By Christin Senior | June 15, 2021 4:45 pm

Nader Tabsh remembers exactly where he was the night of the Pulse mass shooting in Orlando.  Eight months after moving to America from the United Arab Emirates, he was attending the University of South Florida and spent the night frantically searching via social media because no one had heard from two friends who were thought to be at the club. When day broke on June 13, 2016, he learned that his friends, Juan Guerrero and Christopher Leinonen, had died in the shooting.

“I was barely a year into exploring this newfound security that I had with my identity, wearing the things that I wanted to wear, saying the things that I want to say. And seeing that the largest mass shooting in the history of our country happened just about an hour away, it was almost as if that sense of security was false,” he said. “It showed me that there were actually more deep-rooted social problems that had me second guessing whether I had come to the wrong place.”

He turned his pain to activism and this month, Tabsh, a rising second-year medical student, is one of four UCF recipients of the onePULSE Foundation’s second annual 49 Legacy Scholarships. Each scholarship honors an individual Pulse victim.

The scholarship honored Tabsh’s work in serving and bringing increased awareness to the health needs of the LGBTQ+ community. He is president of the LGBTQ+ Medical Students and Allies group, where he leads efforts to raise awareness and volunteerism while also organizing events to build inclusion and engagement. He is also a member of Arts in Medicine and PsychSIGN, the student psychiatry interest group. An aspiring psychiatrist, Tabsh hopes to increase awareness of the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and encourage conversations on ways to provide better, more inclusive care.

“The LGBT community is a population like any other cultural community,” he said, “and in order to care for these individuals properly, we need to make sure that we understand them. So cultural competence is important – get to know your population and how to treat them well. It’s about making them feel comfortable, making them feel validated.”

Growing up in Dubai, in a conservative Muslim family and society, Tabsh, who identifies as gay, said he was “born to never come out.”

“Moving to the United States has given me the opportunity to express myself in ways that in the UAE, I was not able to,” he said. “So to be recognized and awarded for my identity and my engagement with the LGBTQ+ community is a position I never I would never find myself in.”

Tabsh’s scholarship is in honor of Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, a longtime employee at the OneBlood donation center, who was passionate about helping others. Tabsh said he is grateful that the OnePulse Foundation is keeping the legacy of the victims alive.

“The onePulse Foundation scholarship is beautiful way to remember those that we lost, by creating new opportunities for others in honor of people who essentially lost theirs,” he said.

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