Honolulu Pride 2023

Passion for (Honolulu) Pride

As a Middle Eastern, non-binary raised in Dubai, one photographer’s journey has been a profound exploration of self-discovery that’s reflected in images captured during Honolulu Pride.

Click to reserve tickets to attend the return of the annual Lei Pride Pool Party.

By Marc Graser
Photos by Natalya Al Omary and Lorena Gheorghe

Natalya Al Omary is a reason why we celebrate Pride.

“Honolulu Pride was the first pride after I came out as non-binary,” says Natalya, who identifies as they/them. “It was a celebration of being myself, finally, at 26.”

Originally from Syria, Natalya grew up in Dubai, which is not particularly known for its LGBT-friendly policies. “I’ve met people from all walks of life, but in terms of the LGBTQ community, it’s not talked about at all,” Natalya says.

After studying film at SAE, a university for the creative arts, and a brief stint in Richmond, Virginia, where Natalya has family, they ended up in Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. Shortly after landing jobs as a writer’s assistant on Showtime’s hit series “Homeland,” and becoming a production coordinator on a documentary about the U.S.’ involvement in Afghanistan, now America’s longest war, Covid shut the world down.

“Production in L.A. was dead; Nothing was happening,” Natalya says. A friend in Hawaii came calling, and what was supposed to be a month-long trip in March 2020 turned into a new home. “I’m still here.”

Natalya didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job when they made the decision to move to Honolulu. “Yeah. I just kind of did it without thinking about it too much.”

“It was the first Pride that I was photographing, and the first Pride after coming out, as well, so the first Pride that I was kind of like, part of,” Natalya says. “It was kind of like a real celebration.”

Natalya Al Omary

Attending their first Pride in San Francisco, in 2018, was life changing, especially for someone who hadn’t been able to discuss their queerness through their childhood and teenage years. “I felt like I was dreaming the whole time,” Natalya recalls. “I wouldn’t have thought in a million years I would be able to just be open and myself. I actually met my first love there.”

When Slapp Radio gave Natalya, who also DJs, the opportunity to document Honolulu Pride, in 2020, with Romanian photographer Lorena Gheorghe, Natalya didn’t take much convincing.

“It was the first Pride that I was photographing, and the first Pride after coming out, as well, so the first Pride that I was kind of like, part of,” Natalya says. “It was kind of like a real celebration.”

It wasn’t until moving to Honolulu that Natalya decided to cut their hair short and come out to everyone around them. Honolulu Pride amplified everything. Pride in Hawaii just hits different. 

“It was so easy because everyone was just so happy,” Natalya says. “I wanted to take photos of everything.” 

Natalys says Honolulu Pride “felt like it was 10 times more special because I feel like I was finally outside of my shell. I felt a change in me. There was something in the air; everyone was on the same wavelength of understanding each other. We didn’t need to explain anything to anyone. We were just being. Without even explaining who I was, people saw who I was.

“You see how many people are just like you,” Natalya adds. “I think I’ve spent enough time and energy trying to be someone else and I don’t have that energy to do that anymore. I just am and I literally don’t know how to be anyone else anymore.”

Natalya’s passions for photography and storytelling, as well as DJing, have helped them break free from societal constraints and embrace their authentic self. 

“My passion lies in capturing people’s essences, whether it’s in front of the camera or in my mind while I DJ. These experiences have inspired me immensely and have fueled my spirit, allowing me to celebrate and share the unique beauty of each person I cross paths with.”

Natalya hopes her photography will continue to evolve and inspire others to embrace their true selves, fostering a celebration of our differences through art, travel, and the power of human connection.

Capturing a great image “is as simple as being in the moment, not thinking about it too much, and just following where the joy is,” Natalya says.

Documenting events like Pride is certainly one way to do that. Natalya hopes attending any city’s Pride can inspire others similar to how Honolulu Pride impacted them. 

“We’re all one as we celebrate other people in other ways, whether you’re straight or not,” Natalya says. “So what’s the issue with you celebrating us and going out of your way to acknowledge that we exist? You wanna wear a rainbow hat, that’s cool, but you also don’t have to. People need to experience our energy and what we’re about.”

People need to experience our energy and what we’re about.”

Natalya Al Omary

Natalya can’t celebrate her queerness without thinking about “people from where I’m from and what they’re going through,” they say. “Those people were on my mind,” as they took their camera to capture Honolulu Pride.

Natalya recently produced a story on Sarah Hegazi, who at 30, took her own life in Toronto, after being arrested and tortured in Egypt for waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo by the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay. “She was on my mind,” Natalya says. “I felt like I was doing it for her.”

Natalya’s Notes from Honolulu Pride 2022

Honolulu Pride 2023

“This was one of the first ones I took that day. It was before the parade started. They were just all hanging out, talking, and I went up to them and was like, ‘Can I take a photo of you?’ She started glowing, and says, ‘Yes, honey,’ and they just naturally started posing around her, looking at me. I said, ‘Hold on, guys, I want you to look at her.’ I was so inspired because of her confidence and them seeing her confidence and her femininity. It was amazing. 

“I was kind of watching this girl for a minute. Looking at her made me happy, you know, and people were kind of following her and listening to what she was saying and watching what she was doing. She had a smile on her face the whole time. I had to run a little past her to get the shot and got her in the moment. She is being herself. Also, that bra situation is on fire.” 

“He was one of the first guys I saw at the festival. They were just feeling themselves and doing this the whole time, just showing off the outfit. As soon as I asked for a picture, they were ready for it. It was just them in their essence being themselves and it was so beautiful to see.”

“I remember we made eye contact. It’s like we were having a mini five second photo shoot together. It wasn’t planned. I thought it was really beautiful.”

I feel like I followed her around for a minute before I took the photo because I wanted to get the perfect shot. She kind of felt like a superhero wearing a cape and riding a skateboard. She was just having the time of her life like everyone else in that photo. 

They were on a float and I had a zoom lens so I wasn’t close, but she made eye contact with me and we connected for a second. When I brought up my camera, she instantly posed for it. That was the most fun part about the parade: Everyone was kind of doing their own thing, but there were these magical moments that happened where it felt like I truly knew these people and they saw me.”