9887429414_54be6e5dde_cThe Arab Council has been recognised for its groundbreaking efforts to create greater acceptance and understanding of LGBTI people within local Arab-Australian communities across NSW, with the organisation taking out laurels at the recently held ACON Honour Awards.

Held last Thursday at The Ivy, the annual Honour Awards recognise the contribution made by individuals and groups to the state’s LGBTI community. This year’s ceremony saw the Arab Council notch the Health and Wellbeing Award for its dedicated and significant efforts in addressing the health issues, safety and acceptance of LGBTI people from Arabic-speaking communities.

The Council, formed originally in 1979 as the Arabic Welfare Workers Interagency, is now a secular non-profit independent organisation which works towards social justice and improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the community. Last April, the Council released the ‘We’re Family Too’ report, which incorporated lengthy interviews with gay and lesbian Arab-Australians as well as with community leaders.

Launched at NSW Parliament House by state politicians John Ajaka and Helen Westwood, the report clearly highlighted several concerns, including many gay and lesbian Arab-Australians feeling concerned about the hostility shown to them by family, particular extended family members, as well as racist attitudes found within LGBT communities.

Arab Council CEO Randa Kattan (pictured, right) told the Star Observer this week that the Honour Award served as both vindication and encouragement for the leading role it has taken.

“We got the reward not just for the report itself but because of all the work we are doing. We could have buried the report but we didn’t. We actually actively then did a few things. The award is a great recognition of the work the Arab Council is doing even today,” Rattan said.

“Since the report was launched, the Arab Council has become an LGBTI Safe Place. The entire board is very much committed to this process. We’ve had a debate in the Arabic press and we are also translating the report into Arabic. We have also received a small grant from Bankstown City Council to begin working on practical strategies that were part of that report.”

Speaking to the Star Observer, the report’s author, Ghassan Kassisieh, believes the recognition and support from the LGBTI community will undoubtedly spur on efforts by queer Arabs and their friends and allies.

“I do not know what the response to the award will be from the broader Arab community but I suspect that the award will give sustenance and hope to many GLBTIQ people and their allies who will know that people care about them and are fighting with them for change,” Kassisieh said.

On October 20, Arab-LGBTI social group Beit el Hob (House of Love) is planning to hold a special free, all-ages, alcohol-free social event at the Red Rattler in Marrickville. Kassisieh says it will provide yet another opportunity to better understand the experiences of Arab-Australians who also happen to be LGBTI.

“The event is called Ahlan (meaning ‘welcome’ in Arabic) and will bring our GLBTIQ Arab community together for a dinner, a report back on our progress since the report launch and to share a few stories and short films,” Kassiseh told the Star Observer. “Arab same-sex attracted, trans* and queer people are invited to attend and invite supportive family and friends.”

Kattan was reflective as well as proud when asked by the Star Observer what she hoped would transpire in the near future, saying that even though the Council had won other major awards in the past, the Honour Award perhaps meant the most.

“There’s still a long, long way to go. This is only the beginning. We as an organisation have taken a major step in terms of putting it out there. The reason for that is it is consistent with our values. We respect the dignity of people from all walks of life.”

“In the community homophobia is still there. It hasn’t necessarily gone away because of what we have already done. These are incremental steps which will continue throughout the year, beyond the report and beyond the award.”

Said by many gathered in the audience at last week’s Honour Awards to have given the most heartfelt and inspiring speech of the night, Kattan was reflective as well as suitably proud when asked by the Star Observer what she hoped will transpire in the near future, saying that even though the Council had won other major awards in the past, the Honour Award perhaps meant the most.

“There’s still a long, long way to go. This is only the beginning. We as an organisation have taken a major step in terms of putting it out there. The reason for that is it is consistent with our values. We respect the dignity of people from all walks of life,” she said.

“In the community homophobia is still there. It hasn’t necessarily gone away because of what we have already done. These are incremental steps which will continue throughout the year, beyond the report and beyond the award.”

INFO: Ahlan, hosted by Beit el Hob, 5pm-9pm, Sunday, October 20 at the Red Rattler, Marrickville. RSVP is necessary for catering purposes. Contact beitelhobis@gmail.com.

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