Shahinaz, 34 years old, She/Her
Shahinaz is a transgender Palestinian woman who stands proud in every inch of her identity. She is strong, self-sufficient and an accomplished chef as well.
Shunned by her family, she carved out a life of her own working as a chef and renting out an apartment in the Mar Mikhael district of Beirut (an area known to host many of the LGBTQ+ voices of Lebanon). Slowly but surely, she began to form a community of people around her by surrounding herself in the area with colorful characters, whether they’re close friends or simply neighbors and kind souls who wave hello when they cross pass in the street. All of them knew her truth, and they all loved her for it. For a while, she managed to find a glimmer of hope amidst the hardships in her life.
All that changed on August 4th, 2020.
When she heard the first explosion, Shahinaz went to the balcony to see what was going on. Her upstairs neighbor suggested that it might be a problem with their generator, so she proceeded to go check on it. She barely made it there when the second blast went off.
She was thrown backwards instantly. Dazed, she got up, miraculously uninjured, and went back to the balcony to check on her neighbor. She found her standing in the same spot with half her face torn and bloody. She ran upstairs, made a makeshift bandage from a towel, and walked with her for several kilometers to the nearest hospital for proper treatment.
After ensuring her friend’s safety, she started her journey back home. While walking through her neighborhood, she slowly realized that the community she had surrounded herself with was now shattered. The people who had become near and dear to her heart were severely injured or dead, and her apartment was destroyed. Any semblance of comfort or home had once again been stripped away from her. She was alone and had to start all over again.
But that was only the beginning of her problems.
After securing temporary housing with the help of an NGO, she went back to her destroyed apartment to collect her personal belongings but quickly realized that they had been stolen. After further inquiries, she found out that her landlord was the one who stole them and had sold them. She confronted him, only to be laughed off. He said that, as a Palestinian and trans woman, any legal complaint she filed wouldn’t be taken seriously, and he would never face any consequences for his crime. He was right. She felt defeated and left helpless at the hands of a system that doesn’t care about her.
She managed to secure a new living space to rent but now hides her identity from the new landlord. She is forced to pay the rent through the landlord’s sister, so she won’t be kicked out. Managing to come up with the rent is a feat on to itself with the pandemic and the current economic crisis.
Shahinaz is a chef. When talking to her, she proudly recalls the various reputable restaurants she’s worked at and the dishes she’s cooked. She claims to have 100 times more experience than any of the other trained chefs she’s worked with. And yet, when she is fortunate enough to find a job, she is often forced to work long hours and is paid substantially less than her coworkers due to her gender status and nationality. However, even underpaid employment is hard to come by nowadays.
When she applies to organizations for aid, she is often denied with feedbacks like “families come first” and “check with organizations that people like you belong to”. Such words no longer surprise her but still hurt just the same each time she hears them. Sometimes receiving the aid is a problem onto itself. As a Palestinian, she qualifies for aid from the UNRWA, which operates inside the refugee camps. However, her several attempts to go to a Palestinian camp have been met with violence from the other refugees and with threats against her life. During her last visit, a female doctor had to cover her in a veil and smuggle her out of the camp for her safety.
All because she is trans.
When we asked Shahinaz how we could help her, she simply requested some assistance with her very basic needs: an oven so that she can cook again, a fridge so the food would last for a few days, a laundry machine to safeguard her dignity. She could also use some help with her medical fees, to keep up with her physical and mental health in these trying times.
She hopes that the media will start providing positive coverage of the LGBTQ community and help create a culture of acceptance in the society. She wonders while fighting back tears: “Why can’t people just let me walk down the street in peace? That’s all I ask of them”.
6-month rent, transportation, food, clothing: CAD 6,000
Appliances and furniture: CAD 5,000
Medical: CAD 2,000
Total: CAD 13,000