An Evening in Damascus is Ahmad Danny Ramadan's way of paying it forward for Syrian refugees in Vancouver

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      Ahmad Danny Ramadan says he stopped being a refugee the day he arrived in Canada four years ago.

      But the Vancouver journalist and author of The Clothesline Swing hasn't lost touch with his Syrian roots. And he remains keenly interested in helping queer people like him who are fleeing a horrific civil war in his home country.

      To that end, he's hosting An Evening in Damascus at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre to raise funds to enable two lesbians to come to Canada. They're being sponsored by a group that's affiliated with Rainbow Refugee.

      "I wanted to introduce the Syrian culture to Vancouverites and to Canadians in general," Ramadan said in a recent interview at the Georgia Straight building.

      An Evening in Damascus takes place during Pride Week at 7 p.m. next Tuesday (July 31), with tickets priced at $50 in advance and $60 at the door. The author and event organizer promised that all the money will go directly to the two women to help them cover their living expenses for their first year in Canada.

      "I want to represent both my Syrian identity as well as the queer identity that I carry," Ramadan stated. "That's why I'm bringing drag queens to join us in the event."

      It's the fourth year in a row that Ramadan has hosted this event in Vancouver.

      In addition to the drag queens, Karamella Barr and Madam Lola, there will also be a Middle Eastern belly dancer, Khadiejah. She will move around the room, shimmying and fluidly moving her torso to the beats and melodies of beautiful Arabic music.

      Ramadan also guaranteed there will be "amazing" dining, courtesy of Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine. This group of resourceful women came to Canada as refugees and have been wowing Vancouverites with their pop-up Syrian cuisine.

      In addition, Ramadan will engage in storytelling, which he said is a cornerstone of Syrian culture.

      "We like to talk," he added with a smile. "We like to share stories."

      One of his goals is to clear up misconceptions that Canadians might have about Syria. In the western media, Syria is presented as a country of seemingly endless deserts with a lot of bearded men killing one another.

      Ramadan acknowledged that this is happening in his home country, but he also described Syria as "the dawn of civilization".

      He said that Damascus is the oldest capital in the world with 11,000 years of history. He described Aleppo as a beautiful city with a lovely castle on top of a mountain.

      And he emphasized that Syrians were happy living there until a civil war turned their lives upside-down, forcing them to flee.

      He noted that Syrians love their music, some of which has even been adopted by Madonna.

      "We are cosmopolitan. We are very urban. We have big cities."

      At the same time, he pointed out that there has been growing homophobia in Syria.

      Back in the 1800s there was more acceptance and even gay marriages, Ramadan said, before adding that colonization had a pernicious effect on public attitudes.

      For a while after the Second World War, Syria enjoyed democracy. There were several political parties, women wore whatever they liked in the streets, and there was a liberal air in cities.

      But it gave way to the Assad family dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. The minority Alawites, a sect of Shia Islam, took control over the country.

      The Syrian economy slowed and a significant number of his countrymen, including many Sunni Muslims, went to work in Saudi Arabia for extended periods of time.

      According to Ramadan, when they retired and returned home, some brought with them a more conservative, Wahhabi Islam-inspired mindset that's extremely hostile to LGBT people.

      That brings him to another goal with An Evening in Damascus: to support the queer community. He believes it's the most public LGBT Syrian event in the world.

      "It is statistically proven that queer refugees are the easiest to integrate into the Canadian community because those are folks who come from the other side of the world where homophobia is very rampant, and they face a lot of challenges over there," he said. "So they come here and they start to appreciate the openness and the welcoming feeling that they get here in Canada."

      He's hoping that about 200 people will show up for this year's event. And for those who can't attend but still want to support the cause, people can buy tickets that will be given to queer or trans refugees.

      "We usually have 30 to 40 folks attending that event because of those tickets."