—Written by Austin VanKirk
A first-generation immigrant from Kuwait, Sam Alqattan is an out-and-proud gay man living, working, and studying in Metro Detroit. Having had previous encounters with Sam, I know a bit about him and what he’s all about. Because of this, I feel comfortable in saying that despite overcoming what I consider to be a tremendous amount of hardship, he remains one of the most upbeat men I’ve ever known—perhaps also one of the cutest.
I got the opportunity to chat with Sam about his life not only as a gay immigrant, but also as an Arab American. I’m very excited to introduce our readers to someone who has been able to conquer his adversities in such a positive way and still continue on with vigor. It’s my hope that his story will inspire our readers as much as it has me.
First, Sam, let’s get to know you a little bit. Tell us some about who you are and what you do.
I’m a twenty-five year-old graduate student at WSU. I’m currently pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy. Aside from that, I’m really boring. That’s all I really do. I volunteer, I work out, and watch Orange is the New Black. But that’s only because my sister is a lesbian. [Laughs]
What made you agree to be on the cover of Flame?
I really wanted to share my story with everybody. I feel a lot of people don’t understand the hardships gay Middle-Eastern men go through. I wanted to take a stand and maybe give courage to other men of Middle Eastern descent to come out. Not only do we face religious hardships, but also cultural limitations that hinder us in seeking our freedoms.
You have a twin sister, who is also gay. Can you tell us a little about what that dynamic was like when growing up with her and how that’s changed throughout the years until now?
At first it was really hard for us to come out to each other, because culturally it is just unacceptable. We were both really scared. But eventually we became each other’s support system. And it’s nice because I have a best friend who is always there for me. We vent to each other about our respective boyfriends and girlfriends. I’m also her DD—I hate it.
Coming out, regardless of cultural background, is often a harrowing process. However, coming from a Middle Eastern and/or Muslim background, as you have, offers its own unique challenges. How did these factors affect you?
Coming from where I come from, I didn’t think coming out was an option. My mom found out; I didn’t tell her. As Arab-American, coming out is something that is pretty much forbidden. There is always the danger of your family abandoning you, kicking you out on the street, or being shipped over seas for “treatment.” Once I figured out that this is my life, this is who I am, I knew I had to make a decision. Regardless of the hardships I faced, I wanted to be able to pursue my hopes and dreams openly.
What’s your biggest concern with the gay population whose families and communities are of Middle Eastern descent in this country?
It’s not so much how families feel about their gay son or daughter; the big fear is what other people will think. And that’s how I think most Arab families are. They value other people’s thoughts and opinions more than their own. This drives them to hate and to condemn—even if it’s their own son or daughter who is gay. I know my mom loves me on the inside, but I feel like she feels prevented from displaying that love because she’s afraid of what other people will think. And that’s why she abandoned us.
Based on your experiences, what can the greater LGBT community do to support folks of ethnic minorities struggling with their sexual or gender identities?
I think the best tool is through media and events to inform people that there are others out there like them. Especially at Universities, it’s beneficial to promote events that welcome LGBT minorities. Making knowledge and resources about health, especially HIV testing, more readily available would be helpful as well.
Your experiences played a large role in the inspiration of the novel The Stars Care for None. How do you feel about having parts of your life story being displayed like that?
This relates to my last answer about promoting being gay through media. I feel really proud that my story is being used to support acceptance among Arab-Americans. I just feel privileged—and it’s just cool. How many people can say a book’s been written about them? I mean, everyone experiences hardships, I just hope that one day some Arabic person will pick [the book] up and realize that he’s not alone. And this is why I want to be Miss America. [Laughter]
For any of our readers who might be struggling with their own coming-out processes—maybe coming from similar situations as you—what advice can you offer? Even after all of your hardships, do you think your decision to live your life proudly and openly has been worth it?
I believe it has been worth it. The biggest advice I can give to someone is not to give up on your dreams. Don’t just give up because its tough or the outcome isn’t what you wanted. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. I wouldn’t change this for the world. It’s made me a better leader and has improved my understanding of people. It’s also taught me to advocate tolerance and acceptance, and to help others who are currently going through what I have.
I know that you’re a big fan of Lady Gaga—don’t lie, we all know about the shrine erected to her in your closet. Do you think she’d be proud of you for what you’re doing with your life?
As a “Little Monster,” I think she would be. I am a huge fan, of both her music and the message she spreads about accepting yourself. She gives me the strength to encourage and support my friends and people I know to come out. I offer advice, a listening ear, and even my house. I think that is just something she’d do herself and want me to do, too.
Since moving to the U.S., you’ve lived in both Metro Detroit and central Florida. In your opinion, which area has the hotter men? And, be careful how you answer, because I’m one of those Metro Detroit guys.
Ohhhh! That’s really hard. There are obviously hot men everywhere, but that’s not what I look for in a relationship. I value honesty, integrity, and charisma more in a man than his looks. I feel like those qualities can be found both here and central Florida, and everywhere really, so I’m not going to directly answer that question.
Describe your perfect date.
I’d have to say April 25th. Because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket. [Laughter]
As a final question, once you’ve finished your degree, what are your plans and goals for yourself and the greater community?
After I become a physical therapist I plan to provide pro bono services, because I know a lot of people in Detroit are still hurting, even with [The Affordable Care Act]. I also want to start a LGBT community fund that can help people who are going through issues similar to what I’ve encountered, to help them out financially. Then I want to go into teaching preventative medicine. And maybe have babies…lots of babies.
For more information on The Stars Care for None, the novel inspired by Sam’s story and the challenges facing gay Arab-Americans, including reviews, synopsis, and order information, visit http://delapluma.net/starscarefornone