Unapologetic: Once Jailed for Being Gay, He's Found Refuge at Last - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Because life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are worth fleeing for.

By Viviane Feldman

Tarek lived his life in fear of discrimination, harassment, blackmail, abuse, jail and even death. In his home country of Egypt, being gay is punishable by hard labor, jail time and human rights offenses not monitored within prison walls.

One night, Tarek was with another man in a car, kissing. Suddenly, a car pulled up, headlights on. Four police officers removed Tarek and his companion from their car. One of the officers took Tarek to the side and, after slapping him, forced him to confess that he was gay.

“He took me to the police station, handcuffed,” recalls Tarek. “I got there, they left me in the police officers’ room for about five hours. I didn’t know what was happening. … I was just shaking the entire time, didn’t know how to talk, what to say.”

For me, it’s not just a costume… it’s so many things; it’s like an idea, inspiration, it’s art, it’s sculpting.


After hours of interrogation, Tarek was taken to a cell. After a week with only water and bread to eat, he was released and his family came to pick him up.

“At this time, that’s when I figured, ‘I cannot stay here. I have to leave this,’” he says. “I had my visa, I booked the first flight and I left.”


Tarek arrived in New York in need of refuge. With the help of Immigration Equality, a leading LGBTQ immigrant rights organization, Tarek started the process of seeking asylum. Organization advocates matched Tarek with a lawyer and guided him through the legal process until his case was processed. 

Tarek has wasted no time taking advantage of his freedom in the United States. Since gaining asylum, he’s turned his Halloween-related hobby of costume designing into a budding career

“For me, it’s not just a costume. For me, it’s so many things; it’s like an idea, inspiration, it’s art, it’s sculpting,” he says. “There’s so many things involved that it makes me feel like I did an art piece and this makes me feel really good.” 

Since his start in costume design a year ago, Tarek has assisted with projects for Sasha Velour of RuPaul’s Drag Race and for Miss Iraq in the Miss Universe contest. At this pace, his goal to design for the likes of Lady Gaga and Britney Spears could be realized before too long. 

“That’s the thing that I want to promote for everyone who’s using any of my designs, is they feel special, they feel like it’s something super extra,” Tarek says. “It makes you have presence and feel unique and different.”

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories