Why is April Arab American Heritage Month?
This April, Point Foundation is celebrating Arab American Heritage Month 2023.
The first Arab American Heritage Day was celebrated Oct. 25, 1992, after US Representatives brought forth legislation to recognize the contributions of Arab Americans to the United States. According to Dr. Mireille Rebeiz, an Associate Professor of Francophone Studies and Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Dickinson College, Arab American activists selected April because of the number of spontaneous celebrations of Arab heritage that took place during the month. Additionally, because April did not have many other established celebrations of ethnicity or culture.
For Dr. Rebeiz, celebrating LGBTQ culture within the Arab American community is a way to push for more rights for everyone.
“As an ally I write to call on all Arab Americans – irrespective of gender identities and sexual orientation – to push against heteronormative patriarchy and toxic masculinity and fight against them in the name of LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights,” Dr. Rebeiz said.
The Arab American Foundation kicked off national celebrations of Arab American Heritage Month in April 2017. After five years of local, statewide, and national celebrations, President Joe Biden and the US State Department officially recognized the month in 2021.
Celebrating Arab American Culture as an LGBTQ Student
Since the 1880s, Arabic people have been an essential part of American society. In the 1960s, Egyptian-American scientist Dr. Farouk el-Baz worked on moon exploration and the Apollo landings with NASA. Activist Candance Lightner, the founder of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, is half-Lebanese and served as president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1994-1995.
Today, famous Arab Americans in the LGBTQ community include Arab American author George Abraham and activist Kinda Hibrawi. George Abraham (they/he/هو) is a bisexual Palestinian American from Jacksonville, FL. In 2019, George was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Literature and won the Arab American Book Award for their poetry book Birthright.
Kinda Hibrawi (she/her) is a queer Syrian American woman who works with refugees and co-founded Mint + Laurel in 2019 to provide a platform for Syrian storytellers and artists to share their cultures. Podcasts like The Queer Arabs and digital initiatives like the award-winning @thequeermuslimproject on Instagram are centering the voices of LGBTQ Arab Americans and LGBTQ people from Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA).
3.5 million Arab Americans currently live in the United States. These residents trace their families back to one of the 22 countries recognized as “Arab” in the SWANA region, which stretches from Mauritania in the west to Oman in the east and then north the Syria and south to Somalia and the Comoros Islands.
According to the Homophobic Climate Index of 2017, seven of the top twenty most homophobic countries were Arab nations. There are over 400 million Arab people in the world, which means there are also millions of LGBTQ people from Arab countries, living both here in the United States and abroad.
People whose Arab American and LGBTQ identities intersect need support and validation as they work to create affirming communities for LGBTQ Arab Americans across the country.
Arab American Scholars at Point
One Point student working to build LGBTQ Arab American community on her campus is Flagship Scholar Zeina Nassif. Zeina currently serves as the treasurer of the Wellesley College Arab Students Alliance.
“As treasurer for the Arab Students Alliance (ASAL), I have helped to organize events for Arab students on campus,” Zeina said. Last semester, Zeina worked with the ASAL to create a fundraiser selling keffiyehs, the typical headwraps worn by Arab men, primarily to protect against sunburn, dust, and sand. The fundraiser both brought more visibility to Arab American people on campus and raised money for SWANA orphanages.
Point BIPOC Scholar Driss Mabrouki was born and raised in Morocco, an Arab country in North Africa, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable with up to five years in prison. Driss moved to the United States in 2018 at the age of 25 through the US green card lottery, and once here was able to come out as bisexual. Driss now studies aviation management at North Shore Community College in Massachusetts. His goal is to become a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller.
Maya Ghanem is a nonbinary Point BIPOC Scholar at Duke University in North Carolina. They are working toward a career in social work to support LGBTQ Muslims, environmental justice, and community renewable energy initiatives. Maya takes part in Duke-funded research on energy and health in Southwest Asia and migration caused by climate catastrophes. They also attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year and served as the justice director of Duke’s Undergraduate Environmental Union. As a Mellon Mays Fellow, Maya is writing an honors thesis on Muslim, Indigenous, and LGBTQ environmentalisms in the United States. Maya currently serves as a content writer for Muslim Women For and a staff writer for Jasur Magazine. Jasur, which means bold, brave, and courageous in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian, is an academic journal created and edited by students at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Supporting LGBTQ Arab American Scholars
Together, Point Scholars like Zeina, Driss, and Maya are finding ways to build LGBTQ Arab American visibility and community on their campuses and in their cities. Here are some ways you can support efforts to recognize and celebrate the unique experiences and contributions of LGBTQ Arab Americans this month and all year long.
Remember, not all Arab Americans are Muslim and not all Muslims are Arab American. Famous LGBTQ Muslim Americans like Tan France, Blair Imani, and Alok Vaid-Menon are all amazing role models, but they are not Arab American. During Arab American Heritage Month, share the music and work of Rana Fayez and their organization Yalla Punk and Eman Abdelhadi and their upcoming documentary Coming Around.
Recognize Arab American Heritage Month this April, and ask your college, town, and state to recognize the importance of your local Arab American community members as well.
Point Foundation is proud to celebrate our Arab American scholars and all LGBTQ Arab American college students across the country this month. شهر تراث عربي أمريكي سعيد!