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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.


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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Travis Akers / Twitter

A tweet thread by Travis Akers, a Navy Lieutenant with 17 years of service, is going viral because it shows just how sweet children can be and also points to an overlooked issue facing military families.

In the early morning of April 12, Akers tweeted a photo of himself and his seven-year-old son Tanner who he affectionately calls "Munchie." Akers was moved because his son set his alarm clock so he could get up early enough to hand him a pocket full of Legos before work.

Tanner wanted to be sure his father had something to play with at the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida. "This was my daily morning trip to base, departing my house at six am for work," Akers told Upworthy.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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