work that enabled them to do it on a large-scale level.
Meet the speakers and moderators
- Dr. Carmen Geha is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and co-founder of CIBL for Women at the American University of Beirut.
- Tarek Zeidan is a sexual and bodily rights activist from Lebanon advocating for the rights and protections of LGBT communities in the MENA region as the Executive Director of Helem, the first LGBT rights organization in the Arab World. Tarek is an Ashoka Foundation global changemaker fellow, a Ford Foundation global fellow, and an ELI fellow at the Harvard Center for Public Leadership. He is a specialist in international human rights law and advocacy, adaptive leadership, public policy, and strategic communications and planning. Tarek has previously worked as the director of communications and director of strategic planning for the MENA region at both the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He obtained his BA from the American University of Beirut, his MA in security studies and international relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and his MA in human rights advocacy and law from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
- Khawla Bouaziz is a young feminist queer rights advocate from Tunisia. She has been working directly with LGBTIQ+ youth in Tunisia for the past 4 years. Currently, she is the secretary-general of the initiative Mawjoudin We Exist for Equality in Tunisia and is leading projects on research focusing on LGBTIQ+ people’s demography in the country, as well as the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of the LGBTIQ+ community. She hopes to emphasize youth-focused approaches in the work that she does, to create youth-led, youth-centered work from the youth to the youth.
Watch the full recording here: