It’s Time to Stand With Queer and Progressive Muslims, and Against Homophobia

Participants in Bangkok hold a banner reading ‘We are queer, don’t use an attack on our community for islamophobia’ during a Monday vigil for the Orlando attack.

Dario Pignatelli/Getty Images

On Sunday morning, a gay nightclub in Orlando was targeted by a Muslim man of Afghan descent in what would become the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history. In America, anti-gay hatred most often justifies itself in terms of radical Christian ideology, not Islamic extremism. For LGBTQ Americans, blaming Muslims—or even gross perversion of their faith—for hate directed at our community feels bizarre and out of touch. We know that hatred is not the unique province of Islam because we’re the ones who’ve had biblical clobber passages quoted at us, heard Christian right politicians dismiss us with disgust, and been kicked out of nominally Christian families. The faith background of one shooter could not possibly overshadow that, no matter how horrific his crimes.

However, this does not mean that the faith background of this shooter or the intolerance that does exist in parts of the Muslim community should be ignored. While rejecting efforts to turn us against all Muslims based on their faith, we must also redouble our efforts on behalf of human rights in Muslim communities. Rather than dismissing homophobic attitudes where they exist as backward or past help, we must remember recent history and recognize that if American society was capable of so much change after the Stonewall riots in 1969, then we have every reason to hope similar change can be accomplished in every corner of the globe.

“No category of religious believers are inherently good or bad, and any categorizations or stereotypes that portray people that way simply are not accurate,” is how Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, put what we both agreed ought to be obvious. She went on:

OutRight is a 25-year-old organization committed to the empowerment of LGBTQI people around the world, from the Philippines to South Africa. Our work in Muslim countries is strong and vibrant, and not that different from our work in other parts of the world. In Indonesia we partner to support the 120 LGBTQI Indonesian organizations, and if that doesn’t underscore the diversity among Muslims, I don’t know what could.

Groups like OutRight Action International that magnify the voices of marginalized non-Western LGBTQ activists and work to improve laws and conditions for queer people outside the Western bubble deserve the full support of the American LGBTQ community right now. So, too, do progressive Muslim organizations and organizations for LGBTQ Muslims in America.

Unlike several conservative American politicians, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has not shied away from mentioning the hate-crime aspect of the Orlando shooting. CAIR deserves credit for this recognition and LGBTQ activists should reach out to CAIR to encourage greater support of queer Muslim Americans.

We should also support organizations like The Inner Circle, which seeks to give queer Muslims culturally relevant safe spaces. The Inner Circle has existed since the 1990s, devoting itself to both support and advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ Muslims in America.

Equally deserving of recognition are Muslim organizations that have long allied themselves with the LGBTQ community. Muslims for Progressive Values is one such organization. MPV has called for more American Muslim organizations to stand with queer communities, and put out a statement in the wake of the Orlando shooting that said, in part:

Ramadan is a time of love and empathy and we must remind our congregants that Islam and our Prophet never condoned hate. There is not a single example from the life of our beloved Prophet where a man or women was punished, condemned or even marginalized because of their sexual orientation or gender orientation. Hate rooted in sexual orientation has no basis in Islamic or prophetic traditions and therefore our institutions must stand firmly against all hateful interpretations of our faith and all faiths.

I spoke with Ani Zonneveld of MPV, who explained the four core issues that her organization advocates for: women’s rights, free expression, religious freedom, and LGBTQ rights. Zonneveld is a straight ally who defiantly told me that her pro-gay activism goes “way back—before it was cool.”

“Forty-two percent of Muslim Americans agree or strongly agree with the marriage equality decision in the Supreme Court—but none of the religious leaders will stand up for LGBTQI rights,” Zonneveld told me. “These are the facts about Muslims that nobody seems to know.”

One of the great strengths of the LGBTQ community is that people with queer identities cross the borders of every nation, exist within every ethnicity, and practice every religion. We are found in the families of Christians and Muslims alike, even as our haters use those faiths to justify unspeakable crimes against us. I believe it is our unity across all the usual divisions that allowed the American LGBTQ community to achieve so much in spite of our relatively small numbers and the historic bigotry that stripped us of not only our rights but our dignity. In partnership with allies and LGBTQ communities in Muslim communities, we can change the bigoted attitudes that infected Omar Mateen long before the shooting on Sunday. We need only the will and the vision to make it happen.

Read more from Slate on the Orlando nightclub shooting.