QUEER VOICES
07/30/2015 02:21 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2015

I Was Catfished By The Poser Behind 'A Gay Girl In Damascus'

The ramifications were "very dangerous" for the LGBT community in Syria.

Sandra Bagaria, a woman living in Montreal, thought she was getting involved with Amina Arraf, a lesbian Syrian-American blogger living in Syria, when the two started talking on Facebook in 2011. Their relationship grew more serious but was restricted to just texting and chatting online, which Arraf blamed on limited access to social media in Syria.

But months later, it was revealed that Bagaria's online love interest Arraf was not at all who she claimed to be. 

Bagaria  is the subject of a new documentary titled "A Gay Girl In Damascus: The Amina Profile," which is available to stream now. She explained to HuffPost Live's Alyona Minkovski on Wednesday that she felt lonely when she first began talking with Arraf during a Montreal winter. But Bagaria enjoyed Arraf's fierce spirit, and she supported her in starting a blog titled "A Gay Girl In Damascus" to document the Arab Spring uprisings -- a feat for Syria's persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.  

Bagaria's attempted to connect with Arraf over the phone or Skype, but Arraf claimed her internet access was blocked, which made sense to Bagaria. 

"Concerning the phone, I tried calling and I ended up in another phone number somewhere speaking Arabic," Bagari said. "But you never know. You're not living there and I was just, you know, expecting someone to answer, which was the case, but it was not Amina at that moment."

Things got murky after Arraf's cousin reportedly wrote on the blog that Arraf had been kidnapped. Despite campaigns around the world to "free Amina," it was revealed that nobody, including reporters who interviewed her, had actually met Arraf in person or heard her voice. Bagaria was still fearful -- until the person the world thought was Arraf was eventually revealed to be a 40-year-old American white man from Georgia named Tom MacMaster. It had all been a hoax

The ramifications of the fabrication were "very dangerous," Bagaria said, for the gay activists who essentially outed themselves to look for the reportedly kidnapped Arraf. When conducting interviews for the documentary, Bagaria said many still hadn't recovered.

"First they didn't want to even mention Tom's name, they didn't want to even talk about him," Bagaria said, adding that she didn't realize until well into filming how much harm MacMaster caused.

"That's what really upset me through the story as well," Bagaria said. "I got involved in the story because I willingly [accepted] the friendship, but they never asked for anything, and they just got exposed." 

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