Alina Bee is a 24-year-old queer Muslim. Although this is not her real name, she was happy to sit down with me for an interview. I wanted to know what it was like for her to come out as a queer Muslim and what some of the struggles particular to the queer Muslim experience are.
PGN: Are there queer Muslims, and, if so, where can you find them?
AB: Yes, there are! Queer Muslims are everywhere: in your schools, markets, mosques, in politics, in clubs. Anywhere people are, we’re probably around, too. There are a few LGBTQIA+ Muslim organizations that operate nationally. There are cultural LGBTQIA+ organizations with Muslims in them and there are LGBTQIA+ Muslim scholars. There’s a retreat that happens annually on Memorial Day Weekend in Philly for LGBTQIA+ Muslims and their partners. It’s organized by Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity.
PGN: Who did you tell when you finally came out?
AB: The first person I told was the first woman (person) I dated. Soon after that, I had to tell a cousin because she was getting suspicious about how I wasn’t around as much. I made her read an article on queer Muslims that I wrote, and then I told her. I immediately started crying but her reaction was to laugh. She held my shoulders and reassured me it would be fine. “I love you. It’s OK,” she said, “but I don’t think this is safe. I think you are way too close to home and your community to be dating a woman, or anyone for that matter, and doing this right now.” I understand why she said that. She hasn’t told anyone and has been a safety for me.
PGN: So, are you out now?
AB: I am not. I am particular about who I let in and who I let know about my queerness. There are spaces where I feel severely unsafe to identify so I won’t. There are a majority of family members who do not know. I’d say about 90 percent of them. I segregate my queer community from my family and friends because of safety.
PGN: Why is it so hard to come out in Muslim culture?
AB: A lot of Islamic knowledge is not accessible to the average Muslim. The conversation is still not safe to have. The are communities, mosques, families who are accepting, but there is still a large feeling that Islam, sexuality, gender and autonomy are not reconcilable, or that Islam doesn’t or can’t affirm all identities as valid. There is space within Islam for the queer experience as we see it today. Most people have to trust their male imam or scholar and there are a variety of complications with that. If you don’t affirm or uplift the voices and realities of all Muslims, the narratives of few get to define what is seen to be “legitimate.”
PGN: In what ways is your life different here than from your homeland in Karachi, Pakistan?
AB: I don’t think I could be as visible as I am, as I use an alias! I am co-chair of the Youth Leadership Council in Asian Pacific Islander Equality-LA and work alongside Satrang, a South Asian LGBTQ organization. There are queer trans orgs in Pakistan but they are more underground. In the U.S., I’m more afraid my family will find out but in Karachi I would fear that the government would find out. Last year there was a woman killed in Karachi for being known as a lesbian. Not that there isn’t tons of violence against Muslims here.
PGN: Do you think the state “religious-freedom” bills that are being proposed would protect Muslims from hate crimes?
AB: [That] feels like a Christian thing. You have bills like this that come up and people are fighting against it, but there are Muslim people who are fielding hate crimes every day because of their religion alone. This bill could pass but I don’t think sentiments against Muslims are going to shift in any way because of it. Hate crimes against Muslims, according to the Department of Justice reports of 2014, were around 2,000-3,000 per year. That’s about seven to eight per day that get logged and there are plenty that don’t. And this is before the Religious Freedom Act. This is only going up. We went from relative anonymity pre-9/11 to having a spotlight in the media, reporting about borders, bombings, wars they don’t understand and don’t care to put in the effort to unpack. Their Islamophobia and xenophobia is almost comical, albeit alarming, in how elementary it is.
PGN: Is there anything else you would like to say to readers?
AB: To the young queer Muslims floating around, know that you are legitimate. Whether you are in the closet and have every intention in keeping your worlds separate, or you’re out and about to everyone you know — however you choose to move around in the world is OK and up to you. There are resources for you unpacking Islam, queerness, gender, all of that. You don’t have to choose between anything. You can be queer, Muslim, tied to your culture and family. You can have it all. I say that while being conscious of the fact that my bio family doesn’t know and I have no intention of ever telling them. But you can choose what family looks like to you, or who family is. If you don’t have it, you can develop it. It is possible and you are wonderful, glorious and entitled to your process.
PGN: What are some resources?
AB: Most of my community is Desi, so much of my resources are around that also: Satrang, Trikone, Salga-NYC, Khush D.C., API Equality-LA, LGBT Muslim Retreat, Muslims for Progressive Values, Al-Fatiha and Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Be well!
Crystal Cheatham is a writer and activist in Philadelphia. She chairs the Spirituality & Religion steering committee for the Human Rights Campaign and volunteers with Equality Pennsylvania and William Way LGBT Community Center’s Out & Faithful Committee and has written for the Huffington Post. You can find out more about her at CrystalCheatham.com.