gay-lebanon-flagLebanon: Though traditionally seen as one of the more open countries in West Asia, Lebanon still imposes significant legal and social discrimination against gay and transgender individuals, say LGBT activists.

“It’s not enough to make sure the state doesn’t violate the rights of these individuals. It has to actively protect them from other people who are going to beat them in the street,” said Nadim Houry, director of Human Rights Watch’s Beirut office.

Houry was one of many rights activists at a panel discussion organized by Lebanese gay rights group Helem recently to discuss the future of the country’s LGBT community.

The event celebrated a number of recent victories for Lebanon’s LGBT community. In July 2013, the Lebanese Psychiatric Society made waves when it announced that “homosexuality is not a mental disorder.”

In January, a Lebanese judge threw out a court case against a transgender woman who had been accused of “unnatural sexual intercourse”  when he ruled that she was not in violation of Lebanon’s anti-gay laws. The legal ruling was considered a major step forward for Lebanon’s transgender community.

In 2012, Lebanon’s Syndicate of Doctors, with the support of Lebanese rights group Legal Agenda, denounced anal examinations conducted by medical doctors associated with the Lebanese security forces to “confirm” the sexual orientation of detained individuals.

Nevertheless, there’s much to be done in the coming months of 2014.

Helem official Tarek Zeidan said their main goal was to render ineffective Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code, which prohibits same-sex relations that “contradict the laws of nature.”

Many gay individuals in Lebanon have been arrested or held by security forces under this law – often simply because they were “suspected” of engaging in sexual relations, not because they were actually caught in the act.

By creating allies in government and working with Lebanese judges and lawyers, Zeidan believes the article can effectively become “toothless.”

One the other hand, Houry recognizes the Lebanese state must take a role in protecting gay Lebanese from private forms of assault.

“It’s not enough that some people have protection because they’re Lebanese, or rich, or have connections,” he said.

Journalist Layal Haddad who covered the controversial shutting of a popular movie theater for Lebanese gays in 2012 called for introducing proper terminology into local reporting and replacing of words such as “sexually abnormal” or “faggot.”

Zeidan added that international coverage of Lebanon’s gay community is positive but it doesn’t mean Lebanon is the ideal.

“Yes, it’s fantastic to have a gay rights, NGOs and gay bars (but)  it doesn’t mean diddly squat. This isn’t a tolerant society. If it was, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” he said.