“I knew I was attracted to guys from a very young age, as early as kindergarten,” said Zaki when asked when he knew he was gay. “I was always a little different from the other kids in my class. I think the adults picked up on it. Because of that, I was always very cautious about what I shared about myself.” Despite his caution, his curious nature prompted him to ask adults around him questions about gender and sexuality such as, “Can two men get married?” The response he received to these questions was less than favorable. Therein the hiding began, from elementary school into adulthood.
Then something remarkable happened: Zaki’s younger brother came out. His mother said to him, “Your younger brother thinks he’s gay, and I already know about you…” Zaki’s world changed forever at that moment. It was then that Zaki finally decided to stop lying to himself and his family. “It took me twenty years to accept my homosexuality so it’s going to take them a long time too,” explains Zaki. “Acceptance isn't something that happens overnight. It definitely happens over time. My relationship with [my family] has evolved and for the better. Sometimes it's two steps forward, one step back and sometimes the reverse.” Not only have his parents progressed, but also his relationship with them. “I'm a different person than I was when I first came out. I'm more patient with them. I want to have a good relationship with them so that takes effort on my part as well. I am very lucky in that they are always trying. They're supportive and loving in the ways they know how.”
Sharing his story of personal acceptance has been important to Zaki. But when he heard about the opportunity to share his story with It Gets Better Project and to attend the OUT100 gala, he was hesitant. It seemed like a very big, very public statement. “But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was an opportunity for me to do service for my community,” said Zaki. “I have a fulfilling and wonderful life. None of the nightmare scenarios that played out in my head when I was in the closet ever happened. I thought it would be a crime not to share how fulfilling life can be as a gay man.”
Zaki had an amazing experience at the OUT100 event, made even more special by his involvement with the It Gets Better project. “It's inspiring to be around and celebrate all the OUT100 honorees.”
Zaki believes that events like OUT100 are crucial for young people who may be struggling with their sexuality, like he was at one time. “I think it’s really important to celebrate the people who are out in the community and who are really vocal and who are role models for people,” said Zaki. “It’s really good to show that you can be out and you can have this full life you can have this amazing life and be gay.”