LGBT Muslims On Coming Out As Queer In Their Communities

"I believed if I prayed and I went to ex-gay therapy and I dated women, then I would be able to 'cure' myself..."

Much of the conversations surrounding the shootings that took place at a gay night club in Orlando last week have been about the shooter's Muslim identity and what may have been his motive for targeting the LGBT community. In an attempt to highlight the voices of those who have been largely overlooked in these discussions, The Huffington Post held a roundtable conversation with a group of Muslim LGBT individuals to hear their experience living within both worlds. 

Hosts Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani and Alex Berg spoke with four members of the LGBT Muslim community about the violence at Pulse nightclub and the intersection of their identities as Muslim and as LGBT.

Omar Sarwar, a writer and retreat planning co-chair with the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, said he first started exploring his sexuality in college. Although he practiced a "modernist conception of Islam," Sarwar said his experience was still a homophobic one.

"I believed that if I prayed and if I went to ex-gay therapy and if I dated women, then I would be able to 'cure' myself of this problem over the long-term," he said.

Five years later, Sarwar realized the "therapy," which his parents helped fund, was futile and he decided to come out. Initially, his family didn't take it well, but Sarwar explained that his experience isn't unique to just LGBT Muslims. 

"I also helped my parents come around," Sarwar explained. "I think that's a process that many, many LGBT people go through, not just Muslims. It happens to Jews and Christians and others as well."

Eman Abdelhadi, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at New York University, who identifies as a queer Muslim woman, said Muslims can experience a "range of reactions" from family and friends when they come out, depending on their understanding of Islam. 

"I've heard ... folks that say, 'Actually, it's perfectly natural, but you shouldn't act on it because it's a sin," she explained. "And then I've heard that it's unnatural, and then I've heard that it's totally fine."

When Abdelhadi came out, she said the reactions were predominantly positive. "Actually, I would say that the overwhelming majority of people that I've told about my queerness within the Muslim community have been incredibly loving and supportive," she said.

When Abdehadi eventually made the momentous decision to introduce her siblings to a woman she had been seeing, she found that they stood by her, whatever her identity was. "They showed up in all the ways I needed them to," she said.

Hear more from Sarwar and Abdelhadi in the clip above and check out the full conversation here.



Queer Muslim Photo Project