A Celebration of Courage: Helem Wins 2009 Felipa de Souza Award

For Immediate Release, January 23, 2009

Contact Media: Hossein Alizadeh, 212-430-6016, halizadeh@iglhrc.org

(New York, NY, January 23, 2009) The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) announced today that it would award its 2009 Felipa de Souza Award to the Lebanese group Helem. IGLHRC’s Felipa Award recognizes the courage and effectiveness of groups or leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) and other individuals stigmatized and abused because of their sexuality or HIV status. The first organization in the Arab world to set up a gay and lesbian community center, Helem’s work has consistently broken new ground in a country that criminalizes homosexuality and where violence and abuse are persistent problems.

“We are so pleased to be able to present our 2009 Felipa Award to Helem,” said IGLHRC’s Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick. “Helem works in very challenging circumstances to make a very real difference to the lives of countless LGBTI people in the Middle East and beyond. We applaud their courage and commitment to human rights for all.”

“We are very proud to accept the Felipa Award from IGLHRC,” said a Helem board member and fundraiser. “It is a great honor to be selected. We hope it will help advance the struggle for human rights for LGBTI people in Lebanon, and throughout the Middle East.”

Founded in 2004, Helem (the Arabic acronym of "Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender") is based in Beirut, with support chapters in Australia, France, Canada and the United States. The organization’s work is multifaceted, ranging from advocacy to public education. A major focus of its human rights advocacy work revolves around eradicating Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which is used to criminalize homosexuality; another advocacy focus addresses HIV/AIDS. Its community center has consistently offered the local LGBTI community a wide range of services ranging from HIV testing and counseling to workshops and publications about how to respond to harassment and arbitrary arrest.

The Felipa Award embodies the spirit of Felipa de Souza, who endured persecution and brutality after proudly declaring her intimacy with a woman during a 16th Century inquisition trial in Brazil. Nominations for the award are solicited each year from activists around the world. Nominees go through a rigorous review by the staff, board and the International Advisory Committee of IGLHRC. This year IGLHRC received 23 nominations, and Helem was ultimately selected from a group of five, highly competitive finalists.

Previous Felipa Award winners include: Andrés Ignacio Rivera Duarte; the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO); the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) of Nepal; Rauda Morcos, founder of ASWAT (Voices) the first group for Palestinian lesbians; Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), the first organization to push for the human rights of LGBT people in Zimbabwean society and to provide counseling services and HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns; Simon Tseko Nikoli, the famed LGBT/HIV activist from South Africa; Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, whose leader Brian Williamson was murdered in 2004; Lohana Berkins, a globally recognized transgender activist from Argentina; and Maher Sabry, the Egyptian activist who notified IGLHRC of the arrests of the Cairo 52, a group of 52 men who were arrested by the Egyptian police at a Cairo gay nightclub in 2001.

The Felipa Award will be presented to Helem as part of IGLHRC’s A Celebration of Courage gala event on March 30, 2008 in New York and on April 2, 2008 in San Francisco. For more information regarding IGLHRC’s Felipa de Souza Award and its A Celebration of Courage events, visit: www.iglhrc.org.


The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating international human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in Cape Town and Buenos Aires. Visit http://www.iglhrc.org for more information