Syrian queer refugees host a party

In what is being called a first to Danny Ramadan, the queer former Syrian refugee is breaking the ice by inviting Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine, a group of Syrian refugee women who host pop-up cultural dinners, to An Evening in Damascus: A Fundraiser for Queer Syrian Refugees.

The result comes as a surprise.

“The Tayybeh women are very supportive and I’m happy that Tayybeh is joining us because it allows the conservative women to be partnering with gay people,” says Ramadan.

The fundraiser will be held on July 28 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, where attendees can enjoy Syrian food served by Tayybeh, among other events.

A life at stake

Ramadan is a Vancouver-based LGBT activist who has just been honoured as one of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2017. Before he came to Canada three years ago, life wasn’t smooth sailing for him, however, and he was exposed to the risk of persecution.

Danny Ramadan, founder of An Evening in Damascus. | Photo courtesy of Danny Ramadan

According to the State-Sponsored Homophobia report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, homosexual intercourse is punished in Syria with a term of imprisonment of up to three years.

“It [being gay] was quite the difficult experience,” says Ramadan. “It’s also something the community wouldn’t accept and my family wouldn’t appreciate.”

Despite the possibility of being publicly shamed, Ramadan ran an LGBT centre in his own apartment, which the members called home, in order to build the community.

“The possibility of being outed was all over, but I wanted to live my life. So I invited everybody to come to my apartment and spend as much time as they needed. They talked about their issues and support each other,” says Ramadan.

A shift of mind

An escape by himself left Ramadan feeling unfulfilled. Having arrived in Vancouver, he found his calling in assisting more LGBT-identified refugees.

“Now I have that ability. I love my community and I want to support it. It’s the right thing to do and the thing I want to do,” says Ramadan.

For the third year in a row, An Evening in Damascus is raising funds for The Divine Road and Journey to Canada, groups that support Syrian lesbians to join Vancouver’s LGBT community.

Ramadan, however, didn’t feel it was easy to belong.

“I was treated like ‘oh my god you are a refugee and that means you will always be a refugee,’ but I wasn’t born a refugee. I was born gay and so that’s something that is there. That is my identity,” says Ramadan.

In an effort to break down the stereotype that refugees are lesser people, Ramadan invited Tayybeh to cook for the event. Nihal Elwan, founder of Tayybeh, says the group is made up of newly arrived Syrian women cooks who rely on the support of Vancouverites to gain financial independence.

“If you were to attend one of our pop-up dinners, you would see that the guests of our dinners are truly representative of the diversity and multiculturalism of Canada,” says Elwan. “Even if some of our chefs are from somewhat conservative backgrounds, being here in Canada means that we are in the same way – we’ve received an incredible amount of generosity and support from everyone in the community.”

Ramadan is over the moon about the cooperation.

“I’m hoping that it’s going to be a stage for understanding that wasn’t there when we were back in Syria,” he says.

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