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LGBTQ Muslims want increased visibility

‘We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere’

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Author Blair Imani (Photo by Mathew Foresta)

The LGBTQ response exploded on Twitter June 24 after Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim, tweeted about her joy attending the local Pride parade. “#HappyPride! I had a fantastic time dancing, hugging, and celebrating #TCPride with everyone this weekend!,” she tweeted, followed by five colorful heart emojis and a link to a photo.

Not everyone was happy, of course. Omar and her fellow new Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, an LGBT ally from Michigan, have received death threats and other expressions of hate since they refuse to be silent about their beliefs. Despite a powerful admonition from President George W. Bush six days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center, many Americans still think Muslims are linked to terror.

“These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that,” Bush said at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17, 2001. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

“I have my own family members who think that I’m going to one day activate and become a scary terrorist or something. They think I’m just biding my time, and people really think that,” Kelly Wentworth, a white pansexual Muslim Imam living in Georgia tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I’m their family and they’ve known me my whole life, and they think that I’m just going to one day activate and become a killing machine or something.” Wentworth, who converted to Islam in college 20 years ago, says her Mosque very privately serves the LGBTQ community.

LGBTQ Muslims are hyper-vigilant about the possibility of hate crimes or being targets of a mass attack. On March 15, a white supremacist terrorist murdered 50 people in an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. At least 50 others were injured before the suspected terrorist was arrested. The next day, candlelight vigils were held for the victims around the world—including in Pasadena. 

Southern California is home to about 500,00 Muslims, according to the Los Angeles Times, including Yaseen Nisar, who is gay. He tells the Los Angeles Blade that he fears an attack like Christchurch could happen in the United States.

“I fear that because there is a lot of ignorance. A lot of people believe whatever negative media stereotypes are out there. They don’t take the time to introduce themselves and get to know Muslims,“ Nisar says.

Blair Imani, a queer Muslim activist, writer, and ambassador for LA-based Muslims for Progressive Values, feels the same way.

“It made me immediately think of Pulse, and the mass shooting that happened there. A close friend of mine is Brandon Wolf who was one of the survivors of Pulse, so that’s kind of always on my mind as a queer person,” Imani tells the Los Angeles Blade. “When the Christchurch Shooting happened there’s this feeling of the inevitability of violence, especially in the United States, that being somebody of a marginalized identity your life is decided by the violent acts of other people.”

Imani, who came out on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in 2017, is also a role model for the issue of equality in a new TOMS shoes “Stand for Tomorrow” campaign.  She tells the Los Angeles Blade that being LGBTQ, Muslim, Black, and a woman isn’t hard per se. But living in a world infused with homophobia, racism, sexism and Islamophobia makes it “very frightening” to attend Mosque.

“When you put guns into the equation, fear is just a part I think of the thought process sometimes when it comes to going to Mosque—or going to Synagogue for Jewish people, as well,” she says. “It’s hard to separate yourself to not think there’s going to be copycat attacks.”

But Imani also feels that it is important to give people space to be afraid in order to acknowledge their humanity and talk about the trauma. This is necessary for healing, she says. And it’s important to acknowledge to the existence of Queer Muslims.  Erasure in the wake of tragedy is wrong, she says, contending that Queer Muslims were likely also killed in the Christchurch attacks.

“As a person of faith and as a Humanist,” Imani says, “I’m constantly thinking about what our future could look like, and while it’s really scary to think about how we’ve constantly been held back it’s really beautiful to think that we can create this world together. A world that includes everyone and celebrates everyone in a way that is unique and genuine and real and powerful. It can always get better because the worst has definitely been before.”

“I think it’s very important, too, that people understand LGBT Muslims exist. And I just wish that more and more LGBT groups in the country would actually say they support LGBT rights in the Middle East,” Nisar says. “If more and more people talk about things, saying they support LGBT Muslims, then what will happen is it will show greater visibility, because we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere.” 

Karen Ocamb contributed to this story.

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The White House

White House says U.S. made clear WNBA’s Griner ‘unjustly detained’

The U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” the White House said

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Air Force One arrives at Torrejón Air Base outside Madrid, Spain June 28, 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube VOA)

MADRID, Torrejón Air Base, Spain – White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday he has spoken in the last few days with the wife of Brittney Griner as part of a larger effort within the Biden administration to secure the release of the Out lesbian basketball player in Russia whom supporters say is being unlawfully detained.

Sullivan made the comments speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One during President Biden’s trip to Europe in response to a question about efforts within the Biden administration to bring Griner home ahead of her expected trial in Russia.

“So first, Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, unjustly detained, and we have made that clear as an official determination of the U.S. government,” Sullivan said. “Second, the Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound.”

Sullivan added he — as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken — have spoken with Griner’s wife Cherelle, to “convey our very deep sympathy, to convey that, you know, we just can’t even begin to imagine what the family must be going through, what Brittney — what Brittney must be going through.”

Griner, a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury within the Women’s National Basketball Association, was detained in February by Russian Customs on allegations that cartridges of hashish oil were found in her luggage. Griner had gone to Russia to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season.

Sullivan said the U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” but added he’s constrained in what he could say because of confidentiality about the sensitive issue.

“But I will tell you it has the fullest attention of the president and every senior member of his national security and diplomatic team,” Sullivan said. “And we are actively working to find a resolution to this case, and will continue to do so without rest until we get Brittney safely home.”

The Biden administration, Sullivan added, is additionally working to return all unjustly detained Americans and hostages being held overseas,” including detainees in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Venezuela, and China.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with the State Department for a readout on Blinken’s role in the Biden administration’s talks with Griner.

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Illinois

Chicago mayor exercises her 1A at Pride, vid-clip viral in right-wing spaces

Gregory Pratt, the Chicago Tribune reporter whose beat includes covering Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Hall tweeted a video of the mayor

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Photo Credit: Twitter/Mayor Lightfoot

CHICAGO – Speaking to attendees at the Windy City’s Pride festivities this past weekend, Out Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spotted a man wearing a pink tank-top that read, “Fuck Clarence Thomas” and incorporated the phrase into her remarks on stage.

Gregory Pratt, the Chicago Tribune reporter whose beat includes covering Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Hall tweeted a video of the mayor which according to Pratt has now gone viral in right-wing spaces.

In another tweet Pratt clarified the incident:

Mayor Lightfoot on Monday afternoon after the Tribune article and Pratt’s tweet were active posted her take on Twitter:

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Congress

House passes resolution demanding Brittney Griner’s immediate release

Detained WNBA star’s trial to begin on July 1

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A participant in the Capital Pride parade parade in D.C. demands Brittney Griner's release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — In a resolution passed on June 24 by the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers called on Russia to immediately release detained WNBA star Brittney Griner. 

Griner was first arrested in Russia in the days leading up to its invasion in Ukraine. Authorities have charged her with drug trafficking after claiming that she attempted to pass through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport while in possession of cannabis oil. 

The House’s resolution, introduced in May by U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and Colin Allred (D-Texas), made multiple demands of Russia, including that the country “immediately release Brittney Griner,” provide her with consular access and humane treatment and that the U.S. “raise the case of Brittney Griner and to press for her release” in all its dealings with the Russian government.

“This legislation insists on our embassy personnel having access to Ms. Griner and restates our commitment to freeing her now,” Lee said in a statement after introducing the resolution. “We continue to pray for her family and we will continue to work together as three members of Congress, along with others, to spread the message that she is held wrongfully and must be freed now.”

The resolution also expressed support for both Griner’s family and for “all prisoners unjustly imprisoned in the Russian Federation.”

Allred, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took to Twitter following the passage of the resolution.

“I’m proud the House has spoken in passing our resolution and calling for Brittney Griner’s swift release,” Allred wrote. “Every day an American is held abroad is a lifetime, and I will keep working with @POTUS to do all we can to bring home every American detained abroad.”

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, welcomed the House’s passage of the resolution this past weekend.

“[Rep.] Stanton and many others are continuing to work with the White House, State Department and Brittney’s family to secure her safe return home,” the team wrote on Twitter.

The resolution comes after reporting revealed missteps on the part of the U.S. government in handling communication related to Griner’s detention. 

According to past reporting, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow failed to connect Griner with outside phone calls permitted by the Russian government when Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, attempted to call her. Cherelle Griner reportedly called 11 times on June 18 on the couple’s fourth anniversary but was unable to reach her wife due to what the State Department claimed to be a “logistical error.”

While the resolution is being heralded by its supporters, it contains no provisions intended to enforce the House’s demands for the release and humane treatment of Griner and others held by Russia. With less than one percent of criminal defendants in Russia being acquitted, it is unclear whether the resolution will do anything to persuade the country’s courts to permit Griner’s release.

Griner appeared in Russian court on Monday for a preliminary hearing prior to her trial that has now been scheduled to begin on July 1. It was also confirmed by Griner’s attorney on Monday that her detention had been extended for six months pending her trial. 

If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

“We must keep Brittney’s case on the forefront and make clear to the White House that her release should be one of the highest priorities for our government,” Cherelle Griner said in May.

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