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Outrage in Damascus at fake lesbian blogger

Syria's already embattled gay community has reacted with dismay that a popular blog supposedly written by a lesbian from Damascus was, in fact, dreamt up by a US academic living in Scotland.

Tom MacMaster, 40, a PhD student from Edinburgh, has apologised for Gay Girl in Damascus, which purported to describe life in the Syrian capital for Amina Abdallah, an openly lesbian 25-year-old.

The student defended his creation, saying that although the account was fictionalised, it described accurately the atmosphere inside Syria both for the gay community and pro-democracy activists. But genuine gay bloggers inside the country said the webpage had damaged Syria's nascent gay rights community and even put activists' lives in danger. Sami Hamwi, editor of the Syria page of Gay Middle East, said he and friends had taken personal risks to discover the fate of Amina Abdallah, after Mr MacMaster uploaded a post claiming that the blog's author had been seized by the country's feared security forces.

"I have myself started to investigate Amina's arrest," he wrote. "I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Shame on you." In a webcam interview with The Independent Daniel Nassar, an openly gay man living in Damascus, described how his friends had been affected by the publicity the fake blog received in a country where homosexuality remains controversial.

"We were absolutely outraged when it emerged that the blog was made up," he said. "It has brought so much unwanted negative focus on Syria's LGBT community. Everyday I see my lesbian and gay friends struggling to lead a double life, this is the last thing they needed. Now we have had Syrian national television picking up on the story and running with it all day." In a further twist, last night a second blogger known as Paula Brooks, who posted some of the fraudulent Arraf's comments on a lesbian news site, admitted to being a man who had adopted a fake lesbian persona.

The Washington Post reported late Monday that "Brooks" was a 58-year-old retired US air force member named Bill Graber.

Graber admitted the deceit when phoned by the AP. He said he had set up the Lezgetreal.com site to advance the gay and lesbian cause and felt he would not be taken seriously as a straight man.

"LezGetReal was not meant to be deceitful or con anyone," he said.