In honor of the University’s second annual Arab Heritage Month, about 70 students gathered in Rackham Amphitheater Tuesday evening for a keynote address by Sa’ed Atshan, a post-doctoral fellow at Brown University, about coming out as a gay Palestinian.
Atshan has served as a lecturer for peace and justice studies at several universities including Harvard, Brown and Tufts. Besides his work advocating for Palestinian rights, Atshan is also an active member of Al-Qaws, an organization that promotes LGBTQ rights in Palestinian society.
Sponsored by the Trotter Multicultural Center, Arab Heritage Month provides a platform for students to embrace their Arab identities.
This year’s theme, “Arabiyon Ana: I am Arab,” was chosen to explore multiple aspects of Arab identities and their impacts and influences in the world.
“This keynote address was particularly chosen because it was a really good way of tying in the way a person’s queer identity can affect their Arab identity,” said event organizer Farah Erzouki, a Public Health student. “We wanted to explore those interactions between two such marginalized identities.”
During his speech, Atshan shared his story about struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.
“I, alongside others, were constantly accused of being perverts,” Atshan said. “People failed to see that homosexual love is between two consenting adults.”
Atshan also addressed how his sexuality affected his family.
“Coming out as gay created repercussions for my family,” Atshan said. “The family honor was tied to my decisions. This is because sexuality is a topic that doesn’t come often in the public forum, especially in the Middle East.”
Atshan is involved in several efforts to create a safer environment for the LGBTQ community, such as organizing the first Global Queer Palestinian Solidarity Movement.
Atshan also briefly discussed Palestinian living conditions in the West Bank territory.
“Their freedom is taken away from them,” Atshan said. “There is segregation everywhere between the Palestinians and the Israelites. Palestinian children come home to find their houses demolished, unarmed women and children are constantly interrogated by Israeli soldiers. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
Atshan concluded his speech by congratulating members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, for launching campaigns to encourage the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on campus, as well as for the opening of Edward Said Lounge in North Quad Residence Hall.
“It’s important to talk about Palestinians and intersectionalities in an Arab context,” said LSA junior Hind Omar. “Events like these definitely create awareness, and there needs to be more about it. Palestine is a topic that nobody can avoid anymore.”
Other Arab Heritage Month events include the Ann Arbor Palestine film festival, belly dance lessons and a group discussion on sexuality.