Before this year I never thought there would be a community of people who were proud to be both queer and Muslim, something that left me hopeless for my own situation.
Last year I decided to come out to my immediate family as gay. I had been debating for a year whether or not I should do it, and a big part of my hesitation was whether or not I could reconcile my Middle Eastern-Muslim background with my sexuality. I felt like there was no one I could talk to about it. Whenever I heard my family speaking about LGBT people, they would usually throw out some generic slur word like “faggot” and talk about how their lifestyle was unnatural. Sadly, every other Muslim group I’ve interacted with has expressed a similar sentiment.
However, last year I finally got the ray of hope I had been waiting for. A friend of mine came to visit me in October and told me about conferences that take place once a year for LGBT Muslims, and that even though it took place on the East Coast, I could receive funding for my travel and rooming expenses.
The experience was amazing. It took place over Memorial Day Weekend in Philadelphia, and the people there took my breath away. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I remember walking in on the first day, seeing a group of women wearing headscarves, and feeling the need to retreat from the sign of conservatism. Immediately after that thought occurred to me, I stopped and thought, “Wait, I’m at a queer retreat, why am I scared?!”
The rest of the weekend continued to have eye-opening moments for me. I met people who had converted to Islam even though they were queer, queer Muslims married to people from other faiths, ethnic backgrounds including White, South Asian, Black, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian, and Muslims who represented a broad range of the queer community.
The life stories I heard definitely made me value the privileges I have. I tend to think that I’ve had numerous struggles and that seen more of life than most people my age. Within hours of first meeting people I began to hear stories of having to leave and relocate in a different city, earn money as a sex-worker, endure horrible acts of violence, and experience sexual molestation during childhood.
At first these stories scared me into thinking that the fate of LGBT Muslims was bleak and unpromising. That all changed though when I saw the strength, resilience, and attitude each of these individuals had. One thing they had in common was that they were all willing to hold onto their religion and work beyond the negative parts that had stigmatized them. It was what I had been trying to do for years. By the end of the weekend, I truly felt like I had a new family. We were able to discuss issues of race, religion, and sexuality in a way that I felt I couldn’t do with anyone else, and it filled a void I had felt for a long time.
To make this weekend even more amazing, a marriage ceremony was performed for a lesbian couple on the last day of the retreat. Everyone in the audience stared in awe at the couple and the man joining them in holy matrimony. I never thought I would see such a thing in my lifetime, or even expect it to happen anytime soon after my time here on earth, and yet, there it was. I fought hard to keep from crying, but I knew they were tears of joy, and when I did start crying, it felt great.
If there’s one thing I learned from all of this, it’s that even when one thinks that there’s not a community out there for them, you’d be surprised who you’ll meet in life and how they’ll help you grow as a person. I am truly grateful for the experience that I had, and I definitely have renewed hope for merging the different parts of my identity.
The author is a queer-identified college student with a Yemeni Muslim background.