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'Making sweet Damascene lemonade' out of COVID-19, fundraiser adapts

Last Updated Jun 9, 2020 at 8:39 am PDT

Vancouver drag queen Kendall Gender performed in 2019. This year drag queens from as far away as Beirut, Lebanon will be a part of the July 24 event. (Courtesy Kaitlin Day, Evening in Damascus)

An Evening in Damascus will be held online July, 24, 2020

Syrian food delivered to your front door for LGBT refugee fundraiser

Approved Canadian-bound refugees trapped abroad need help

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — When COVID-19 hit the Lower Mainland, Danny Ramadan thought for sure it spelled the end of his sixth-annual An Evening in Damascus fundraiser, which raises money for LGBT refugees.

He feared refugees may be in need more than ever before, as those approved to come to Canada but were waiting for paperwork or flight details are now trapped in the situations they’ve been trying to escape.

“Suddenly all of that is on hold and their life is frozen over there,” says Ramadan.

He explains discrimination against LGBT people overseas can be violent and even deadly. Ramadan used to support a network of vulnerable queer and trans people in Damascus before and after the war broke out in 2011.

So when the evening’s title sponsor, the Royal Bank of Canada, gave him the blessing he needed to go all-out planning an affair every bit as glamorous as in 2019, he knew it was worth it to make the event virtual.

“I’m trying my very best to make a sweet Damascene lemonade out of the lemons we’ve been given,” Ramadan says.

He guarantees you won’t be disappointed and points out now anyone in the world can but a ticket.

“There’s drag queens, there’s belly dancing, there’s Davish, oud playing. It’s going to be a lot of fun to have three hours of Syrian culture in your home.”

Food is always the biggest hit at any evening affair but most especially at this Syrian-themed event and Ramadan doesn’t want his guests to go without the sustenance they’ve grown accustomed to.

Attendees can choose between a show only ticket and a ticket that will see food from Tayybeh, which supports female Syrian chefs in their careers, delivered to their homes.

‘What it means to be Canadian’

Over the years public speaker, activist and author has raised more than $150,000 to help LGBT refugees get to and settle in Canada.

In a normal year, the funds go directly to individuals through Rainbow Refugee which brings people from overseas to Canada and helps them settle in slowly.

This year, the organization will dole the money out on a case-by-case basis in order of perceived urgency.

That includes LGBT refugees who recently arrived in Canada and now face the unique challenges of COVID-19, including isolation and a lack of community resources and events.

“People who arrived a month or two before the quarantine, who are now stuck at home here in Canada without the ability to integrate into the community as fully as they would in a regular year.”

Meanwhile, reports of racial discrimination against Asian people is rising while Black and Indigenous people are speaking out louder than ever before about systemic racism.

Ramadan says refugees only make us a stronger, better society.

“They are coming here to be a productive part of the society. They are coming to add and enhance what it means to be Canadian.”

NEWS 1130 is a media sponsor for An Evening in Damascus.