Abdellah Taïa, one of the first openly gay, French-speaking authors from the Middle East spoke about his personal struggles as a gay man in society and how queer rights in Arab nations are changing at a lecture held Friday.

Taïa, an author and filmmaker, first acknowledged his sexuality in a public letter to his family in 2009. Taïa has written four novels, two collections of short stories and numerous essays. One of his novels, which was adapted into a film, translates to “Salvation Army.” The novel reveals how an individual deals with the reality of daily life in Morocco, where one has to be careful to hide their sexuality to “save your head,” Taïa said.

Taïa said he felt very lonely as a child and said he truly believed he was the only gay person in Morocco, but years later he realized this was not the case.

“I tried to be positive, not to put the blame on my parents or my mother, or even Morocco,” Taïa said. “I always try to say it was not their fault. If it was the fault of someone, it was society and how it works. And yet now I am fully aware of how society works, how they view gay and straight.”

Taïa said he felt his experience growing up as a homosexual in Morocco was very solitary, and even his various writings reflecting on his experiences did not help his healing process, as memories from his childhood still remain.

“I do remember this edge that all of society is pushing you to and telling you ‘jump’ or something like that,” Taïa said. “I don’t even remember how I found the solution or the energy to become the person you are seeing in front of you right now.”

Taïa said a scandal that took place in Morocco in 2007 forced the Arab community to analyze what they think about homosexuality.

There is a tradition of men dressing in women’s clothing, Taïa said. Men celebrated the fake marriage of two men, one of whom was dressed as a woman and someone posted the images on YouTube, he said, adding that within two weeks it was making headlines.

This “scandal” became a debate in Morocco, bringing up the question of homosexuality, Taïa said. The media frenzy ended with a three-hour televised debate on Moroccan TV, in which some people condemned homosexuality and others defended it, Taïa said. This forced everyone to face the reality of homosexuality, he said.

The efforts to change public perceptions continue, and there are currently four or five gay magazines written in Arabic, one of which is based in Morocco, Taïa said. Young people, around 19 or 20 years of age, run the magazine in Morocco as a political act, working to gain awareness, he said.

“These kids are my heroes these days, because no one is helping them to create and develop this magazine,” Taïa said. “For them there is a possibility to connect to each other and build something you could call a community.”