With isolation and homophobia common for Arabic-speaking gays and lesbians, a new support group has been set up in Melbourne.
Helem Melbourne was established in early June as a safe space for same-sex attracted people from Middle Eastern communities.
So far, the group has more than 10 members from Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Gay and lesbian people living in Arabic communities in Australia still endure “hostile attitudes” because of their sexuality, according to a recent survey.
Helem secretary Georges Nemer said there was a groundswell of interest for a support network in Melbourne.
“We got lots of call and have met many people who have been interested in a support group,” he said. “It’s hard to be gay and have an Arabic background.”
In April, the We’re Family Too report found homophobia was common in Arabic-speaking communities after surveying almost 50 same-sex attracted people living in New South Wales’ Arabic communities.
Participants said a lack of education about sexuality and strong religious views were some of the reasons for homophobic attitudes.
Nemer said education in Middle Eastern communities and countries still refused the idea of homosexuality.
“In the Middle East, gay means there is something wrong and no one can accept it,” he said.
“In Lebanon, being gay is against the law so if you are gay and you’re caught, you can go to jail.
“I can’t tell my parents that I’m gay, they won’t accept it.”
Nemer said most gays and lesbians from Arabic communities he knew were in the same situation.
“Even if they are out, they are disowned by their parents,” he said.
Australian groups for sexuality and gender diverse people include Sydney’s Arabic dance party Club Arak and online support group Queer Muslims in Australia.
Nemer said he would have a launch event later in the year when Helem’s membership had grown.
“If someone wants to come and just speak about these problems, even without knowing their names, that’s OK,” he said.
Helem means ‘dream’ in Arabic and is a LGBTI advocacy group in Lebanon.