On the 29th May 2014, LebMASH was hosted by Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut to give a talk on the perceptions of homosexuality within the medical profession and wider society. Chaired by Dr. Sami Richa, head of psychiatry at the university, and Father Michel Scheuer, head of the university’s ethics department, the talk was the first time that the subject of sexuality and gender identity had been broached within the Jesuit-run university. In his introductory address, Dr. Richa explained that the goal was to understand the problems of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, being a medical subject of great importance. The talk was attended by over 100 people, including many medical students from the university and members of the public.
There were three speakers, two of whom came from LebMASH. Dr. Fattal, a board member, discussed the approaches that the students might take towards their LGBT patients, focusing on the state of medical care in Lebanon for the LGBT community today and how it might change in the future. He particularly emphasised a gender and orientation inclusive way of speaking, so that it appears to the patient that the doctor has thought through every possibility. He also addressed the lack of understanding around the gay community, hoping to shed some light on the myths and realities of the LGBT community.
Dr. Hala Kerbage, also of LebMASH and a psychiatrist at Hôtel-Dieu de France, followed his talk, by discussing the historical perceptions of homosexuality around the world. She focused her attention on studies such as the Hooker Report of 1957 which was the first report to research non-patients, meaning that for the first time, people without current medical or mental illnesses were part of a research experiment. Hooker found no more signs of psychological disturbances in a group of non-patient homosexuals compared to non-patient heterosexual controls. Dr. Kerbage also referenced the Kinsey Report, which found that 37% of people have experienced at least one homosexual act in their life. The Beach and Ford study was also mentioned and this study found homosexuality to be common across cultures and to exist in almost all nonhuman species. Their work supported the idea that homosexuality was natural and more widespread than previously thought.
She then turned her attention towards Lebanon and Article 534, which unfairly criminalises homosexuals forbeing ‘unnatural’. However, consistently throughout the talk, she had proved that homosexuality was not a mental disorder or a deviance from the norm, indeed it being normal. Recently, LebMASH, the Lebanese Psychiatric Society and Lebanese Psychological Association, have all come out against the classification of homosexuality as unnatural and stood against conversion therapy, stating that it is not effective and it is harmful for the individual.
The final talk of the conference was presented by Ms. Mima Mzawak, a sociologist, who spoke about homosexuality beyond the social perception. Science is the best method, according to Ms. Mzawak, to discover the truth about Man, halting the continued use of institutionalised terms for the LGBT community and stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a man, or a woman. She focused on different approaches towards combatting homophobia.
LebMASH would like to thank Dr. Richa and Father Scheuer and the Université Saint-Joseph for hosting the talk. We would also like to thank the over 100 attendees for their attentiveness and considered questioning.