The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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October 18, 2016

The Daily Star- Helem opens new community center in Mar Mikhael after two-year hiatus, October 18 , 2016

BEIRUT: After a two-year hiatus, Helem – a Lebanese NGO that works to protect the LGBTQ community and highlight issues affecting them – has opened a new space in the heart of Mar Mikhael. “We were looking [for a place] between Mar Mikhael and Hamra because there are not a lot of options in Beirut to open this kind of safe space,” Ghenwa Samhat, the organization’s Executive Director, told The Daily Star from their new center.
Helem, or “dream” in Arabic, was among the first advocacy group in the Arab world for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, et al. The organization began in the ’90s as an underground movement working to protect members of the then heavily targeted community. By 2004, it officially acquired status as an NGO and was able to operate in the open.
Previously, the organization had a community center in Hamra but for financial reasons the space closed down. Despite not having an open center, it maintained an office for managerial purposes and offered a venue twice a week for the LGBTQ community to convene.
Now, Helem operates fully out of its new center in a Mar Mikhael apartment. The center offers social space, as well as services and activities for the local LGBTQ community.
Located in the middle of the bustling, vibrant Armenia Street, Helem is now based in an apartment complex, offering a warm, welcoming vibe to visitors.
“We want the space to be accessible to everyone. People are coming all the time for activities and for the space itself,” Samhat remarked.
At the top of two flights of stairs, Helem’s new space is filled with couches, brightly lit rooms, and an impressive collection of DVDs and books. Although new, the space was already bustling with volunteers, activists, and people just looking for somewhere quiet to relax.
“It’s not just a space to hang out, we have film clubs and book clubs here,” she said. They also organize discussions, events and this month will launch a volunteer program.
Yet, its larger purpose is to create an open venue for people to feel themselves in a society that is still wary of non-traditional gender and sexual identities.
“I know that our society cannot completely understand every aspect of homosexuality. However, I don’t think that I understand every aspect of it either, because there is no place [to explore] that [in Lebanon],” explained a 24-year-old Beirut native who identified himself as Ramzi Chamoun.
In addition to being a social space, and a hub of activism, patrons as well as the wider LGBTQ community in Lebanon have come to rely on Helem for legal assistance.
“We offer legal services, providing expertise. We have four lawyers who work for Helem who are experts in different areas. We bail [people] out when they’re arrested, we assign lawyers, and we follow up on their legal cases.”
Although Lebanon is often considered among the least conservative and most tolerant countries in the Arab region for the LGBTQ community, there are still numerous legal and social issues.
Fady Haddad, whose name has been altered for his safety, offered insight into the pressures he faces in Lebanon. “I don’t feel threatened on a daily bases, but people do fear my sexuality ... and it causes problems.”
Chamoun says he sees Helem’s open community center as not only representative of advancements toward a progressive Lebanon, but also the opportunity to safely express himself and bond with peers.

Source & Link :The Daily Star

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