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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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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.