Speaking in schools means I can be the LGBT+, Muslim representation I always needed

by Rayyan Aboobaker
August 2022

Rayyan, who speaks in schools

Speaking in schools about being LGBT+ and Muslim has been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.

I was born and raised in a Muslim household. And, as a Muslim myself, many years went into balancing who I am with my faith and culture.

Representation of LGBT+ Muslims was so scarce in my life that I thought I was on my own. Even when I was in school, I didn’t have any LGBT+ education, nor did we ever hear about LGBT+ people.

The only thing I heard while growing up was that being part of the LGBT+ community would mean going to Hell. I lived in a very heteronormative and homophobic environment. Trying to live up to the expectations that came with that was exhausting. I feared being rejected by my family and friends. 

Rayyan, a Just Like Us ambassador who speaks in schools
Speaking in schools is about giving the representation I always needed

Gender and sexuality were a mystery to me for as long as I can remember. I presented as a girl when I was younger, but that didn’t feel right to me, and I recognised I had crushes on not just guys. Who or what was I? I asked this question many times until I found the terms non-binary and bisexual when I was 17.

I finally had joy in my heart as I finally found the words to describe my gender and sexuality. But this also raised the level of fear within me because I knew my family wouldn’t be so supportive.

Speaking in schools about being LGBT+

For a long time I felt shame for who I was – something I still feel at times – but I didn’t want to feel that constantly anymore. I wanted to make a difference and show other people that being who you are is nothing to be ashamed of.

Perhaps even show myself.

Just Like Us showed up on my Instagram feed and I remember being scared to press the volunteer button on the Just Like Us website. Coming to terms with my identity was something I was always a bit nervous about and I knew that pressing the button would open a new chapter.

Trans flag that says 'We have always existed'
Speaking in schools is about ensuring young people know LGBT+ people exist

But I had to push through the worry of being visible because, sometimes, visibility can help someone else realise they are not alone.

After nearly a year of volunteering, I now feel content with who I am and comfortable sharing my story to help improve the lives of LGBT+ young people.

My story focuses on my identity and my faith. I speak to school pupils about how being religious as an LGBT+ individual is OK.

It’s important to recognise that a person doesn’t need to give up part of their identity just because they’re LGBT+. My religion and my LGBT+ identity make me whole. 

Speaking in schools is nerve wracking but exciting

Before doing school talks, I would feel anxious but also excited. My heart would beat out of my chest, but there was always a feeling of hope.

“Being an ambassador is one of the most amazing experiences a person can have.”

Despite doing online school talks during the pandemic, the students would listen really intently. This gave me the encouragement to keep going and keep being visible.

The students’ questions on LGBT+ icons, youth organisations they can attend in their region, and how they can be an ally made me realise that being an ambassador is one of the most amazing experiences a person can have.

Speaking in schools with Just Like Us

Since volunteering with Just Like Us, I met some of the loveliest people who are so accepting. This has helped me to be fully myself – even coming out to my closest people who love me for me.

Not only was I able to speak in several schools but I also had the opportunity to voice my experiences in an article for Gay Times.

And as someone keen on a career in history, being an ambassador has helped me to learn more about our community. I’ve learnt so much about our identities, issues and histories.

Why I love being a LGBT+ ambassador

I’ve never been more proud to be an ambassador for Just Like Us. I joined the Ambassador Programme to give representation to young people, especially LGBT+ Muslims.

Being the representation I needed when I was younger because no one should feel the guilt and frustration I felt.

Every time I do a school talk, I know I’ve helped students to be allies, and helped at least one young person to better understand their identity. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.

Volunteer to speak in schools

Just Like Us needs volunteers age 18-25 to speak in schools about being LGBT+.