On October 31, Bardo, one of Beirut’s landmark LGBTQ+ establishments, closed its doors. The bar’s closure comes amidst an ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, and it underscores the government’s long-standing neglect of minority and vulnerable groups. With the closure of Bardo, Beirut’s LGBTQ+ community has one less space where they can congregate, raising serious concerns about the safety and preservation of the community going forward.
For 15 years, Bardo bar and restaurant operated in West Beirut, providing a safe and inclusive space to the city’s LGBTQ+ population. The bar garnered a reputation for hosting various events, including drag shows, concerts, comedy shows, and artist readings. For many, Bardo defined a generation of LGBTQ+ people who sought opportunities to connect and thrive in Lebanon. While Lebanon is more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, compared to some of its other regional neighbors, members of the community still face social and political challenges. For example, article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code criminalizes sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature.” However, this part of the country’s legal system has been interpreted inconsistently over the past decade.
In 2019, Lebanon suffered a massive financial collapse, stemming from decades of government debt accumulation since the civil war ended in the 1990s. As a result of the financial crisis, the Lebanese pound has lost almost 90% of its value, inflation rates have skyrocketed, driving prices of essential goods up, fuel shortages have dragged on, and over half of the country’s population are now living in poverty, scrambling to find employment opportunities and to make ends meet. The crisis has particularly impacted vulnerable groups and has resulted in the shuttering of critical businesses and services.
As the crisis worsened, the landlord of the building where Bardo was located began rationing electricity at night to adjust to ongoing fuel shortages. As a result, Bardo could not produce any food, and it lost a significant portion of its income. Shortly after this, the landlord raised Bardo’s rent, which led to the closing down of the bar.
Experts have noted there is no clear end in sight to Lebanon’s economic woes. As a result, Bardo’s closure has sparked concerns about the future of Beirut’s LGBTQ+ community. There are currently only two LGBTQ-friendly establishments remaining in the country’s capital. One of these was destroyed in the August 2020 Beirut port blast before reopening in a new location. As the financial crisis continues, the LGBTQ+ community has expressed fears that these two remaining locations may soon shutter as well. Additionally, activists shared that because private actors can raise rents and ration resources, there is no pressure on the government to demonstrate accountability and protect LGBTQ+ spaces. Because of this, the risk that the community will be left without support, shelter, and safety during such a pivotal crisis period is high.