Beirut’s port explosion shattered a queer oasis, but the residents of Mar Mikhael have vowed to rebuild

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09/22/2020

Firas Nabulsi remembers dancing in drag under a rain of glitter, rose petals cascading from beneath his wig, the Beirut nightclub crowd cheering as he lip-synched to a Whitney Houston song. Now he doesn’t have anywhere to dance, anywhere to work or anywhere to live. The blast destroyed his home in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael, along with the queer-friendly clubs in the city’s most accepting neighbourhood. Mar Mikhael is where Beirut earned its reputation as the Middle East’s capital of hedonism, a thriving, bohemian cultural centre that defied Lebanon’s religious divides and history of sectarian violence. But with most of its homes, restaurants and bars damaged in the explosion at the adjacent port on August 4, people like Firas have lost their refuge. The blast was triggered by a fire in a warehouse that stored 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. The huge explosion is believed to have killed about 200 people, injured thousands more, and damaged about 70,000 homes. The emotional shock waves of the blast continue to devastate the former residents of Mar Mikhael.

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