He sat blindfolded in a military compound in Lebanon, listening to the sounds of metal gates slamming shut and detainees screaming in pain. The guards had called him in to answer “a few questions.” But when he arrived, they told him they knew he was gay, and he understood they would try to pin any crime they could on him. One officer asked, “Have you ever paid for sex?” Joseph Aoun chuckled. “Of course not,” he said. “I’m a handsome man.” Most people would not crack jokes while being held in an underground cell, but Aoun is not most people: He is a 33-year-old former lawyer and one of the most influential LGBT activists in the Middle East. As the community center coordinator of the LGBT advocacy group Helem, Aoun is determined to develop a model of grassroots, pragmatic activism that does not merely emulate Western NGOs but fits the unique needs of his community in the Arab world.
December 10 / Ozy