Hello BUZZies, and welcome to my new monthly blog “Some of My Most Favourite People”.

The name of the blog says it all, the idea is to interview folks whom I either know in the community, or admire from the work that I have seen them do. Some of theBUZZ readers may recall I did two web episodes under this name,  Joie Lamar and Stacey Vetzal, but we’re going to mix it up, so moving forward some of my interviews are going to be written, and occasionally I may do it on video.

I was introduced to Kerolos Saleib at Yalla Bara, the Arabic programming that Pride Toronto had in 2016 at the Wellesley stage. I noticed a bunch of Middle Eastern guys chatting together in groups, and I asked a friend if there is an Arabic social club or such that I had never heard of. I was told that Kerolos had been putting a dance party together for a number of months called Arabian Knights. So, I went up to introduce myself and asked him how theBUZZ can help him promote the party, because I thought it was an excellent concept. Since then I got to know a really great guy in Kerolos, who is community spirited and kind, and he fits in the name sake of my blog.

Kerolos shares with us a very honest, raw and emotional account, about being gay and Arabic, challenges of life, community connection, and of course the dance party Arabian Knights LGBTQ.

What got you started on Arabian Knights?

There is a private Facebook group on Facebook for gay middle eastern men of Toronto, and someone was talking about having an Arabic party, and so on. No one really knew where to start, or to go. I have the experience and background for event planning, advertising and marketing. So I stepped up and decided to use those skills and start Arabian Knights LGBTQ. The name was decided by the group as well. Also, I wanted the event to do something more, I wanted it to be what I would have liked to have seen when I first came out, somewhere to find community and guidance.

Tell us more about the event, vibe, crowd, DJ, performance and such?

The event is a middle eastern dance party, that is inclusive to everyone attending. The vibe is joyous, welcoming, loving and everyone is smiling and enjoying every moment of it. The crowd is very mixed, mostly gay men, women, but we have a few straight people who attend. No one feels left out when they attend the event. DJ Louay, from Syria, now living in Montreal, is our resident DJ. He has been the DJ since day one. He never DJ’d in Canada before, so it was a learning curve for him as well. He tries to please everyone, and is very talented. The performances vary, from drag shows, to professional belly dancers, Go Go dancers, drum players. All of them are very interactive. People look forward to the shows, because of its uniqueness. Overall, Arabian Knights offers a safe space for Middle Eastern-ers to feel safe, to remember home, to give a taste of their culture to their friends. It is an experience on its own.

What future plans do you have for this event?

Starting in the new year, January 21st, Arabian Knights will be held at two locations. On the third Saturday of every other month, an event will be held at the Black Eagle. It will have more of a sexy feel to it. The themes will vary from Turkish oil wrestling, the Saudi Prince, to the Pharaohs slaves, and so on. The music will be more house dance Arabic music. The main party will also continue at Club 120 as usual every second month. The first 2017 event in February we will be celebrating the one year anniversary of Arabian Knights.

Also, we will have the monthly online show of Arabian Knights called Arabian Bites, where we discuss issues with other Middle Eastern-ers relating to some of the challenges they face moving here, what they had to learn, what advice they have to give. As well, it focuses on meeting with non Middle Easterners who are dating someone from there, about what are their challenges, what’s hard for them to understand and so on.  A blog will also start on the website, every two weeks focusing on several topics, research related. We will have the Arabian Knights LGBTQ store as well, where the proceeds will help the initiative to grow and be able to fully implement the programs for HIV and AIDS education and other programs into full force.

Let’s talk a bit about you, what brought you to Canada and Toronto?

We left Egypt when I was 3, in 1987 and we landed in Montreal, before moving to Burlington. I lived in Toronto since 2001, my first year at York University. Between 2001 and present, I have lived back in Montreal, in San Diego, In Washington, DC,, and in several parts of Eastern Africa and South Africa, only to come back here in 2013. The move for my parents was due to the fear my parents had in regards to the persecution they faced in Egypt for being Christian. The irony of this is the persecution I face from them for being gay. I don’t see much of a difference. When I was 15, I went to church to go to confession. Just to point out, I used to be very involved in church, from teaching Sunday school, being a deacon, in the choir, Arabic, Greek and Coptic classes, hymn classes, (which were different from the choir), kids’ convention coordinator and so on…I lived there. I told the priest about my attraction to men….and it all went down hill from there. The priest told my parents, I was encouraged to be kicked out of the house. My mom held a knife to me, and my dad a frying pan that had hot oil in it. Both wishing I was dead. My brothers weren’t home that day. I was kicked out…my brothers were told I ran away from home. I swore to my parents I will never tell them. The two places where I felt most secure suddenly became less secure.

I lost my first boyfriend in a car accident. No one knew about him and I, except one friend, who told me about his death when I worked as a dancer/singer on the cruise ship. I tried contacting my parents and their response was “it’s your punishment for being gay”. In 2008, I moved back to Montreal, when I was mixed up with drugs, lots of drugs, so I lost my job and ended up on the streets. During August 2010, my cousin in Kenya, who was priest there, asked me to come and stay with him for a month, and he paid for my ticket. I stayed there for two-and-half years on and off. For the first three months, I stayed in a Monastery. I loved it. There was no one there, no electricity, no internet, and I reconnected back with myself. I met my ex-husband on Grindr while in Kenya. He was from DC, so I went there to be with him. The church I used to attend there asked me if I wanted to be a priest, and I was ordained on January 7, 2012 into the old Catholic/Anglican church.

During the summer of 2013 I got divorced from my husband, and I moved back to Toronto. Since then, I had to find myself again, but within Toronto. It took me a few years to figure out what I wanted to do, and how to do it. Priests are not very trusted here in Toronto by the LGBTQ community. So when Arabian Knights happened, it became my mission to incorporate the spiritual aspect, the teaching and learning aspect, and event planning aspect all into one.

Is our local LGBTQ community the best it can be, and what can we do better?

No of course not. WE HAVE SOOOOO much work to do. The problem I find, is the younger generation think that our predecessors did the work so there’s no need for us to do much. That’s not true. WE are seeing the stigma of HIV and AIDS increase again amongst our youth. WE are seeing segregation within communities. The Pride bods, versus the ears, versus the muscle bears, and so on. WE are so divided within our community right now, and until this changes we are not going to move forward. If anything, we are falling back, falling back into a comfort zone that is so dangerous, because it can become a safety net. But I believe also there are great people and leaders in our community, and that together we can work on making our community the best it can be, the one we want it to be!

Be sure to check out the next Arabian Knights LGBTQ January 21st, 2017 at the Black Eagle

 

About the Author

Antoine has on numerous occasions that everything he does is "a love letter to the LGBTQ community". and he truly loves this community. A 29 years' media and marketing leader, Antoine is the publisher of theBUZZ, The Pink Pages Directory, PinkPlayMags, and a magazine for Durham Region families The Local Biz Magazine, and is the host of talk show "On the Couch". On his off time he is usually involved in community organizations and causes.