Celebrity Masterchef winner Riyadh Khalaf reveals how his extended family tried to force him into conversion therapy
Before being crowned Celebrity Masterchef champion, Riyadh Khalaf struggled through some dark times with his sexuality.
The Irish-Iraqi TV broadcaster and YouTuber, who emerged victorious in the show‘s final last night, revealed that his coming out at 16 sparked a huge family rift.
While his Irish-Catholic mother was unexpectedly supportive, his father was appalled to learn that his son was gay and Khalaf actually feared he could be killed.
“My parents were right at the bottom of the pile for who to come out to,” Khalaf told the BBC. “It was self-preservation. I didn’t know if I was going to be kicked out and made homeless, or if my dad would try to honour-kill me.
“It sounds silly but you go to the worst-case scenario. My mum was great – confused but great – but my dad took it very hard.”
Khalaf came out to his parents in two stages: his mother first, after she found gay porn on the family computer. He mustered the courage to tell his “outrageously heterosexual” father nine months later with a note that read simply: “I am gay.”
“We will fix this”, his father instantly replied, which Khalaf understood meant: “We will get you some help and some conversion therapy.”
Ten years on, he and his father Sam are now able to discuss the initial reaction.
“I thought of family, which is really stupid, because I left Iraq so long ago,” Sam told The Guardian, adding that his relatives reinforced his intolerance by urging him to send his son to Syria.
“They asked, ‘How come your son is like this? You should change him.’ They said we could help Riyadh: Bring him to Syria and treat him there with conversion therapy.”
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“Thankfully that never came to fruition,” Khalaf said. “We never actually did that, but we battled through the next few months.
“Eventually through a lot of tears and a lot of anguish, my dad learnt to put love above his shame, learnt that actually my identity was a gift, not something that he should be afraid of.”
Khalaf’s father now joins him on Pride marches and even rallied for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, becoming “the perfect example” of an LGBT+ ally, Khalaf said.
It’s meant they had to cut ties with their wider family, but it’s not something they regret.
“There is no relationship now,” Sam said. “Because of Riyadh I have lost family members, but it is fine with me, honestly. Once my two boys, my wife and I are happy in our home, I don’t care what is going to happen out on the street.”