Identity, Mental Health and Coping among Sexual Minorities in the Middle East and North Africa: The Case of Lebanon

Rusi Jaspal, Moubadda Assi, Ismael Maatouk

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In contrast to the significant advances that have been made in relation to the rights and wellbeing of sexual minorities in many Western societies, countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) can be hostile and even dangerous environments for sexual minorities. Even in the more liberal countries in the MENA region, such as Lebanon and Jordan, sexual minorities may face stigma, harassment and persecution. In addition to their state-sanctioned stigmatization, sexual minorities in MENA are socialized within social, cultural, and religious contexts in which the family is central to identity and, thus, family honor is of utmost importance (Kazarian 2005; Maatouk and Jaspal 2023). Contravention of the coercive norm of compulsory heterosexuality may be seen as a threat to family honor. Socialization within a cultural context in which one’s sexual orientation is constructed as being morally flawed can lead sexual minorities to internalize these beliefs at a psychological level, to conceal their identity from others as a self-protection strategy and, in some cases, to pass themselves off as heterosexual. According to dominant theories from social psychology, stigma at multiple levels (i.e., institutional, community and social) can result in threats to social and psychological wellbeing and precipitate modifications to one’s sense of identity. However, data concerning the lives, identities and wellbeing of sexual minorities specifically in MENA are scarce. Through the lens of minority stress theory (Meyer 2003) and identity process theory (Jaspal and Breakwell 2014), this chapter focuses on interactions between identity, mental health and coping among sexual minorities in MENA with a particular focus on Lebanon. More specifically, the ways in which sexual minorities construct and protect their sense of identity in the face of social psychological stressors are examined.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSexuality in the Middle East and North Africa
Subtitle of host publicationContemporary issues and challenges
EditorsJ. Michael Ryan, Helen Rizzo
Place of PublicationSyracuse, NY
PublisherSyracuse University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

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