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.

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.


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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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