July 2, 2019 at 1:30 pm PST | by Matthew Foresta
LGBTQ Muslims want increased visibility

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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