This post was updated Jan. 8 at 2:03 p.m.
Buddy Al-Aydi was disowned by his family after he told his parents he was gay in November.
Although he had known he was gay since he was 12 or 13 years old, Al-Aydi, a first-year biochemistry student, said he recognized that his parents would not approve of his sexuality based on their judgment of his own self-expression.
“As a kid I would put my hand on my hips or I would sway my hand and my parents would be so disapproving of that,” Al-Aydi said. “For that reason, I’ve tried to hide it for a while.”
Al-Aydi said he was 16 when he learned more about the LGBTQ+ community. He said he decided to come out to his parents for the first time in June 2016.
“Because I didn’t want to worry them too much, I came out as a bisexual. At that point, they took it as a threat,” Al-Aydi said. “They got really scared and they allowed me to befriend girls and date girls, which is even untraditional in a Muslim household.”
Al-Aydi tried coming out for a second time in high school, but he said after his parents tried to convince him that sexuality is a choice and offered him conversion therapy, he dropped the topic for the remainder of high school.
On Nov. 13, Buddy submitted a voice recording of his experience with his family to Storybooth.com, a website that animates recordings of people recounting personal stories and posts the videos to YouTube. He described the ongoing tension in his household and his joy and relief when he left the East Coast to go to college at UCLA. Al-Aydi said to his surprise his video became the No. 1 trending video on YouTube and currently has more than four million views.
When his family found out about the video, Al-Aydi’s father called him. Al-Aydi said his father told him to respect the family’s boundaries and to never speak to them again.
Al-Aydi said he could only assume that meant his parents had also cut him out financially.
Anna Kondratyeva, a first-year cognitive science student, was with Al-Aydi while he was on the phone with his father. She said Al-Aydi’s dad asked his son to take down the video because Al-Aydi’s sisters were being bullied in school. Al-Aydi said he stood by his sexuality and his video.
“You almost have the perspective of seeing a family breaking apart,” Kondratyeva said. “Literally right before your eyes, someone’s family collapses.”
Since the phone call, Al-Aydi has been cut off from his family’s cell phone plan.
Al-Aydi has been working with the UCLA administration to attain financial independence and secure funding for future quarters at UCLA. Al-Aydi’s friend from high school started a GoFundMe page on Nov. 19 to raise money. The fundraiser has accumulated more than $17,000.
In addition to financial support, Al-Aydi said he has received personal support from UCLA faculty members. Sarah Stein, a history professor, reached out to Al-Aydi when she heard about his situation and introduced him to other professors as a way to show Al-Aydi that he has a community within the university that will support him. Stein also said that she recommended resources to Al-Aydi such as the dean of students, the LGBT Resource Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and It Gets Better, a global nonprofit organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth.
Al-Aydi said he has also received a lot of support from UCLA students. In addition to reaching out, people offered him swipes into dining halls and places to stay over winter break.
Charlotte Suiza, a first-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student and Al-Aydi’s friend, said Al-Aydi was one of the first people she met at UCLA. She added that seeing Al-Aydi’s experience firsthand left a greater impact on her than hearing about similar incidents happening to others.
“You hear stories about these kinds of things happening to LGBTQ+ youth on the internet but … you can’t imagine it until it happens to someone you actually know,” Suiza said. “And when it happens, it’s a shock.”
Al-Aydi is not the only student at UCLA to apply for financial independence because of familial conflict regarding sexuality. Kai Huang, a second-year psychobiology student, preemptively took independence from his family when he started medically and legally transitioning.
“I knew I wanted to be able to just pay for my own college and not worry about losing that financial support and kind of entering into an emergency or crisis situation,” Huang said. “Being able to take that agency for myself and not be afraid of what they think and what they say and whatever they might want to do, it really helped me with feeling like I have control over my own situation because I definitely didn’t in high school.”
To support himself, Huang works two jobs – one at the LGBT Resource Center and one as a resident assistant on the Hill. He said the work takes up roughly 20 hours per week.
Huang said although there were similarities in their experiences, Al-Aydi is struggling now because he was unable to plan how he was going to handle financial independence.
“I feel like it’s hard for (Al-Aydi) because he was kind of thrown into it with really not much warning,” Huang said.
He added that while he and Al-Aydi came out to their parents, coming out is not the best option for everyone, and people in similar situations should not feel that announcing their sexuality to others is the ultimate goal for a queer individual.
“Coming out should never be the end-all, be-all of what being LGBTQ+ is about, and that shouldn’t be the narrative, like, ‘Oh it’s so brave of you, your end goal should always be to come out,’ because it’s so unsafe for so many people,” Huang said.
Huang said he came out to his parents as transgender thinking his parents would accept him because the narrative he kept seeing on social media was of white American LGBTQ+ people being accepted for their sexuality. He added because he never saw the representation of LGBTQ+ people of color, he was not aware his situation might be different.
Al-Aydi said he stands by his sexuality and his decision to express himself, and added he encourages others in a similar situation to do what is best for them.
“Do what you need to do in order to be happy. People will be there to help you to get what you need and make sure you’re on your feet,” Al-Aydi said. “You’re not alone.”