Lebanon drag show derailed by crowd of angry conservative men

By Emilie Madi

BEIRUT (Reuters) -A drag show in the Lebanese capital Beirut was cut short late on Wednesday by an angry crowd of conservative Christians screaming homophobic chants, according to a Reuters witness and attendees.

The show, hosted by two Lebanese drag artists known as Latiza Bombe and Emma Gration, was hosted at a bar in Beirut known to be a safe space for LGBT individuals.

But shortly after it started, the two hosts, wearing black leotards and in full makeup and wigs, ended the show early after being alerted that angry men were approaching the venue.

"We are here, we exist, and no one will silence us. However, sometimes to keep doing what we're doing we have to do it smartly. Unfortunately we have to cut the show short," Emma Gration said from the stage.

The pair and a group of attendees ran to the changing area as a group of men could be heard gathering outside the venue, loudly spitting and shouting that they were "disgusted" at the event, according to a Reuters witness with them.

The group hid for about 40 minutes, during which the two performers removed makeup and fake eyelashes to blend in with the audience in case the conservative group broke in.

Attendees departed safely after security forces eventually arrived and dispersed the crowd.

Footage posted online from outside the same venue on Wednesday showed men identifying themselves as "the Soldiers of God," an anti-LGBT Christian movement in Lebanon.

It was the latest episode showing rising hate speech against Lebanon's LGBT community, including from conservatives with various religious backgrounds.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of powerful Shi'ite armed group Hezbollah, has said homosexuality posed an "imminent danger" to Lebanon and should be "confronted".

Lebanon was the first Arab country to hold a gay pride week in 2017 and has generally been seen as a safe haven for the LGBT community in the broadly conservative Middle East, a role activists say is now under threat.

Amnesty International voiced concern at the incident, saying it "underscores the worsening state of LGBTI rights in Lebanon", and urged the Lebanese government to ensure protection for all, irrespective of gender identity or sexual orientation.

(Reporting by Emilie Madi; Writing by Maya Gebeily, Editing by William Maclean)