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Gay Arabic Australians face homophobia, says study

In the first report documenting the fear, violence and rejection that gay Arabic Australians suffer, respondents speak of widespread verbal and physical violence
Lawyer Ghassan Kassisieh, author of "We're Family Too"
By Same Same

Gay Australian Arabs have been victims of homophobic violence, verbal abuse or pressure to act straight, a report spanning eight years shows.

Titled We’re Family Too, the report by gay and lesbian health organization ACON will be released on Tuesday (10 Apr). Report author Ghassan Kassisieh interviewed 37 gays and lesbians, their families, as well as community and religious leaders.

Seven of the respondents said they went to a doctor, priest or imam to be cured of homosexuality and one third suffered homophobic violence, some from family members, according to the report.

The majority of interviewees were Christians and from Sydney. Most of them had faced verbal abuse or pressure to be straight-acting. As families may attempt to ‘fix’ a relative’s homosexuality internally, the extent of the problem may be underreported, a social worker suggested

The Arab Council Australia-backed report is the first to document the impact of homophobia in the Arab community and offers a chance for them to speak openly about the issue for the first time, said Kassisieh.

‘The sort of ideas that they have about homosexuality include that it's a sickness, it's a western import, it's a choice, and so it's correctable or it's curable,’ he told the ABC.

Nassim Arrage, one of the same-sex attracted (SSA) respondents, came out to his parents at 20 but his Lebanese father still does not accept it, wanting him to ‘experience being with women’ before making a final decision.

‘Arabic culture very much prioritises getting married and having children, so anyone that doesn't fit that mould, gay or otherwise, is kind of on the margins,’ Arrage said.

Kassisieh the report author is one of the most influential gay Australians and he himself migrated from Jordan to Sydney at the age of six.

A lawyer by training, Kassisieh draws much inspiration from people in the Arabic community, especially people from the days where homosexuality was criminalized, in his fight for equality and great acceptance.

‘The difficulties I have had in negotiating my own sexualities with my family inspire me to promote acceptance and tolerance in the broader community,’ Kassisieh once said.

The study shows that people from the Arabic background also faced racism and ethnic stereotyping – with an undue emphasis on sex, drugs and body image - from within the LGBT community.

Kassisieh hopes some misconceptions about the Arab community can be corrected.

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