“I’m hoping it would open up other opportunities for me to work with other young people and youth organisations,” he said.
“I want to kind of give that back.”
This desire to help stemmed from his personal coming out journey, which started during his first Mardi Gras experience when he was 24.
“It was such a liberating experience,” Abboud, 35, said.
“I was still living out in western Sydney, I was still living at home. I still hadn’t kind of accepted my sexuality myself, so there were a lot of things I was dealing with.”
One of those things was his mixed Palestinian and Lebanese background, which inhibited his coming out beforehand due to the prevalent homophobic views of the countries where his parents were raised.
“A bunch of friends and I created the first Middle Eastern float ever, which was awesome,” he recalled.
“We were all in complete disguise, because all of us were in the closet. Not one of us was out. We were dressed in sheikh outfits from head to toe, so literally no one had any idea who we were.
“That experience was really amazing. I just remember looking around, and going ‘wow, there are so many other young people like me that are going to go through this experience’.
“That was kind of a pinnacle moment because I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really want to do something about this.’ I wanted to do whatever it was so other young people didn’t go through what I did.”
Abboud admitted that his coming out journey took a while, as his parents found out he was gay when he was in his late 20s — and it wasn’t easy.
“Coming out is a hard experience but it’s kind of triply hard for people with culturally-diverse backgrounds because there’s this added layer of baggage where you’re not only negotiating your sexuality, you’re negotiating your cultural identity at the same time,” he said.
He said in the Arab culture, there was a type of shame that came with having a gay or lesbian family member.
“That’s what our parents are usually concerned about — it’s not that they can’t love us for who we are or they can’t accept the fact that we’re gay — they find their way through that,” Abboud said.
“They also have these dreams for us — which comes from an upbringing in the Middle East and seeking a better life here — that is very different to the dreams that we create ourselves having been brought up in Australia.
“Nowadays, my parents love me. And my siblings are amazing. They love who I’ve become, and are really proud of what I’m doing.”
Abboud said that although he was always comfortable with himself, it wasn’t until he started reporting for SBS2’s The Feed and launched it last year with a story about fake marriages between a gay man and lesbian of Arab-Australian background that he really started putting himself “out there”. Since then, his profile has skyrocketed, and he was also nominated for a Walkley Award for his journalism work.
However, he said his extended family still didn’t know about him, and that his parents also had no idea that he, along with comedian Tom Ballard, was hosting SBS2’s broadcast of Mardi Gras — the first time in 12 years that the Parade will grace Australian free-to-air TV screens.
“(My parents) might not be happy about it but they wouldn’t shut it down,” Abboud said.
“The way I’d approach that is when they see it, (they’ll) realise what the impact of that could be, having a national broadcast where for once it’s not the kind of ‘usual suspects’ running an event like that.
“They can see people who are of diverse backgrounds, they see people who can reflect the diversity of what is actually in our community.
“Things have changed so much in the last 10 years. I feel really well-supported and I’m not afraid to put myself out there now. It would be really great for me to see that there are more young gay Arabs out there who are being represented and telling our own stories, rather than have someone tell our stories on our behalf.”
Abboud also spoke of his appreciation for what Mardi Gras meant, especially considering how his parents hailed from a region where being LGBTI was illegal or punishable by death.
“The Mardi Gras is a great event. It’s colourful, it’s fun, it’s a party and we all love a party… but more than anything, it’s about remembering those who fought for our freedom,” he said.
“For me, that’s never wavered.”
INFO: The Mardi Gras Parade highlights is on SBS2 on Sunday night from 8.30pm.