When a group of Lebanese activists decided to form the first gay and lesbian rights group in the Arab world, they were in for a tough time. Although Lebanon is one of the most liberal Arab countries, homosexuality is illegal in a country where religious leaders command considerable influence. The few gays and lesbians who are bold enough to publicly identify themselves are often alienated by their friends and family. Death threats are not unheard of. But the activists have made steps towards helping Arab gays gain rights in Lebanon and in other Arab countries since the group's inception four years ago. The group, Helem (Arabic for dream), released a magazine in Arabic for gays and lesbians last year - most likely the first widely distributed gay publication in the Arabic language. Entitled Barra (Arabic for out) the magazine has been accessed over the internet by readers across the Arab world and receives 60,000 hits a month. 'The target is lesbian gay, bisexual and transsexual people and its aim is to help the Lebanese and Arab societies understand more about this section of society that is completely alienated,' said George Azzi the co-ordinator of Helem. 'We are trying to fight this exclusion. This was the idea behind the magazine. To have a voice, a voice that was completely shut down,' he said. Helem is able to work openly and there are bars and nightclubs where gays are able to congregate. It has registered itself with the Lebanese authorities, suggesting that the government is at least willing to tolerate such an organisation. Some activists say homosexuality is on the verge of being decriminalised and expect a change in the law within a year. But while gays in Lebanon appear to be getting closer to obtaining their rights, Helem acknowledges the situation in other Arab countries is different. 'In other countries it's either the lack of a strong civil society or a conservative society where there is no space to come out,' Helem activist Ghassan Makarem said. There is not a single Arab country that has legalised homosexuality and in some states in the region gays are subject to the death penalty. Often pressure from religious conservatives motivates governments to crack down on gays. 'The only solution is to persuade the religious leaders that they don't need to control everything,' Mr Azzi said.