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In November last year, the Associated Press reported a raid on a gay wedding in the United Arab Emirates, and that the two dozen men arrested faced a sentence of forced hormone treatments (the Interior Ministry later denied considering such a sentence after an international protest ensued).Just weeks ago, the UN confirmed that gay Iraqis are being targeted for kidnapping and murder by Shi'ite death squads in response to a death-to-gays fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. His eyes are constantly roaming the Male Box, and he can't sit still for more than a moment.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.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.
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.