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This gay Egyptian woman had a homophobic dad. But he went through a 'miraculous' change.

"It's hard when you are young. And it stays hard, but it gets easier."

This gay Egyptian woman had a homophobic dad. But he went through a 'miraculous' change.

For many living in the Middle East and North Africa, being openly LGBTQ is one of the bravest things one can do.

And some incredible queer people in the region are doing just that.    

Dozens of LGBTQ activists joined forces with Human Rights Watch to create a powerful video and share empowering stories about acceptance, faith, and fighting for what's right.


Dalia, a gay Egyptian woman, was one of the activists who shared her remarkable journey of acceptance, growth, and, ultimately, understanding. Recognizing her attraction to women early on, Dalia's family wasn't very supportive. But as Dalia accepted herself and began living her truth, she saw a miraculous ideological shift in her own father.    

Dalia. All images via "No Longer Alone: LGBT Voices from the Middle East and North Africa"/Human Rights Watch.

"My father was against me in every way," said Dalia. "But he transformed from hateful to accepting and tolerant. He accepted me as his daughter and loved me unconditionally. This was in itself a miracle."    

Dalia's experience isn't unique. In a new report, HRW explores LGBTQ activism and identity, debunks myths, and raises important questions about LGBTQ people in the region. By sharing stories of challenging journeys to personal acceptance and helping to change societal views, the video uplifts and empowers queer identities.  

Omar Sharif, Jr., gay Egyptian.

These intrepid humans — many of whom are Muslim — discussed the challenges of reconciling their queer identity with their faith and regional understanding of queerness.  

Hamed Sinno, a queer man from Lebanon who sings in a band, faced these challenges. It took him some time to come to terms with his sexuality in a society that constantly made him feel less-than.

Hamed Sinno.

But Sinno pushed against the ridicule and got to a place where he accepted himself. "What I didn't understand is that there was nothing wrong with me," said Sinno. "It's the people around me who were wrong."  

Norma, a queer Lebanese citizen who decided to not show their face, also went through a long journey to acceptance that began in childhood. Norma talked about one of the earliest moments they felt happy and comfortable.

"I remember the moment perfectly," said Norma. "It was Halloween. It was the first time I wore my sister's skirt and my mom put makeup on me. I still remember that day. How happy I was and how comfortable I felt."

Norma.

These beautiful queer humans prove that persecution isn't going to silence their powerful voices.

As the report notes, many LGBTQ people in the region deal with hostility, criminalization, and governments that refuse to acknowledge and protect their identities. Because of these pervasive societal norms, queer people in the region can face persecution, estrangement, and even death. But, as Abedellah Taïa of Morocco noted in "No Longer Alone," being queer never has and never will hurt anyone.    

"You're gay. It's not a disease," said Taïa. "You're not against religion or Islam. You're not against culture or the state or your family."      

Regional activists also show that there's never a single story, and with time and understanding, things do indeed get better.  

As Algerian activist Zoheir Djazeri told HRW, it's important to not paint the entire region with one brush stroke. "We don't want the image anymore of just being victims," Djazeiri said. "We want to speak about reality, speak about violence, but also to [show what is] positive."

Omar, queer Iraqi.

Living your truth, regardless of what society deems is worthy or acceptable, is the most powerful thing you can do in life.

In the video, and in conversations around the world, accepting one's identity is one of the most important steps in moving toward progress. And, as we've seen over the last decade, societal norms can shift with time. Instead of fighting against the truth, we should empower queer people to create their own spaces and tell their stories.

"At the beginning, I was at war with myself, trying to change myself," said Hajar from Morocco. "In reality, it's not a choice. I cannot change."        

The cause for LGBTQ rights to be seen as human rights is a long, ongoing push for justice. While progress has been made, there are still policies both in the United States and around the world that make queer people vulnerable to continued oppression.

By supporting queer rights, fighting to ensure that all people have access to safe and affordable health care, and holding governments accountable for protecting queer constituents, we can create a world where LGBTQ people — no matter their nation of birth  — no longer feel alone. "It's hard when you are young," said Sinno. "And it stays hard, but it gets easier."    

Watch "No Longer Alone: LGBT Voices from the Middle East and North Africa" below.

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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."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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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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