This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Given this historical time, what does this moment mean to you personally and what does it mean for the larger movement?
It is absolutely incredible being on the same stage as individuals like Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches – a Christian denomination that has more than 250 congregations in 23 countries. I remember the first gathering of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable 13 years ago – in 1998. It had been only a few months since I had organized the first-ever gathering of LGBT Muslims – that brought together 40 people from 6 countries and led to the founding of Al-Fatiha – an organization for LGBT Muslims. I was invited by The Task Force to attend this meeting of national LGBT religious leaders – and I had no idea what I was walking into. As I stepped into a hotel conference room a very tall, large and boisterous man came walking up to me – and proclaimed – We’ve been wonderin’ where the Moslems were! Little did I know that I had just met Rev. Elder Troy Perry, who founded the Metropolitan Community Church in 1968 from his living room in Los Angeles. Thank you to The Task Force and to Creating Change for this historical moment – where we can bridge the gaps that have existed for far too long between LGBT secular and religious leaders and activists. How wonderful it is to be in Minneapolis – and in Congressman Keith Ellison’s home state. Congressman Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives is a strong supporter of LGBT equality. As a strong supporter of LGBT equality and as a Vice Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, Representative Ellison is
a testament to the diversity of ideologies that exist within the American Muslim community.
Before I begin I must acknowledge that my mind, my heart and my soul are not fully present here. My mind is thinking about the brave women and men who are creating a revolution across the Middle East – a revolution that may finally bring true democracy to the Arab world – without the interference of the United States and our skewed foreign policies. My heart is filled with sorrow as I think about the tragic death of David Kato, a gay activist who was murdered last week in Uganda. And my soul is angry knowing that David’s death was the direct result of the homophobic vitriol being exported by Christian Evangelicals in this country. Today - I come here not only as a queer person – but also as a Muslim – a member of a religious minority, a person of color, an immigrant and a son. As a queer person I come here worrying about the rising tide of homophobia across the United States - and I come mourning the loss of too many young people who felt their lives were not worth living any more – because of who they were. As a Muslim I come here wondering when my mosque will be infiltrated by the FBI, when my phone will be tapped and which Islamic Center will be the target by right-wing and hate mongering people. As a religious minority I feel as though I am living through an era from our historical past – as the House of Representatives prepares to hold Congressional hearings on the supposed extremism of American Muslims. I wonder how long I will be viewed as part of a fifth column in my own country. As an immigrant, I can only pray that my home state of Georgia will not join Arizona and other states - passing legislation that questions my legitimacy to be in this country. And as a son, I worry about my mother and when she will see a doctor to have a mammogram, something she can’t afford to do because her
employer doesn’t offer health insurance. For me - this moment holds many conflicting emotions and realities – being on stage with inspirational leaders of faith like Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Bishop Yvette Flunder and Rabbi Joshua Lesser – is deeply humbling. There was a time in my life when I literally thought that I was the only Muslim who was gay. In my struggle to find other people who were like myself, I was astonished to find religious denominations that were welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Could it be that God really didn’t hate me? Fifteen years ago I couldn’t fathom the concept of a loving God – a Divine figure that created queer people like myself. Not to hate them or to deny them a happy life. But a Divinity that blessed them with special gifts and special insights that the majority of human beings did not possess. Today – I sit amongst this group of leaders – to testify that Allah – the Compassionate, the Merciful – has indeed created me – exactly as I’m supposed to be. But here’s something I didn’t know when I thought I was the only gay Muslim on this planet. Queer people, sexual and gender minorities have played a vital role in societies across the globe – and throughout history. We were the shamans, the gate-keepers, the mediators, the ones who embodied both genders of male and female. We were recognized for our ability to see beyond gender and in some cases we didn’t have a gender at all – making us even closer to the Divine.
In the Muslim world - our names vary. We are the waria, the calabai and the bissu of Indonesia, the hijras of Pakistan, the kothis of India, and the khaanit of Oman. We have always played significant spiritual and ceremonial roles in our societies. And it is only in the recent past – with the advent of colonization, the rise of
patriarchy and the imposition of Victorian and Christian ideologies of puritanical sex – that our roles have been diminished – and it is only now – in recent history that we have been marginalized and stigmatized in our communities. We as queer people – as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community MUST reclaim our place in the world – and we must transform ourselves to become the symbols of justice, of mediation, of compassion and of love – that our ancestors once were. It is only then – that we will fulfill our destiny.
What role does your faith / spirituality play and/or what difference does it make to you and the movement that there are people of faith doing pro-LGBT work? When I went to Sunday school at my local Islamic Center – my friends were from all different ethnic and racial backgrounds: Bosnian, Egyptian, Somali, AfricanAmerican, White, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indonesian. When we celebrated major Muslim holidays like Eid, our community looked like a United Colors of Benetton commercial being held at the United Nations – with colorful sarongs, saris and shalwar kameezes – being proudly displayed by young and old alike. We were American Muslims – a microcosm of the Muslim world in Hartford, Connecticut. My faith taught me that there was no difference between a South Asian and an Arab or an African-American and Caucasian. We proudly recounted the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he said “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any
superiority over a white except by piety and good action.” As a queer Muslim, Islam has taught me that we must overcome our differences – and we must collectively work together – to create a just and loving world – where all are treated equally and a world where injustice is eradicated in all its forms. A companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) once asked him – What should I do when I see an injustice taking place? The Prophet replied – Stop it with your hands. The companion then asked – what should I do if my hands are tied and I cannot stop the injustice occurring with my hands? The Prophet replied – then speak out with your tongue – against the injustice that you see occurring. The companion then asked – what should I do if my tongue has been tied and I cannot speak out against the injustice occurring in front of me? The Prophet replied – then feel in your heart that the injustice that is occurring is wrong. The question we must ask ourselves is this – Will our LGBT movement for equality stand side-by-side with other social justice movements? Will we fight for reproductive justice? Will we stand with the immigrant rights movement? Will we fight for the rights of the disabled? Will we stand with HIV/AIDS activists as they fight against further cuts in government drug assistance programs? Will we work to eradicate the prison industrial complex? Will we speak out against the US military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the subsequent slaughter of gay and lesbian people by religious militias that our government supports? Will we speak out against xenophobia and Islamophobia?
Will we stand up and stop injustice everywhere we see it being committed? Or will we stay secluded in our single-issue movement and call it quits when we gain
marriage equality and employment non-discrimination or whatever our quote-unquote leadership decides is the issue of the day that we must fight for? These are the questions that my faith asks of me – on a daily basis – and this is why I am activist.
Quote “…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states… Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. - Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
"God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men, or brown men or yellow men, God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race and the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers." – Martin Luther King Jr. - 1963