If one thing can be said about LGBT individuals in the Arab world is that they certainly do not have it easy. They face oppression, harassment, society's judgment and a wide array of discriminatory laws.
In many Arab countries, engaging in same-sex relationships can subject one to imprisonment. In more severe cases, they are faced with the death penalty.
Despite the obstacles, there are a number of LGBT Arabs who have come out publicly in a courageous effort to change the narrative.
1. Haaz Sleiman (Lebanon)
Lebanese-American actor Haaz Sleiman came out publicly as gay in a viral social media post earlier this year.
Sharing a video via his official social media channels, the star of Nurse Jackie and The Visitor boldly said:
“I am a gay Muslim Arab American man ... Not only am I gay, but I’m also a bottom,” Sleiman said. “Not only am I a bottom, but I’m also a total bottom, which means I like it up you know where,” he added.
Born and raised in Lebanon before moving to the U.S. at the age of 21, Sleiman has had a slew of appearances in American TV series as well as roles in short and full-length feature films.
2. Amin El Gamal (Egypt)
The child of Egyptian immigrants to the United States, Amin El Gamal identifies proudly as Muslim Arab and gay.
Best known for his role as Cyclops in the American TV series Prison Break: Resurrection, El Gamal has showbiz in his blood, with his grandmother having starred in the classic Egyptian film The Chant of Hope opposite Om Kalthoum.
“As with misogyny and other forms of hate, people have used and abused religion as a tool to maintain control and power,” El Gamal told StepFeed in April.
"Over the centuries, the intolerance we associate with Islam has come from shifting cultural and political forces, not the religion itself.”
3. Amrou Al Kadhi (Iraq)
The way Amrou Al-Kadhi sees it, "you have not met a drag queen until you’ve spent time with many of the Middle Eastern women in Harrods!"
The Iraq-British actor, filmmaker, drag performer, and writer told StepFeed earlier this year:
"I was raised Muslim and it is a part of my family and heritage, and I’m proud of that."
"Islam is also where I learned a lot of the values I’m proud of as a queer person – familial loyalty, generosity – and those have been deeply instilled in me," Al-Kadhi said.
4. Dalia Al Farghal (Egypt)
Earlier this year, Dalia El Faghal took to Facebook to tell that world that she is in a relationship with a woman.
Soon after her Facebook post went viral, El Faghal began receiving both messages of hate and support.
"I was attacked by people ... and my dad got death threats and other hateful messages," Farghal said in an interview with BuzzFeed.
However, following her public announcement, Faghal's father congratulated her on her new relationship - something she did not expect.
Despite her father's support, Faghal believes she is "the most hated woman in Egypt" because of her sexuality.
5. Jwan Yosef (Syria)
Syrian-Swedish Jwan Yosef is a London-based artist specializing in plastic arts. He is also engaged to internationally famous Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin.
“I proposed. I was really nervous, but I got on my knees and I took out the little metal box I just had it in a little velvet pouch and instead of saying ‘Will you marry me?' I said, ‘I got you something!’ [...] And then he was like, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I want to spend my life with you’ and he was like, ‘What is the question?' [...] ‘Would you marry me?’ That’s it," Martin told American celebrity TV host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres in an interview last year.
Yosef also shares his fiancé's humanitarian values. The couple visited refugees in Lebanon together with UNICEF last year. He's also been keen on introducing Martin to Arab culture, with the lovebirds recently spotted dancing at a Syrian wedding in California.
6. Abdellah Taia (Morocco)
Abdellah Taia is considered to be the first openly gay Moroccan writer. Born in Salé, Morocco, in 1973, Taia was forced to leave his hometown after he came out as a "proud gay Muslim man," in an interview with TelQuel.
He moved to Paris soon after and has been living there since.
"Although it was really scary and I knew that there would be many consequences, I had to do it," he told Sampsonia Way.
Taia was rejected by his family after coming out, so he penned a letter in 2009 explaining to them that he is "normal" and that homosexuality isn't an illness.
"I had to write this letter to say, again and again, that I am normal. Gay people are normal," he said.
In 2014, Taia channeled his energy into movies, writing and directing his own autobiography: Salvation Army, which is based on his "difficult upbringing" as a gay Moroccan man, as he once told The Guardian.
7. Carla Massoud (Egypt)
Carla Massoud fled Egypt as an assigned-at-birth male. In Germany, she would transition into a woman and marry the man she loves.
"I left Egypt as a boy, but I had a dress in my luggage," she told the BBC in a viral report, adding that the first thing she did when she arrived in Berlin was take off her masculine clothes and put on the dress.
8. Fadi Fawaz (Lebanon)
Celebrity hairstylist and fine art photographer Fadi Fawaz drew sympathy around the world after the death of his longtime boyfriend – English singer George Michael – last Christmas.
“We don’t know what happened yet. Everything had been very complicated recently, but George was looking forward to Christmas, and so was I," Fawaz said in a statement at the time.
Later, he tweeted: "It's a xmas i will never forget finding your partner dead peacefully in bed first thing in the morning.. I will never stop missing you xx."
While Fawaz has maintained his love for Michael, family members have criticized the couple's relationship and rumors have circulated since the singer's death.
9. Subhi Nahas (Syria)
Subhi Nahas is a gay Syrian refugee who fled his home country after government soldiers took him in for questioning for acting in an "effeminate way."
In 2012, Nahas was pulled out of a bus and locked in a room where the soldiers "harassed him and called him homophobic names" for nearly 30 minutes.
"And that moment I was like, feeling that - yeah that's the end of it," Subhi says when describing the incident.
Soon after, the soldiers released him without harm.
Nahas then left Syria for Lebanon, before moving to Turkey.
10. Nour Talbi (Morocco)
Morocco's most famous belly dancer, Nour Talbi, is a legend in her native country.
The 1.85 meters seductress describes herself as a fully integrated woman.
She left for Europe at 18 as Nourredine and returned years later as Noor.
She began her career in dance and hasn’t looked back since. But it wasn't easy.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Nour described her 10-year battle to get her gender change officially recognized on her state ID as an ordeal that almost tipped her over the edge.
"If I wasn't such a strong woman, religious, humanly and social, another might have killed herself," she said.
11. Omar Sharif Jr (Egypt)
Omar Sharif's grandson, Omar Sharif Jr. publicly came out as gay in 2013 in a letter published on The Advocate.
"I write this article in fear. Fear for my country, fear for my family, and fear for myself. My parents will be shocked to read it, surely preferring I stay in the shadows and keep silent, at least for the time being," he wrote at the start of the letter.
He then shared his sexuality with the world:
"And so I hesitantly confess: I am Egyptian, I am half Jewish, and I am gay," he added.
That same year, Omar Sharif Jr. was appointed as the National Spokesperson for GLAAD, an LGBT organization that aims to ensure positive media portrayals of the LGBT community, a role he maintained until 2015.
Currently, he is an Ambassador for the Human Rights Foundation.
12. Moe Khansa (Lebanon)
"I'm afraid to say what's in my heart," Lebanese artist Moe Khansa sings in a music video released earlier this year, echoing the concerns of many Arab youths struggling with their sexual identity.
The clip, titled "Khayef" (or "Afraid" in English) tells the story of a young boy with a passion for belly dancing, struggling to express his true identity. With a cinematic storytelling approach, the video sheds light on gender fluidity and nonconformity, as well as the struggles many young people face when it comes to gender identity.
"When you acknowledge who you are beyond your features and finally embrace your art and your true self, you allow your body and soul to celebrate," Khansa told StepFeed.
13. Hamed Sinno (Lebanon)
The lead singer of Lebanese indie band Mashrou' Leila is no stranger to controversy.
Openly identifying as homosexual and proudly speaking and singing about LGBT themes, Sinno and his band have drawn significant love and hate throughout the Arab world.
The group has recently been banned from performing in Egypt, following a similar ban in Jordan.
Despite the opposition, the band perseveres. "It's not really about trying to convey a message for us, ever, though 'Ibn El Leil' in particular does revolve around certain particular themes including masculinity, gender, and mourning," Sinno told StepFeed earlier this year.
Throughout the region, the band has become a symbol of the Arab LGBT community and its struggle against conservative social norms.
14. Wentworth Miller (Lebanon, Syria)
Best known for his role as Michael Scofield in the popular American TV series Prison Break, Wentworth Miller has Lebanese and Syrian ancestry through his mother.
Back in 2013, Miller came out as gay. After receiving an invitation to attend the St. Petersburg International Film Festival in Russia, Miller replied saying:
"As a gay man, I must decline."
"I am deeply troubled by the current attitude toward and treatment of gay men and women by the Russian government," he continued in his response.
"The situation is in no way acceptable, and I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly."
15. Saleem Haddad (Iraqi/Palestinian/Lebanese)
Born in Kuwait to an Iraqi-German mother and a Palestinian-Lebanese father, Saleem Haddad came out to his parents via email in 2006.
Haddad's parents immediately flew him to Abu Dhabi for a five-day interrogation.
"I remember sitting in silence for hours as they yelled and cried. My mother printed out the Wikipedia page of homosexuality and they were going through it, trying to understand it. But there was nothing I could do," Haddad said in an interview with The Guardian.
His parents have come around since reading his debut novel, Guapa.
His father even went to a gay bar with him to celebrate Guapa's launch in Lebanon.
Haddad currently resides in London with his partner and his dog, Jack.