Outcast gay Arabs struggle with backlash in Dearborn, MI
“I’m not afraid. Somebody has to start the conversation,” said Chris Ramazzotti, who’s Lebanese and agreed to reveal his name while discussing homosexuality among Arabs here. Other gay Arabs didn’t disclose their identities citing safety risks as a reason, and to prevent their families from being criticized by Dearborn’s close-knit Arab community. Ramazzotti is the executive director of Al-Gamea, a group formed in 2006 to address the growing needs of local gay Middle Eastern Americans. In 2009 it became a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Ramazzotti says the Arab community’s progress towards having more tolerant attitudes about lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) people has been slow. Arab Americans comprise more than 40 percent of Dearborn’s population, which according to a 2010 U.S. Census report was 98,153. Two Arabs from Dearborn said in parts of Beirut, Lebanon it can be less difficult for an Arab to be openly gay than it’s here. Lebanon is one of the few Arab countries on the forefront of organizing for LBGT rights. Ryan, a 23-year-old gay Arab from Dearborn who was kicked out of his house after coming out to his family, says there haven’t been any real conversations among community leaders about gay Arabs. “People are afraid to step up, and then there’s people like me who are out and ready to start the conversation, but the question is where do we start? We don’t know who supports gay Arabs, and sometimes I am afraid for my safety,” Ryan said.