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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").It's extremely hard because of your culture, your parents. "They think you're a sick person, that you're not supposed to live. The idea developed after a gay pride march in 2004, when the three men got together with friends to watch a documentary, I Exist, about gays and lesbians in the Middle East."We watched it and thought, 'we do exist' and we need something like that here," Sebastian says.(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.Of those, 21 were sent to prison, convicted of "debauchery" and "sexual immorality." Many claimed they were beaten and tortured while awaiting trial.
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.
Sebastian, 39, has just finished applying makeup to Haifa, an Arab female impersonator who'll be performing later tonight.