Beirut dragqueen EMMA GRATION: ‘I feared this attack on us would take a deadly turn’


Beirut dragqueens Latiza Bombe and Emma Gration had to go into hiding – fearing for their lives – when a bar at which they were performing was raided by an extremist Christian group. This is Emma’s story.

Words by Caspar Pisters, photos courtesy of Emma Gration

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

‘A friend came up to me, saying: ‘It’s not safe, you should cut off the show.’ I knew he was right. Outside the venue, I had seen individuals through the window filming while I was doing my lipsync. It didn’t feel good. I made the music stop and told the audience not to panic but to leave the premises. In groups, not alone, for safety reasons.

Earlier, there was a commotion in the bar. A person had come in, shouting at us: ‘This is not okay, we don’t want to see these people here in the land of God, it’s against nature.’ The owners of the bar tried to de-escalate the situation, telling him that it is just a comedy show. Gradually, outside, people from a far-right extremist Christian group started gathering. They call themselves the Soldiers of God.

I knew in my bones that if the attackers found us, in drag, we would have been made an example. I feared for my life.’

Hate against queer people is not unusual in Lebanon. Since June last year, it took a different turn when the Minister of Interior initiated a law to ban so-called gatherings that promote deviancy. The queer movement challenged the decision and it was successfully revoked by the High Council of Ministers – a big win for the queer community. But he came up with a second version of the law, which also has been challenged but is not yet suspended. Meanwhile, a nationwide debate was sparked, and violence against queer people has increased since.

Emma, posing, on a rooftop in Beirut, Lebanon.

What kept me safe until now, is that there are no images linking me in and out of drag. That decision may end up saving my life.”

Idiots on motorcycles will drive by and throw eggs, and shout hateful slurs. There are ongoing incidents of violence towards trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. Days prior to our performance, during a religious holiday, the secretary general of Hezbollah during his speech had made time to say that no matter what kind of homosexual – gay, bi, lesbian – it is lawful and permissible for anyone to kill them. Mind you, millions of Lebanese people watch that and take his word as law. The queer scene is under siege, and that tension is tangible in the bars.

The second we got off stage, things escalated. I was doing the show with Latiza Bombe, my best friend, also a drag queen. We rushed to the back to get our stuff and leave, but it was too late. We heard how things were being thrown around and these guys came in screaming: ‘This is the land of god, this bar is for the devil! Long live the King of Soldiers!’

Footsteps going back and forth

Our dressing room is nothing more than a piece of fabric we put up behind the bar to cover us when we are changing. We pulled it over us, and lay on the ground, trying to hide. They were beating up normative-looking men. I knew in my bones that if we were found, in drag, things would have taken a deadly turn. We would have been made an example. I feared for my safety, for my life, like never before. It was pure horror.

All we could do was watch their footsteps going back and forth. We spent some thirty to forty minutes on the ground, not able to move. Covered up in the August heat we could barely breathe, only a piece of fabric between us and them. In their rage, they didn’t pay attention to that pile of fabric behind the bar. At some point, we managed to squeeze into the bathroom through a little window.

Meanwhile, friends were held captive inside, lots of people were trapped in the bar. And this is where I really, really, felt that community energy: their main concern was us. To bring us water, bring us wipes to take our make-up off. Because we didn’t have any regular clothes, they started stripping clothes off of each other to give to us, reassuring us that everything was going to be okay.

At some point someone came up, saying: ‘You can leave but it has to be now.’ A friend of theirs was waiting in the street in a car. I hesitated for a moment but then grabbed Latiza’s arm, and we ran. We made it to the car and it drove off. We were out, thinking we had made it, that it was over.

Note: this is not the bar described in this article.

When we learned the Soldiers of God were looking for us, we had to go into hiding right away.’

We gathered at Latiza’s apartment. Other friends came. People who had been beaten up, people who felt terrified. We tried to console each other, drinking and laughing it off. Because that’s what you do.

The next day, the story went viral. We received invitations from local and international media, and we went for it. We wanted our story to get out there.

But on Friday, the terrorist group struck back. They had taken a video from Latiza’s Instagram account. In it, she is going all-out being filthy and provocative. One scene is an obvious parody of the movie The Exorcist, where a crucifix is used to expel the demon. Horror and filth are what her drag is based on, she refers to herself as the drag monster.

Death threats

But they edited and twisted it, trying to demonize us, saying that she was mocking religion, and had involved an underage kid. And it worked. People started turning against us. A very popular Lebanese singer retweeted the video, saying she approved of homosexuality, but not of this kind of filth. After that, it exploded. The amount of hate speech and death threats that came our way is indescribable. Millions of people watched the video – mind you, Libanon has only five million inhabitants.

That’s when we learned the Soldiers of God were looking for us, and Latiza was outed to her family, which had always been her biggest fear. Her family started receiving threats too, and she had to go into hiding. In a matter of hours, I had to say goodbye to my best friend, not knowing how and when I will see her again.

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‘This night reminds me of, everything they deprived me of’. Emma Gration performing earlier, at the same bar.

Myself, I haven’t left my place in two weeks. What has kept me safe until now, is that there are no images that link me in and out of drag. For artistic reasons, I never wanted these two personas to merge. Now that decision may end up saving my life.

Amplify our voices

I’m not sure if I can stay in Beirut. Leaving is an option that is becoming more realistic every day. It is my fear that I will be identified because of how I am associated with Latiza. She was outed, and people know we are best friends.

I don’t see any drag shows happening in Beirut anytime soon, everything got canceled. I hope our voices will get amplified by anyone reading this, and especially by the Lebanese queer community abroad, most of whom were driven out of the country because it wasn’t safe for them. Demonstrate outside the Lebanese embassies and consulates. You left the country, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be heard.

Those thugs were left to go home, sleep on their beds, and live another day, to continue terrorizing people. We have to lay low and hide, fearing for our lives. It just doesn’t make sense to me.’

Please join us this Thursday [Sept 7] in Club chUrch, Amsterdam, for a fundraiser in support of Emma Gration, Latiza Bombe, and others affected by the attack.

Help them cover costs directly related to their crisis situation while also losing their income – and stand with the broader queer community of Beirut.


Join us in Club chUrch for a night of solidarity, performances, resilience, and celebrating community!