Nader Tabsh: From suppressing his sexuality to living unapologetically

Nader Tabsh is a student leader and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. ORACLE PHOTO/ CHAVELI GUZMAN

As president of USF’s LGBT Pre-Health Alliance, a club dedicated to bringing together LGBT members who are pre-health students, Nader Tabsh is a prominent figure for the LGBT community on campus.

Growing up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that oppresses all non-heterosexual behavior, Tabsh said reaching a point of pride and confidence in his sexuality came after countless lonely nights and hate-filled days in his homeland.

In the earliest hours of the morning in Dubai, UAE, 13-year-old Nader Tabsh would still be awake from the night before, regularly staying up as late as 3 a.m., he said.

He’d watch American youtubers and LGBT rights activists, such as Tyler Oakley, to feel a connection to somebody like himself. He would also watch music videos to memorize choreography, such as learning every move to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way’s music video.

To Tabsh, the night time was a time where he could comfortably express his identity of being gay — free of the judgement he regularly faced in his home country. In the UAE, all sexual relations that are not heterosexual are considered a crime, with punishments ranging from as simple as fines, to jail time, floggings, beatings, torture, death and even deportation for non-citizens.

“That time was really the introspection and self-discovery,” Tabsh said. “The internet was the tool for me to connect with the outside world that wasn’t the Arab or Muslim world, and learn about how gay people lived in countries where they were allowed to be gay (like America).”

For years, Tabsh said he was the only gay person he knew. At USF, however, he’s now surrounded by 15-20 students in the Pre-Health Alliance alone, as well as hundreds more in other gay-friendly student clubs, which he actively participates in as well.

To him, when he came to USF in 2015, he was finally “in the real world” he always dreamed of.

At age 12, Tabsh said people in school would call him a girl. As a sixth-grader, with a “Justin Bieber” bowl cut and a high-pitched voice, he didn’t understand the reasoning behind peoples’ constant mockery. As years passed, he said, the ridicule only grew worse.  

“There were times when I felt like I was completely alone,” Tabsh said. “I only had myself and I would cry to myself at night and pray to Allah to take away my homosexuality — but it never happened.

“Years go by and ‘girl’ becomes ‘gay,’ and ‘gay’ becomes ‘f*****,’ which becomes ‘disgusting’ —  just words no one ever wants to be called. I was shoved, I was spat on, but I had good friends.”

Now, as president of the LGBT Pre-Health Alliance, Tabsh openly shares his story with members of his organization and others on campus. On Saturday, he walked the streets of Downtown St. Petersburg for the city’s annual Pride Parade, openly displaying his true self for all to see.

Just five years ago, however, he couldn’t even be himself in his own home, he said, especially around his father. One day, however, Tabsh’s father would become aware of the secret his son hid from him for so long.

Before Tabsh’s father took his girlfriend to a concert, the girlfriend noticed a printed rainbow flag hanging from his closet, so she asked Tabsh what the flag stood for.

Tabsh discussed the meaning of homosexuality and his political views on the matter to the girlfriend, but never revealed his sexual orientation to her. She agreed with Tabsh’s views on accepting everybody and then went on to the concert with Tabsh’s father.

Following the concert, Tabsh said his father returned enraged after learning about his sons’ rainbow flag.

Tabsh said his father demanded to know how he could support something his Islamic faith rejected. When Tabsh finally admitted to his father about being gay, the night proceeded in a argument full of tears and weeping, according to Tabsh. Tabsh was crushed.

To Tabsh’s surprise, however, the following morning, his father told him that he would accept him as he is. He even supported Tabsh’s ambitions to come to the U.S. to pursue a career in medicine.

Now entering his senior year, Tabsh’s goal in the States is to aid other students who are still going through struggles themselves — especially those looking to enter the medical field like he is.

In Tabsh’s eyes, the LGBT community is often overlooked in medicine, both as doctors and as patients.

“Our role is to create awareness, make people understand that we are here, that we are people, we are visible and we are also aspiring to do something with our lives,” Tabsh said. “We aren’t just screaming about our sexualities. But most importantly that we are here and we want to be doctors.”

As a leader of the organization, Tabsh said he tells his story to inspire anyone else who may be going through similar experiences and to, most importantly, demonstrate how they are not alone.

Yameen Khalifa, a longtime friend of Tabsh and ally of the LGBT community, who knew him in Dubai, is now the Education Chair of LGBT Health Alliance.

“He is really trying to fill the club with love, acceptance and great energy, so we as club members, all together can go out and help the community,” Khalifa said. “Nader (Tabsh) is a great person and I’m so excited to see what’s to come this upcoming year.”

Through the struggles that Tabsh faced, the month of June, Pride Month, takes on a deeper meaning for him. He said it not only accounts for the abundance of things that he has overcome, but more importantly demonstrates the bright future that lies ahead of him.

“It’s really us lifting up our rainbow flag for others to see,” Tabsh said. “For others that are closeted right here, to see that it’s OK and know that when it’s their time, they can come out.

“The power in living unapologetically is that you get to meet yourself for the first time. You begin finally being able to do what you want to do without thinking twice.”