In the wake of the Anderson Park Primary protests, a young generation of LGBT Muslims are at a point in time where they finally have the attention of the Muslim community. However, the hostile foundations in which this conversation has come about is concerning. The thought of coming out to my family, and the people within the Muslim community is terrifying because we all know the outcome. Rejection, exile and it could be dangerous, so needless to say, no one is running to take up the baton. But as a queer Muslim, I am both parts horrified and grateful they are happening.
Growing up, the LGBT community was non existent - there was minimal representation in the media and particularly in my younger years, social media and access to the internet was limited. For a large part of my childhood, I didn’t really know they existed, and if they did, then certainly not within my community.
In primary school, the education system didn’t cater to those narratives, at least none that I can remember which is testament in itself to the lack of conversation. The first time I came into real contact with the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ was when two girls at school, who were quite close, were mocked and accused of being lesbians. Needless to say, not a positive representation.
The silence was deafening in the Muslim community.
Even when I grew older and met people from the LGBT community, saw greater representation in the media and had my own access to their stories, there was silence. I remember when we watched Modern Family, we used to change the channel whenever ‘Cam and Mitch’, the gay couple in the programme came on screen. Other than never speaking about the LGBT community, there was an understanding that it wasn’t acceptable. Since I hadn’t been taught inside or outside the Muslim community, I continued to live a deeply ignorant life.
By the time I reached my mid teens, I was a strong ally of the LGBT community, despite the negative connotations I had been brought up with. It made no sense that we lived in a world filled with hatred and violence, yet God would punish people for simply loving someone else. How could a heinous crime that harms people be equivalent to someone bringing more love into the world? But, even then, the thought of a queer Muslim hadn’t crossed my mind.
The first queer Muslim I knew was a family friend whose parents I understood to be very religious. When I spoke to them, it was clear that their parents didn’t know about them or about the life they led outside of their home. The pain of hopelessness and despair wrapped around my heart when I remember their insistent and slightly fearful tone when they said “don’t tell anyone”.
The second queer Muslim I knew, was also a family friend but someone I was much closer to. We were at an event and they started talking to me about school. I knew something was off - I could feel the tension in their voice when they spoke, as though they were waiting for the penny to drop. They told me about someone being homophobic and I replied clearly expressing my disgust. Reflecting now, I think it might have been some kind of test to see how tolerant I was.
Then in a whispered few seconds they said, “I’m gay” and cringed, waiting for my reaction.
“That’s fine'' I replied.
It felt like the most important thing to say at the time. There was a sigh of relief. I assured them I was there to fully support them.
The third queer Muslim I knew was myself. I had spent 18 years of my life so far in the closet, I thought Narnia was a perfectly normal town. My internalised homophobia meant, despite trying my hardest to be a strong ally to queer people, I knew when it came to my own identity I wouldn’t allow myself to consider it. The reality of not being straight was too scary to face, so I avoided relationships altogether. I never really spoke about having crushes in school, was never known to flirt or have a ‘significant other’. Instead, I focused all my attention on friendships and my studies.
I thought there was something wrong with me because it was only on the odd occasion that boys interested me. Instead, I would form an immense fascination with women on screen and in books and sometimes in real life - though I tried to suppress those feelings.
In my final year of school something clicked and I realised I was bisexual.
I felt pressure unload from my body and mind. I felt I understood myself better. But my journey is far from over. I’m still trying to work out the ins and outs of my sexuality whilst trying to overcome my fear of relationships and hiding all of this from the people closest to me.
This brings us to now. For the first time in my life, because of the Anderson Park Primary school protests, I have been able to have discussions with my parents and wider community about the existence of the LGBT community. I have been able to learn more about their views - it’s an amazing feeling of liberation when your existence is acknowledged.
For a long time I convinced myself it’s okay to stay silent - not everything has to be a cause and my responsibility. I have spoken in defence of the LGBT community in front of my family without implicating myself and I am happy to keep it that way. But now when I think about the future I see for the children at this primary school, I worry. The spearhead of the protests, Shakeel Afsar, suggests that they happily coexist with the LGBT community and when their children are older, they will learn about them - but that’s not good enough. If the continuing toxic environment for LGBT Muslims is anything to go by, I can almost guarantee they will never have these conversations.
This ‘coexistence’ does not acknowledge overlap, creating harmful rhetoric which excludes queer Muslims.
It is in the hands of the impartial education system to give these children their best start in life. I had no one to look up to, to give me hope and even now the only queer Muslim role models I know are financially independent adults, not reliant for support from their family and community.
All those in history who have ever made a meaningful change have risked everything to forge a better and more hopeful future for others. I am still trying to find enough courage to be one of those people but for now my message to those who don’t believe we should be visible, is this: