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Tarek Zeidan

Pioneering LGBTQ+ rights in the Arab World

In a country where the rights and freedoms of LGBT citizens are still highly restricted, Tarek is breaking down multiple barriers for his community. Though Lebanon’s legal system still officially criminalizes homosexual sex through article 534, Tarek’s organization Helem has won over the majority of Lebanon’s judges and police forces who now refuse to apply the article, rendering the law nearly powerless. As a result of Helem’s work, roughly 34% of the population no longer believes homosexuality should be criminalized – a radical shift in mindsets (compared to 2% in Tunisia, for example).

Still, discrimination against LGBT individuals is prevalent and leaving  a large percentage of the community chronically unemployed and food insecure. Tarek sees the private sector and entrepreneurship as gateways out of poverty and into an inclusive society. He is partnering with businesses to increase the number of dignified jobs for LGBT people. He is also working with existing labor right movements to have them adopt LGBT inclusive policies.

Impact

  • Won 7 landmark rulings that made article 534 criminalizing homosexuality impotent

  • 40% of Lebanon's lawyer now wiling to represent LGBT clients (up from 10% prior to Helem's efforts)

  • Partnered with Scouts to address anti-LGBT bullying and sexual health with youth

  • Building first ecosystem of LGBT inclusive businesses in the Arab World

Interesting fact from Tarek:

"Official engagement with institutions, like the church or our government is nearly impossible to do here. People may be privately sympathetic, but publicly won't touch this issue. This is not just about LGBT people, but about any controversial topic. Where we've had a lot of success is precisely in ignoring the top hierarchies and identifying instead the layers of power within them that can shift. For example, we don't talk to the Minister of Health but we talk to the general manager of the Ministry of Health, the person that actually knows what's going on. He is LGBT inclusive, so we've been able to gets funds for HIV medication, gender affirmation surgery and more."

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