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Arabian Nights is orchestrated by AL-GAMEA, a group formed in 2004 by three gay Arab men dedicated to creating a forum for support, socialization, education and awareness, in an area that's home to the largest and most visible Arab-American community in the country.
Christiano Ayoub Ramazzotti, 31, is a small man with big aspirations.
While the situation is less grim for Arab-Americans in this country, they still face personal, religious and familial hardships for their sexual orientation much like those tackled by the first wave of the gay rights movement in the '70s. Nick was kicked out of the house after informing his parents he was gay.
With no stable job and nowhere to go, he had to lie to Mom and Dad assuring them his homosexuality was "a phase" in order to come back home. He says being openly gay is one of the "hardest things you can do as an Arab. Arabs don't understand that it's not a choice; they say, 'America made you that way.'" "The Arabic community in Dearborn does not respect gay life," says Andy, 25, who was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States with his family when he was 5. "I was born like this and it's nothing to be ashamed of." These stories are far too common, and they're why Ramazzotti, Makhay and Sebastian decided to start AL-GAMEA (which means "the gathering").
Its webmaster is Ramzi Zakharia, a GLAS founder who's originally from Beirut and now lives in New York City.
GLAS was founded in 1989, and its Web site (glas.org) began in the mid-'90s.
The site's traffic has died down in recent years, attributed in part, Zakharia says, to the development of more regional groups such as AL-GAMEA.
(Last week it was hacked, the content temporarily replaced with the words "I hope you fucking die.") The site's recent unveiling was a critical step for the group like so many marginalized and secretive communities, gay Arabs found solace on the Internet, which allows them to interact, meet and converse while still retaining the crucial element of anonymity.
One of the most popular sites is gayarab.com, which was started by GLAS, the Gay and Lesbian Arabic Society.
"Let's create a group that will help us be social, a safe place for people who may not feel safe coming out in our culture and community." They began networking with other organizations, and hosting the Arabian Nights dance parties at various gay clubs in metro Detroit.
The Male Box party was their ninth event; it's also decidedly male. I've never met a young Arab lesbian." Sebastian suggests that perhaps Arab lesbians are more closeted than men, but doesn't know why. Canadian Irshad Manji is an outspoken Muslim lesbian and author who's appeared on CNN, the BBC and FOX News; the Safra Project (safraproject.org) is a growing international support group of sorts for Muslim lesbian, bisexual and transgendered women; and ASWAT (aswat.org) is a support network for Palestinian gay women one of the group's goals is "to increase the presence of women's sexuality and lesbianism in the Arabic language and culture." AL-GAMEA hopes to lure more men and women out of the closet.
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The full-time HIV counselor and former high school gymnastics coach zips through the bar, hugging friends, shaking hands, making introductions.