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Sabrina Jalees

November 26, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

How A Muslim Dad Reacted To His Daughter Coming Out

Sabrina Jalees’s comedy has taken the world by storm. Opening for the likes of Russell Peters and a headliner comic in her own right, Sabrina never fails to draw laughter with her shoot-from-the-hip style. As a keynote speaker, Sabrina tells her personal story with sincerity and wit, relaying the message that when you own and embrace your individuality, you unlock the transformation from “embarrassed” to “empowered.” Sabrina recently participated in the “Moral Courage Project,” and spoke about the support she received from her father when she told him she is gay. Watch above.

“Before I realized I was gay, I was kind of homophobic,” says comedian Sabrina Jalees. “I mean, that’s disgusting! Two women—together? Ugh.” She makes a face. But then she gets serious. “Really, I guess, I was just afraid that that was me.” This was the first of the series of her fears that Sabrina had to confront.

Sabrina grew up in a multi-ethnic family in Toronto. Her mother Ursula is from Switzerland, and her father Sayed is from Pakistan. She knew that coming out would be difficult—she compares it to cliff diving—but she felt very strongly that she needed to tell her parents. She was able to move past her fear. “I came out to my parents,” she explains, “because I wanted to keep my relationship with them.”

Right after she told her father, she remembers him, after a long stretch of shocked silence, saying, “Well… We didn’t raise you guys to be liars.” And from that moment on, Sabrina knew things were going to be reasonably all right.

While she was growing up, Sabrina’s family played host to her various aunts, uncles and cousins, moving to Canada and the US from Pakistan, and Sabrina became very close with her extended family. And even though she knew it was difficult, she believed very strongly that to be true to both herself and her relationship with her family, she needed to tell them about her life and her recent marriage. In an email to her aunts, uncles and cousins, she wrote:

I got married this past summer to an amazing woman named Shauna. Although some of you do know, I’ve found it hard to be open with all of you about this part of myself. I really avoided “coming out” for a long time because I love all of you and didn’t want anyone to see me in a different light or judge me. I do not want to keep hiding this from you because I feel that if I continue “not mentioning” this part of my life I’ll completely drift away from you guys.

There were no responses. Sabrina quickly realized that none of her extended family members were planning to write back to her. Many de-friended her on Facebook. Eventually, she heard from one of them that the official family line was, “our support for Sabrina ends here.” She confesses, “I thought there would be more of a conversation around it. I never expected them to just shut off and throw me out.”

But the story doesn’t end there. we’ve seen far too many examples of parents who disown their LGBT children. Sayed Jalees and Ursula Frei embraced their daughter, and made sure the rest of the family knew it.

Adam Grannick for the Moral Courage Project/The Daily Beast/November, 2014