In Spring 2011, a young girl named Amina began a blog – “A Gay Girl in Damascus” in order to shed light on the protesting in Tunisia, Syria and the blatant disapproval of homosexuality. After one particular post “My Father, My Hero” was circulated on Facebook and picked up by UK publication The Guardian, Amina’s blog attracted 2180 subscribers she and posted several times a day.
You see Syria, a country in the the middle of a civil war, declared it is illegal to be homosexual, let alone post about it on the internet or Skype. All of which is punishable by death.
Blog followers hung on her every word about being in love with a Jewish woman, opposing the Syrian regime, reports about teargassing, killings and being detained during public protests, fleeing the country with her 76-year old father to avoid arrest and ultimately kidnapped by the secret police.
Apparently, also being a US citizen, her readers and girlfriend demanded that the U.S. State Department launch an investigation to find out where Amina was being held captive, in order to plan a rescue to bring her out of harm’s way before it is too late.
The hype was so intense around the world that many journalists began to question if this Amina actually existed.
It is only after the BBC interviews the girl who people have believed from a photo to be Amina that these questions intensified as to the reality of Amina, her blog and the validity of what she wrote.
After much research, it is discovered that “Amina” is really a 40 year-old man named Tom MacMaster and that this whole ordeal was a really elaborate hoax. If that weren’t bad enough, the editor of popular online lesbian website “Lez Gets Real”, Paula Brooks, who introduced and wholeheartedly supported Amina also turns out to be a white man in his 40’s – Bill Graber.
I watched most of this film with my mouth open from the shock of it all!!! The whole story is quite fascinating, although many people were hurt. Mostly Sandra Bagaria who was having an online relationship with “Amina” for months. I can only imagine the humiliation, anger and fleeting moments of disbelief she is probably still recovering from.
Just goes to show you that the internet can be a rabbit hole of information that may or may not be valid. Look at Wikipedia. This site has often been quoted by news outlets for facts. The reality is ANYONE can post ANYTHING to ANY Wikipedia page — that doesn’t make it factual.
Tom MacMaster eventually posted an apology for the havoc he caused, but then mentions that he is not sorry that he has given the issues in Syria an audience. Dude, I can think of a million different ways to give middle eastern issues a voice. Duping the world would not be at the top of that list- just saying…
A Gay Girl in Damascus is a fascinating tale of how a persona was created that led to international concern over gay rights in the middle east, Syrian conflict and the welfare of a young girl who became the face and voice of a nation. Only to discover that the discussion over her non-existence spoke louder than the issues at hand and make everyone think twice about what they read and see on the internet from this day forward.
This film opens at Laemmle Music Hall on July 24th in Los Angeles and will be streaming via Sundance Now https://www.sundancenow.com