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He shattered stereotypes and came out as gay in the Muslim community.

The inspirational story of an Arab American man who announced he's gay in a very public way.

He shattered stereotypes and came out as gay in the Muslim community.

The bright smile on this young man's face speaks volumes because he's finally happy. But that wasn't always the case.

Meet Shereef. He's a 27-year-old living in Los Angeles.

As far back as he can remember, he's been attracted to other men. But there's something else that makes him unique, even within the gay community.


All photos via Shereef Abdou, used with permission.

Shereef is an Arab-American who was raised in a Muslim household.

Although some progress has been made, he acknowledges that many Muslims are firmly against homosexuality.

Shereef knew that breaking the news to his community could lead to negative reactions that he wasn't ready to deal with. So he visited religious leaders, went to therapy, prayed, and did everything he could to "get rid" of his homosexuality.

Nothing worked. Shereef was still gay.

Then the darkness set in.

He felt anxiety, experienced panic attacks, and fell into a deep depression.

But after consulting with a support group of coworkers and friends who knew him best, Shereef found the courage to be true to himself. In doing so, he took control of his life and pledged to help others in the process.

Coming out as gay in the Muslim world isn't easy. So Shereef did what anyone in his situation would do. He came out on YouTube.

YouTube? Could there possibly be a scarier place on the Internet to announce your sexuality?

"There is something powerful in watching another person be vulnerable and speak about who they truly are," Shereef told Upworthy. "It makes them human and accessible."

As he watched other coming out videos and gay wedding proposals online, he gained the courage to click the "publish" button to tell his own story on YouTube.

And when he finally did, he made three big points that he wants everyone to hear (and see).

1. Contrary to what some believe, being gay actually isn't a choice.


GIFs via Shereef Abdou/YouTube.

Some people think there's a magical switch in your brain where you can turn yourself from straight to gay at a moment's notice. That you can switch it to the "gay" position for a minute and then right back to "straight" whenever you feel like it.

Shereef considered taking his life due to being unable to find that switch in his own brain.

Because that switch doesn't exist.

"Before I came out, my mind was flooded with suicidal thoughts," he said.

2. Guess what? Being gay isn't just an American thing.

He's right.

There are gay people everywhere. But based on religious beliefs or where you live in the world, it can be difficult to talk about homosexuality due to a lack of acceptance. That leads a lot of people to hide their true identities, as Shereef did for years.

Sadly, when he finally opened up, some members of the Muslim and Arab communities shunned him.

"I've definitely received a lot of hateful comments, but I expected that," Shereef said.

The good news is those comments came from people who didn't know him personally. Most of the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. He even reports that some people in the Muslim and Arab communities have been very respectful with him.

That's progress.

3. There is nothing better than being authentically you. Own it.

Shereef understands that depending on where an individual lives, coming out as gay in the Muslim community could come at a hefty price if that person isn't careful. He urges those people to do whatever it takes to set themselves up for safety and success.

But once that's taken care of, then the magic happens. Life suddenly becomes brighter when you're not hiding in the shadow of fear.

Shereef can't stop smiling now that he's being true to himself.

"Coming out is a game-changing experience that can be taxing, but it's so liberating in the long run," he said. "It's so important to remember that you're beautiful exactly the way you are, and that you are loved."

And it's equally important that Shereef share his story to help others see the light too.

Check out Shereef's powerful video here.


Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Macy's and Girls Inc. believe that all girls deserve to be safe, supported, and valued. However, racial disparities continue to exist for young people when it comes to education levels, employment, and opportunities for growth. Add to that the gender divide, and it's clear to see why it's important for girls of color to have access to mentors who can equip them with the tools needed to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.

Anissa Rivera is one of those mentors. Rivera is a recent Program Manager at the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc., a nonprofit focusing on the holistic development of girls ages 5-18. The goal of the organization is to provide a safe space for girls to develop long-lasting mentoring relationships and build the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to thrive now and as adults.

Rivera spent years of her career working within the themes of self and community empowerment with young people — encouraging them to tap into their full potential. Her passion for youth development and female empowerment eventually led her to Girls Inc., where she served as an agent of positive change helping to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

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Inspiring young women from all backgrounds is why Macy's has continued to partner with Girls Inc. for the second year in a row. The partnership will support mentoring programming that offers girls career readiness, college preparation, financial literacy, and more. Last year, Macy's raised over $1.3M for Girls Inc. in support of this program along with their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming for more than 26,000 girls. Studies show that girls who participated are more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, score higher on standardized math tests, and be more equipped for college and campus life.

Thanks to mentors like Rivera, girls across the country have the tools they need to excel in school and the confidence to change the world. With your help, we can give even more girls the opportunity to rise up. Throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases or donate online to support Girls Inc. at Macys.com/MacysGives.

Who runs the world? Girls!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

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Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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