A Celebration of Courage 2009: Transcript of Georges Azzi's Speech

Friends, Distinguished Guests, Allies in the global struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

It is a profound honor and such a pleasure to be here with you tonight.
I would first like to express my sincere gratitude to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for granting the Felipa de Souza award to Helem – Lebanese Protection for LGBT.

I am so pleased to accept this award on behalf of Helem’s board, staff, volunteers, members and on behalf of the LGBT community in Lebanon, for whom Helem exists.

Only five years ago, there was not a single LGBT organization operating in the Arab world. What we are living now was an impossible dream only a few years back.

Our struggle is far from finished, but I truly believe that we are reaching a critical point in the battle for our rights to be who we are and to love who we love without fear, discrimination or persecution.

The battle for our rights can only succeed when we are unified, organized and when we are able to pair global solidarity with local action – a strategy that Helem has applied since the launch of our organization in 2004.
Helem was founded on the principle of community engagement and grassroots movement building. Creating the first safe space for LGBT individuals in the Arab world, reaching out beyond our neighborhood, our city – Beirut, and even beyond our borders through the development of publications and a website to provide our community with Arabic-language information on rights, health and to give our movement a voice in our language.

We have cautiously, but boldly taken steps to put a face to our movement – organizing public events for the International Day Against Homophobia and recently organizing the first public protest against violence targeting LGBT individuals in a public square in downtown Beirut.

We have built critical partnerships within Lebanon to develop a network of straight allies – organizations working to advance human rights and access to health care. We started as a small and relatively hidden organization, and we are now a partner of the Lebanese government and one of the key HIV/AIDS service providers in the country.

International Alliances have also been important to our success. The work of organizations like IGLHRC has brought LGBT rights discussions to the front

financial and operational support from organizations like the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, the Heinrich Boll Foundation, the Ford Foundation and others have made our work possible and have given us the resources and the networks we need to do the work we do.

The core of our success, however, is the courage of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals who make up our movement in Lebanon and across the Middle East. Our greatest achievement is our continued existence and the growing number of people in Lebanon and around the region who are stepping forward to say that our rights should not be limited or compromised.
We now hope to share the lessons we have learned with emerging LGBT movements around the Middle East and North Africa. With the support of IGLHRC and our global partners, perhaps we will see this same award made to LGBT activists from Egypt, Syria or Jordan – countries where activists are beginning to come together and organize to advance protections and rights for LGBT people living in fear or hiding because of repressive laws and the persistent influence of religious fundamentalism.

We have a long road ahead, but together our global movement has made impressive progress. We must maintain the momentum that we have built up to ensure equal rights for each and every one of our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world. The struggle will be hard, but together, we can do amazing things.

Thank you.