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.


More
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / Katie Sturino

Plus-size women are in the majority. In America, 68% of women wear a size 14 or higher. Yet many plus-sized are ignored by the fashion industry. Plus-sized clothing is a $21 billion industry, however only one-fifth of clothing sales are plus-sized. On top of that, plus-sized women are often body shamed, further reinforcing that bigger body types are not mainstream despite the fact that it is common.

Plus-size fashion blogger Katie Sturino recently called out her body shamers. Sturino runs the blog, The 12ish Style, showing that plus-sized fashion isn't – and shouldn't be – limited to clothes that hide the body.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / Soraya

There is a strange right-wing logic that suggests when minorities fight for equal rights it's somehow a threat to the rights already held by those in the majority or who hold power.

Like when the Black Lives Matter movement started, many on the right claimed that fighting for black people to be treated equally somehow meant that other people's lives were not as valuable, leading to the short-lived All Lives Matter movement.

This same "oppressed majority" logic is behind the new Straight Pride movement which made headlines in August after its march through the streets of Boston.

Keep Reading Show less
popular