Skip to comments.AIDS awareness educators reach out to secretive gay Arab community
Posted on 03/16/2004 4:36:35 AM PST by Peter J. Huss
AIDS awareness educators reach out to secretive gay Arab community
The Associated Press 3/16/2004, 2:43 a.m. ET
FERNDALE, Mich. (AP) They may have arranged the Arabian Nights party, complete with loud Arabic dance music and flickering lights, but Chris Ayoub and David Ponsart came to the Ferndale bar mainly to spread a message of safe-sex.
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The audience to which the two health educators spoke about HIV and AIDS prevention was one of the Detroit area's most secretive gay Arab-Americans. It is also a group state health officials fear may be one of Michigan's most at-risk gay communities.
"I tell them, `Listen, I'm gay. I'm in a gay bar with you. I'm not going to tell anyone I found you here,'" Ayoub, 31, of Hazel Park, told the Detroit Free Press for a Tuesday story.
The assurances are necessary given the stigma about homosexuality in the Arab world.
Ayoub and Ponsart's efforts at the Q bar are funded by state public health dollars and foundation grants. To enxure they had a solid turnout they distributed over 1,000 invitations at other bars. At the party, they distributed Arabic-language AIDS pamphlets and offered HIV tests.
"We have to reach the population at risk," even if that means sending educators "to nightclubs dressing in tank tops," said Eve Mokotoff, HIV/AIDS epidemiology manager for the Michigan Department of Community Health.
"They are tapping into a community that has been invisible," said Craig Covey, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Midwest AIDS Prevention Project. MAPP helped Ayoub start the outreach program.
With roughly 300,000 immigrants from the Middle East in southeast Michigan, state health officials realized that this was one group that had been overlooked, largely because it was among the most reclusive.
"Arab-Americans were the last group of gay men anyone tried to reach," Covey said, adding that gays could face persecution and criminal charges in their home countries if authorities discover their secret.
Ayoub knows well the hazards of being a gay Arab. Shortly after he arrived from Lebanon to join his family in Dearborn in 1996, Ayoub told them he was gay.
"My brother chased me two blocks with a knife," he said. It was only after six years of being shunned that his family finally began to accept him.
Ayoub says many gay Arab-Americans are also ignorant of the risks, believing that if they sleep only with Arab men then they will not be exposed to the virus.
Ayoub and Ponsart's work has earned the support of some provide aid to the community.
They are "making breakthroughs" in a community saddled with "legacies that we bring from the home country," said Dr. Adnan Hammad, head of the nonprofit Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn. Among its varied social programs, ACCESS administers a $55,000 annual state grant supporting the outreach program.
"Do not think they will come to the heart of the community to be served," said Hammad. "We have to go to them."
I'd say the least of the legacies they bring with them is being gay.
Lets try militant islam or the backing of it by NOT speaking out against it for one.
If it was a straight bar these two perverts might have been the source of a hate crime.
Arabs are incapable of "safe sex." Just check out their camels.
It was altogether clever for Mohammed to invent a clever way to convince rag-heads that he had a wonderful way for them to finally meet girls.