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It's Saturday night and the place is slowly filling up with men of a variety of ages and races but this isn't any ordinary evening.Tonight, the bar is playing host to Arabian Nights, a series of monthly events designed to validate and unite one of the most closeted communities in the area, and in the nation: Gay and lesbian Arabs.(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.The full-time HIV counselor and former high school gymnastics coach zips through the bar, hugging friends, shaking hands, making introductions.Bashar Makhay, 21, mans the DJ booth; as cultures collide and mesh, so does the music traditional Arabic rhythms are layered over staccato electronic beats common in dance clubs.Zakharia adds that international news reports often draw huge attention to the plights of gay Arabs.In 2001, police raided a floating gay-friendly disco in Cairo ironically named the Queen Boat and arrested more than 50 men.
The group recently launched its own Web site, algamea.com, which includes forums and news bulletins."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.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 site's main page is dedicated mostly to news articles, which are not necessarily on point with being either gay or Arab, there's a lighter side called "The Queer Arabs Blog: Rantings of Angry Sarcastic Bitchy Queer Arab Americans." (One post pointed out the eerie resemblance between New Zealand drag queen comic Dame Edna and female Syrian vice president Najah al-Attar.) There's also a personals section.