Omar Sharif Jr. knows that LGBT visibility matters.
The gay actor (and former GLAAD spokesman) did not have much access to queer media content in Egypt, where he lived throughout his childhood and young adulthood.
So when he first came across an episode of Dante's Cove — a queer supernatural soap opera popular in the 2000s — the moment was a revelation.
"I realized that I wasn't alone and that different wasn't bad and that there was a community out there that was just like me," says Sharif, who today is one of the leading voices advocating for LGBT equality in the North African nation.
Life has come full circle for Sharif, the 33-year-old grandson of the late Lawrence of Arabia actor after whom he is named. He is set to star in the revival of Dante's Cove, which is currently crowdfunding for its long-awaited fourth season.
Sharif, whose past film credits include The Traveller and The Secret Scripture with Rooney Mara, said it was a "no-brainer" to accept the part of his "exciting" character in a "well-written" script, which promises to tie up loose ends from past seasons.
And now more than ever, Sharif sees the importance of green-lighting shows that portray the full diversity of the LGBT community to a worldwide audience as well as the complex and intersectional issues it grapples with in modern times.
"Sometimes the G's and the L's don't understand the B's and the T's," Sharif says. "Sometimes we don't see the true makeup of our community represented. Sometimes, there is some internal racism within our community. Ageism. Body dysmorphia issues. And I think a lot of that is going to be represented in the new season of Dante's Cove. It's going to do good things for our community."
"I don't know if you've seen the cast of talented and sexy actors, but they're diverse. They're inclusive. They're from all backgrounds and all walks of life," he adds. "I think it's going to be a really good example for ... a global audience that wants to see a reflection of itself on television."
This representation may matter dearly to LGBT people, who are still reeling from Donald Trump's victory in the recent U.S. presidential election. However, Sharif refuses to be discouraged by the current political climate. While this is not the election result he anticipated or championed — Sharif spoke at an LGBT event in Washington, D.C. in support of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — it is one he accepts.
"I remain optimistic," he says. "I come from Egypt, where democracy is lacking. I certainly respect the results of any election."
Sharif has met the president-elect on numerous occasions, which have left him feeling not unhopeful about the future of LGBT rights during Trump's presidency. The first time was at a party hosted by Vanity Fair after the 2011 Academy Awards, where Sharif served as a presenter during the ceremony. At the time, Sharif found Trump to be "charming and really nice."
The second encounter was through his position as a representative of the media organization GLAAD, which in 2012 was advocating for Trump to include transgender contestants in his Miss Universe beauty pageant. Sharif said he was "pleasantly surprised by our interaction," which concluded with Trump approving the inclusion. "It's a no-brainer," Sharif recalls Trump saying. Sharif was also encouraged by Trump's mentions of the "LGBTQ" community and the Pulse massacre during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
"Sometimes to reach new communities and make new inroads, you need to use a new vehicle," Sharif reasons. "If we could move LGBT acceptance so it's no longer a partisan issue and make it nonpartisan, if Donald Trump is our vehicle to doing that — sometimes it's easier to work from the inside than the outside. I think we should see where the road takes us. We should be vigilant, but we should be optimistic at the same time."
"I am hopeful the candidate differs from the man and the president, though I'm slightly discouraged by some of the recent administration appointments," he adds, acknowleding Trump's antigay cabinet picks.
For now, Sharif is continuing his role as an actor and activist — a path that he sees as following in the footsteps of his famous late grandfather.
"He focused, later in his life, his career around making films that spoke to social justice issues that were important to him, specifically religious tolerance," Sharif says of the Doctor Zhivago star. "I think he would be proud that I'm sort of doing the same. I found something that speaks to me, and it's an issue I can speak to and address with my art."
"There's no reason you can't work on a project [about] an issue that speaks to you. And you can reach an audience ... with a certain message but also have fun doing it," he concludes. "That's the great thing about Dante's Cove. It's just fun. It's all around naughty fun."
Want to bring Dante's Cove back with Sharif as a leading man? Contribute to the show's Kickstarter.