In the first blog in our series for Pride month, Tarek Al Ali says support that prioritises heteronormative families is leaving Lebanese LGBTQIA+ people paying a devastating price.
Food insecurity for LGBTQIA+ people in Lebanon has been rising exponentially in recent years, with Helem, a local LGBTQIA+ organization, recording more than a 1000% increase in the number of queer people seeking food assistance between January 2020 and June 2020.
Certainly, the far-reaching repercussions of Lebanon’s successive crises since 2019 spared no one, and skyrocketing inflation is fueling food insecurity across the country (food prices increased by an astonishing 2,000 percent between autumn 2019 and the end of last year). But these are inflicting a particularly heavy toll on marginalized and vulnerable groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We just have one meal a day because we cannot afford to eat any more, and we don’t have a regular income,” one gay couple told Oxfam.
Why queer people miss out on food assistance
Already exposed to various forms of marginalization and deprivation, many community members are unemployed and grappling with challenges in accessing essential resources such as food, medicines, and decent housing. According to Oxfam’s 2021 data, there has also been a dramatic increase in demand for basic assistance services like food, cash, and medicine among community members.
Unfortunately, most people in the community cannot access humanitarian food aid provided by relief agencies and the government because of a lack of measures to protect their safety and a tendency of aid programmes to prioritise traditional, heteronormative families. As a result, many queer people, whether as individuals or couples, find themselves ineligible for assistance.
A recent assessment by Oxfam in Lebanon of 136 people from the LGBTQIA+ community shed light on their current situation. The findings revealed a concerning trend, with 68% of those assessed scoring “poor” or “borderline” on food consumption. Within this 68%, it was found that none had consumed meat, fruits, milk, or dairy products in the seven days leading up to the assessment. This suggests that cutting back on meals or portions to cope with increasing inflation risks serious consequences such as malnutrition and increased susceptibility to illness.
The context: a nation plunged into food crisis
And the national food crisis driving hunger among LGBTQIA+ people shows no signs of abating: in fact, it seems likely to get worse.
An Acute Food Insecurity Analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification body the IPC indicated that between September and December 2022, about 1.99 million Lebanese residents and Syrian refugees, 37% of the analyzed population, were in IPC Phase 3 or food security “crisis”, meaning urgent action is required to protect livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps.
Concerningly, the analysis also projected that between January and April 2023, the number of people expected to be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or higher could increase to 2.26 million people. For the population, this has brought extraordinary stresses. As one participant in a food assistance programme told Oxfam, “Since I was the sole provider for my family before I lost my job, my elderly parents and I are barely eating and feeling exhausted all day as a result of a food shortage.”
Oxfam in Lebanon’s response, including cash
In response to the food security situation, Oxfam in Lebanon conducted a Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) assessment in February 2023 targeting 136 LGBTQIA+ people from different nationalities in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
Of those assessed, 91 severely vulnerable people received total cash assistance of US$200 over two months. This financial support aimed to help them access essential goods and services, including food.
One month after the cash transfer, a follow-up assessment revealed that 78% of the supported LGBTQIA+ had used the cash specifically to buy food. One trans programme participant told Oxfam, “The cash assistance helped me buy some food, some basic needs, and pay part of my rent.” Moreover, an overwhelming 95% of the people we assessed identified “food” as a critical future need.
It’s time to give LGBTQIA+ people the dignity every human deserves
How can we accept a reality where even humanitarian aid fails to cover the bare necessities for a dignified life for LGBTQIA+ people, and that every human being deserves?
Those of us working to support and advocate for the rights of Lebanon’s LGBTQIA+ community, are asking how much longer this community will endure the weight of such discrimination, which is reinforced by unfair and outdated laws that perpetuate stigma and discrimination.
And food assistance is not enough: members of this marginalized community should be entitled to basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter without having to rely on assistance from international and local organisations. It is high time that we in Lebanon come together to create a society that recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of every human, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, where equality and justice prevail for all.
This is the first in a summer series of blogs about LGBTQIA+ rights around the world that kicks off in Pride month. All the blogs will be published on Oxfam’s Views and Voices site aimed at development professionals. Subscribe here to keep up with the latest posts and also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.