A year ago, LebMASH (Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health) was consulted on an issue regarding a direction to include LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) health issues within the work of the WHO (World Health Organization).
Two member states requested to add an LGBT health item to the agenda of the Executive Board of the WHO meeting in Geneva in May 2013. (Suggested item 6.3 of the this April 2013 draft of the agenda – PDF)
LebMASH was approached since Lebanon is a member state of the WHO Executive Board (till 2015). “I’m curious if you think your government could possibly be moved from hostile to neutral on the issues?” we were asked in the first communication.
Hostile! I personally agree, hostile in a passive aggressive way. Our government understands well the outcome of societal stigmatization on the health of marginalized groups. Our Ministry of Health has already been working with Helem (Lebanon’s LGBT organization) for a decade. The Lebanese Psychiatric Society (LPS) and Lebanese Psychological Association (LPA) have both adopted LebMASh’s position statement stating that homosexuality is not a disease. Both LPS and LPA came out strong against SOCE (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts). Only few days ago, a judge ruled that article 534 of the Lebanese penal code couldn’t be applied to criminalize homosexuals since their sexual act is not “against nature”.
Lebanon has no reason to vote negatively on adding an LGBT health item to the WHO Executive Board Agenda.
Our sources from a meeting within WHO walls in Geneva informed us that Lebanon sympathizes with the issue and understands the importance of adding this item to the agenda but cannot break out of the vote of the EMRO region block.
Politics! As if we do not suffer enough of it back home corrupting our daily lives, paralysing our progress and threatening our security, now we see it carried out beyond our borders to impact global health policies.
Last I checked, my doctor’s Hippocratic Oath said “do no harm” and not vote with the block.
Lebanon should play a vital role within the EMRO region to sway the vote of the block and relay the importance of adopting inclusive health care policies so member countries can advance health care instead of oppressing minorities.
This whole debate was concealed from the media for the past year. The only mention of it was a post (not even an article) in an Egyptian online paper on May 31 2013. The title translates to “Egypt removes ‘Advancing LGBT health care’ item from WHO agenda.” and quotes Egypt’s Health Minister stating that “the opposition to the inclusion of the topic was becasue being gay is ‘contrary’ to religious, cultural, moral, and social values.”
The media should allow the public to know about what has been brewing behind closed doors at the WHO. Discrimination in health care should not be tolerated.
Here is what you need to know:
- The EMRO (Regional WHO office for Eastern Mediterranean) and AFRO (Regional WHO office for Africa) blocks within the Executive Board of the WHO object categorically to the inclusion of any items relating to LGBT health on the WHO agenda. They veto the inclusion of the item even before even discussing what the item will be discussing.
- The next scheduled meeting is in May 2014. Efforts are still underway to add the item to the agenda.
- Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, has been negotiating to find consensus on how to best address the inclusion of this needed discussion.
Here is what you can do:
- Reach out to human and health rights organizations within your country and recruit their support.
- If your country is on the list of current Executive Board Members of WHO, try to reach out to the representative of your country and let them know your or your organization’s position on the issue.
- Raise awareness by spreading the story among colleagues and contacts.
- Help create a buzz by privately emailing to journalists/bloggers or publicly sharing with or tweeting to media.
- Sign On for WHO Consensus on LGBT Health! Invite your organization to sign the petition before March 10th, 2014.
- Send your suggestions of how you believe this issue should be approached in Lebanon (and the EMRO and AFRO regions) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Health care is a right, we should not allow it ever become a privilege.