Yalla! is a dance party that is creating space for queer Middle Eastern youth. The woman-founded event invites queer Middle Easterners and North Africans to gather for advocacy and community. Participants say it gives them a space to further understand their identities.
Assia, a New Yorker with Moroccan roots, founded Yalla! In 2018.
“A lot of people don’t even think that we exist, let alone has a community, support each other, and show up, and have a family that’s based here,” she explained. “Just brown rhythm and goodness that makes people wanna, you know, dance together. So that leads to people learning about each other and about the culture.”
Assia points out that intolerance largely originated with colonialism.
“You know, queerness and homosexuality and all of that goodness was accepted before colonization,” she stated. “I mean, you read these beautiful, you know, Sufi poems for instance by Rumi, and he’s very, you know, general when it comes to just talking about, for instance, a lover.”
Yalla! organizers and participants hope that parties like this continue to elevate the experiences of the Middle Eastern and North African LGBTQ+ community. The social and political stigma associated with queer identities in Middle Eastern countries means that those who come out risk not only legal repercussions but sometimes a loss of relationship with their families. Assia hopes it will expand beyond the U.S. in the future.