One of the most important things that Helem did in the early days was introduce the proper Arabic words for LGBT related things into the public, and more importantly, into the media. Insulting words like pervert, sexual deviant, and citizen of Lot were used interchangeably with the word gay.
Helem introduced the word “Mithliyeen” less than 10 years ago. Today it is the word used by most self-respecting TV stations, magazines, and newspapers.
This is a huge accomplishment. It’s success was a result of some campaigns, but most importantly, as the result of contacting media figures one by one, and asking them to change their terminology.
The letter below, dated April 25, 2005, was written to Pierre el Daher, the CEO of LBCI, Lebanon’s most popular TV station. While short and to the point, the letter clearly gets the message across. Helem actually received a positive reply a few days later.
The letter is signed by Georges Azzi, who, at the time was the local coordinator of Helem in Lebanon.
I found this letter in old emails on my Mac, and unfortunately, the Arabic word has been transformed into weird letters. I am guessing it was “shaz”, but I may be wrong. The letter is copied here as I have them in my files, along with the reply from Mr Daher’s assistant.
It is important to note that the positive reply, vague as it is, shows that Helem had partners in the media early on, which was a key to changing the words people use when referring to LGBT individuals in Arabic.
Beirut the 25th of April 2005
Mr. Pierre DAHER
LBC ˆ Adma – Lebanon
Dear Mr. Daher:
On Sunday, April 24, 2005, LBC hosted a „political Analyst‰ on Naharkon Saeed. During the interview, the „analyst‰ referred to the release of Dr. Geagea from prison. He said the move would be dangerous because it would mean we would have to release all thieves, drug dealers and „sexual deviants‰ (ÇáÔÇ‹íä ÌäÓíÇ).
While we understand that LBC cannot be held responsible for the statements of all its guests, we urge you to assume responsibility and your leadership role in the struggle against all forms of social discrimination including homophobia. We believe Ms. Chidiac had a social responsibility to point out to her guest that, first, homosexuality is not a deviancy, and that including homosexuals with criminals is unjust and a cause for political and social instability.
We encourage you to take firm steps in updating your esteemed organization and train your talent and staff to be more socially aware and politically sensitive.
We remain at your disposal for any help you may need in that regard.
Georges Azzi Local Coordinator – Lebanon
And here’s the reply:
Dear Mr. Azzi,
Thank you for your interest in our programs and we appreciate your concern on our image.
Kindly be informed that you have a point in what you have mentioned and we will take all the necessary steps to insure it won’t happen again.
Mr. Daher’s Assistant