For the first time in any Arab country, an organisation of professional psychiatrists has publicly asserted that homosexuality is not a mental illness.
A statement issued yesterday by the Lebanese Psychiatric Society says:
“Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not need to be treated.
“Homosexuality in itself does not cause any defect in judgment, stability, reliability or social and professional abilities.
“The assumption that homosexuality is a result of disturbances in the family dynamic or unbalanced psychological development is based on wrong information.”
The society also said there is no evidence that therapy to alter sexual orientation works, according to a report in the Daily Star.
Although the LPS statement merely reflects what has long been the accepted view among mainstream psychiatrists – the two main American psychiatric bodies removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in the 1970s and the World Health Organisation did so more than 20 years ago – in the context of the Middle East it's an important milestone.
Arab psychiatrists have been reluctant to take a public stand on the issue until now, and many continue taking money from parents seeking a "cure" for their LGBT sons and daughters.
While popular opinion in the region, encouraged by religious dogma, still often regards homosexuality as a sin, treating it as an illness is sometimes viewed as a more progressive alternative – especially among the "educated" classes. Some of the consequences of this can be seen here.
During a visit to Egypt a few years ago, I asked a gay activist: "If one thing could be done to make life easier for gay and lesbian Arabs, what would it be?"
His answer surprised me, but he said he would start with the medical profession. It is impossible, he said, to find a psychiatrist in Egypt who is willing to state openly and in public – regardless of their private opinion – that homosexuality is not a disease.
With the notable exception of the LPS in Lebanon, a similar situation persists throughout the Arab region.
Last month in Lebanon, psychiatrist Nabil Khoury was taken to task by the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) over an interview on the OTV channel (see video below, in Arabic). Apart from the programme's derogatory language referring to gay and lesbian people, Khoury was accused of disregarding "current and evidence-based knowledge" about homosexuality.
"Unfortunately, almost all of what Dr Khoury discussed is inaccurate and misleading," LebMASH said. "There is no scientific evidence linking spoiling children or sexual abuse with homosexuality. His attempt to explain female homosexuality is also not based on any evidence-based research or scientific knowledge." It continued:
"We are also very disappointed to see Dr Khoury portray a very conflicted image of homosexuals who come out. Dr Khoury uses the term 'positive rudeness' which is a very interesting and unusual term. He also states that these people are 'out' because they have a 'spirit of defiance'.
"We believe that gay and lesbian people are equal citizens in the societies where they live and therefore should have the right to express themselves without being called rude or defiant for simply being who they are."
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Friday, 12 July 2013