Adam Radwan, of Brooklyn, said people from Tarab helped him show his Egyptian father that a healthy gay Muslim community does exist.
"It piqued his interest," Radwan said, that people could be gay and live a full life — that "there were others like me."
His father, Abraham Radwan, originally from Port Said, Egypt, said that he believes sexuality is a private matter but that he is thankful for being in a country where people have the conversation.
"Here in America we have an open heart," he said. "In Egypt we hide it; no one talks about it."
Makhay said his struggle began when gossip reached his mother from the Chaldean community in his native Detroit. When he was 19, his mom gave him an ultimatum — "be straight or move out." Makhay left home.
"I felt unsafe" because, he said, after Sept. 11 some Americans couldn't separate Arab or Muslim from terrorist. "I was willing to give up parts of my identity to be in a safe space."
To find acceptance in gay society, he stopped speaking Arabic. With light skin and green eyes, he could pass as white. The local gay center couldn't address his cultural needs, and the Arab center couldn't help on his sexuality. But soon, he discovered he didn't want to talk to a counselor — he just wanted someone who understood him.
Makhay, who is trained in nonprofit management, eventually moved to New York City and in 2012 created Tarab, named for a type of soulful Arabic music.
"I can say 'inshallah' (God willing) and it's not like a big deal," said Hilal Khalil, who is Lebanese, Muslim, American, gay and serves hookah at Tarab. "I don't have to go into a huge conversation about how it's OK to be gay and Muslim at the same time."