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"We don't have a lot of lesbians coming out to bars," Ramazzotti says. While they promote AIDS education (at each event they pass out HIV prevention literature printed in Arabic and distributed by ACCESS, although they're not officially affiliated with the group), their primary goal, for now, is social networking and increasing the visibility of gay Arabs.
"Our long-term goal is to be like a PFLAG-type group," Ramazzotti says, referring to the national organization called Parents Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays.
Sebastian, 39, has just finished applying makeup to Haifa, an Arab female impersonator who'll be performing later tonight.
Despite the darkened environ, Haifa sports rockstar shades on the tip of her nose.
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").
As immigrants, they must cope with melding two nationalities; as Arabs, they must deal with unbridled, post-9/11 racism in this country; and as gays, they must deal with jokes, harassment, discrimination, and sometimes, the threat of being attacked and beaten even by their own families.
GLAS was founded in 1989, and its Web site (glas.org) began in the mid-'90s.
"Eventually we'd like to be a nonprofit with a board of directors, to be able to have more events and offer financial and medical assistance," Sebastian adds.
The group recently launched its own Web site, algamea.com, which includes forums and news bulletins.
The suffocatingly sweet scent of peach-flavored tobacco wafts through the Male Box, swirling around the disco lights that ricochet off mirrored walls.
The smoldering aroma is rising from a series of hookah pipes perched on glitter-flecked tables a rather odd juxtaposition in a beer-and-shot gay bar that's located on a desolate stretch of Seven Mile Road in Detroit.