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Being LGBTQIA+ in a Conservative Country

Luana Davila is an alumna of the 2019 CLS Arabic program in Meknes, Morocco, and wrote the following about her experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community on the CLS Program. Luana is working toward a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago and is a current CLS Alumni Ambassador.

Being surrounded by an unfamiliar language, different foods, music, and terrain can be the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. Being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community brings added concern for those of us going to a country knowing that our sexuality is frowned upon by the general community. Being a lesbian and Palestinian I have experienced firsthand the stress of finding the perfect mix of my identities and in sha Allah I can ease the troubles of those experiencing the same plight by sharing how I go about expressing myself in an unfamiliar place.

Last summer I went to Meknes, Morocco to study Arabic on the CLS Program. Before boarding the plane I got to know my cohort in D.C. and met many fine people, each and every one leaving a good impression on me and making me feel better about being away from home. After chatting with everyone I learned that I was not the only one who identified as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and I instantly felt relief. Even those who weren’t part of the community accepted my identity and offered their ear in case I needed to talk. This brings me to talk about what I think is the best way to feel like yourself in times where you feel alone. Lean on your cohort if you need to. Chances are someone is feeling some type of isolation themselves and it would be good to air out some of your concerns by having an open discussion. My cohort was a group of people I felt I could trust and they were a great resource when it came to needing a home away from home.

If for any reason you feel like you can’t connect with your group of peers, build your own community. A big part of learning a language is learning the culture behind it. By immersing yourself in your new surroundings, not only will you feel more connected to your language, but you can feel more at home when parts of your identity feel lost. Plus, making friends with the people around your host city will surely heighten your experience and make what was once a foreign city feel like home.

So while you may not be able to shout your identity from the rooftops, there are ways of eliminating that isolation that you may experience when being in an unfamiliar place. Talk to your host family, locals, and your cohort. You will be surprised by much you have in common.