The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality workshop — which was to have focused on media literacy and strategic planning — was scheduled to take place at the Crowne Plaza Beirut Hotel from June 8-16. Roughly 20 human rights activists from the Middle East and North Africa were expected to attend.
The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality in a press release said it signed a contract with the hotel on May 17 that reserved a meeting space for the event.
The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality publicly supports Helem, a Lebanese LGBT advocacy group, and events that it organized around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which takes place on May 17 and commemorates the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
The venue at which the events were to have taken place abruptly cancelled them, citing Lebanese authorities who said they could not guarantee participants’ safety. The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality in its press release said the hotel’s management cited its support for Helem and its International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events in their request that it postpone the workshop until “after the month of Ramadan” because it might “irritate certain people.”
Ramadan begins on June 5.
The hotel is located on Hamra Street, which is one of Beirut’s main thoroughfares. Western-style hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, bars and clubs that serve alcohol are located along it.
“Noting that the workshop organized by AFE was not publicly advertised, nor was it related to LGBTQ rights, Crowne Plaza’s concern was deemed surprising and suspicious with no credible basis for the management’s claims,” said the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality in its press release. “Changing the dates of a regional workshop, after all plane tickets have been booked and all participants had been notified of travel dates and venue was not a conceivable option against Crowne Plaza’s claims.”
The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality refused to reschedule the workshop.
The organization said in its press release the hotel’s sales manager on May 25 asked for a copy of the event’s agenda.
Georges Azzi told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a WhatsApp interview from Beirut the workshop was not related to LGBT rights. He also said it was not publicly advertised.
“We sent the agenda and the topic was very clear,” said Azzi.
The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality said hotel management told the organization on May 26 that it had cancelled their contract, saying Lebanese authorities “called the hotel and asked them to cancel our reservation.” The organization said hotel management has refused “to share any additional information.”
“Somebody from the authorities they refuse to name said, ‘Don’t do it because it’s Ramadan,’” Azzi told the Blade.
Hotel parent company believes ‘in diversity and inclusion’
The InterContinental Hotels Group — which has its headquarters in the U.K. — operates the Crowne Plaza Beirut Hotel.
The company received a perfect 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2017 Corporate Equality Index. A report the InterContinental Hotels Group has posted to its website includes a reference to supporting “the protection of human rights, particularly those of our colleagues, the parties we do business with and the communities where we operate.”
“We believe in diversity and inclusion across all aspects of our business, and reducing inequalities is embedded within our strategy and commitment to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals,” reads the report. “We create the right working environments and business relationships, and encourage a culture where everyone feels valued and accepted. This includes our employees, our guests, hotel ownership, strategic sourcing relationships, recruitment, community relations, franchising and marketing partnerships.”
The InterContinental Hotels Group notes the company recruits and promotes “individuals solely on the basis of their suitability for the job and do not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, ethnic or national origin, gender sexual orientation, age, religion, marital status or disability unrelated to the role.” It once again notes the 100 perfect score it received in the HRC 2017 Corporate Equality Index.
Michael Koth, general manager of InterContinental Jordan and director of the InterContinental Hotels Group’s Operations in the Levant, told the Blade in a statement that it welcomes “all guests to our hotel as long as their activities do not constitute a significant risk or potential harm to other guests or our employees.”
“In this case, the hotel received an indication from local authorities that the event would impose a safety risk to guests at the hotel,” he added. “The safety and security of our guests and employees is of paramount importance to us and accordingly we took the necessary measures to cancel the event.”
HRC has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment.
Lebanese advocates fear anti-LGBT backlash
Lebanese LGBT rights advocates in recent years have celebrated a series of legal victories.
Judge Rabih Maalouf earlier this year declined to prosecute a gay couple for having sexual relations, even though homosexuality remains illegal in Lebanon. Judge Janet Hanna of the Court of Appeals of Beirut in September 2016 ruled a transgender man can legally change his gender.
A judge in 2014 struck down Lebanon’s anti-sodomy law in the case of an intersex woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man. Discrimination and violence based on gender identity nevertheless remains pervasive in the Middle Eastern country that borders Israel and Syria.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in March said in a speech that homosexuality “defies logic, human nature and the human mind.” Hayat al-Ulama al-Muslimin, a Sunni extremist group, has pressured the Lebanese government to crackdown on Helem and other advocacy groups.
Azzi told the Blade that authorities have denied they asked the hotel to cancel his organization’s workshop. He also said five other Beirut hotels have offered to host it.
Azzi told the Blade the workshop will take place as scheduled.
“Nothing stops — especially in Beirut — during Ramadan,” said Azzi.
He added the only thing the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality is asking from the Crowne Plaza Beirut Hotel “now is an apology.”
“This is not acceptable,” Azzi told the Blade. “They need to be held accountable.”