More support needed for GLBT people in Arab communities: report
A groundbreaking report into homophobia and racism experienced by same-sex attracted (SSA) Australians from Arabic-speaking backgrounds has suggested more support services are required for families and community leaders on issues pertaining to sexuality and gender, while also recommending further public awareness campaigns to counter racist attitudes found within GLBT communities.
The We’re Family Too report, to be launched on Tuesday at NSW Parliament House by state politicians, John Ajaka and Helen Westwood, was based on surveys with 37 SSA respondents as well as focus groups with a number of SSA-identifying individuals between 2004-07.
The report, produced with the support of ACON and the Arab Council Australia, also includes consultation with family members, community and welfare workers, as well as both Christian and Muslim religious and community leaders from NSW’s Arab communities.
Although reflecting positively on the warmth and connectedness of Australia’s Arabic community, 30 of the 37 SSA respondents indicated that the usual attitude towards gays and lesbians in the same community was either very hostile or hostile.
Verbal abuse, being pressured to ‘act straight’ and being victim to rumours were the most commonly reported experiences of discrimination among the survey respondents, with a third reporting threats of violence and a quarter having actually experienced homophobic violence.
Six of the nine community and religious leaders who took part in the consultation however believed that homosexuality itself was more an issue than homophobia, while the majority also thought it appropriate that homosexuality be treated as an illness or choice that could be ‘cured’.
The survey found that seven SSA respondents had been taken to a doctor or religious leader in attempts by their families to try and change their sexual orientation.
The report’s author, Ghassan Kassisieh, told SX that We’re Family Too found that traditional community ideals of personal and collective ‘honour’ made it difficult for individuals alone to proclaim a SSA identity or to challenge homophobia
“That is why it is incredibly important that we move together, as a collective in addressing homophobia in Arab communities, so that no person is individually targeted for standing up against homophobia.
“By finally opening a conversation within Arab communities too, we can start to remove the burden from individuals and their supportive family members who for far too long have suffered with the burden of homophobia alone,” he said.
“There is also a message here for the GLBT community to confront issues of racial exclusion and ethnic stereotyping. Some participants said that they felt excluded in GLBT communities or were otherwise fetishised or expected to conform certain roles because of their race.”
Executive director of the Arab Council Australia, Randa Kattan, told SX that while homophobia was a problem broader than one community, the report did highlight some serious human rights issues and abuses.
“Despite the fact some people will say it is a very small sample, it can give us an indication of what is going on,” Kattan said.
“We need to make sure everybody belongs without excluding any members of the community.”
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said the provision of human rights directly impacted upon a person’s wellbeing and experiences of discrimination and social exclusion only limited access to services, opportunities and networks.
“We look forward to working with both the Arab and GLBT communities to help increase respect for diversity and to improve the health and safety of GLBT people from Arabic-speaking backgrounds,” he added.