When Will LGBT Equality Reach The Muslim World

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Regardless of Omar Mateen’s sexuality or motive in executing 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, let there be no ambiguity about Islam’s position towards homosexuality.

LGBTQ Muslims, considered the living dead of Islamic society, endure a perpetual state of fear since life under sharia is like an open-air concentration camp. I know firsthand because I’ve lived it and, luckily, still alive to tell you about it.

In 2012, I returned to Kabul, my birthplace and ancestral hometown, after living 32 years in exile, to work as a professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan. A year later I was forced out of the country since my queerness and support for LGBTQ rights was supposedly subverting the social order of Islam. Returning to New York City, I publicly came out gay in August 2013 on Facebook and received numerous death threats from Muslims in Afghanistan and around the world.

Over the years I have connected with thousands of closeted gay Afghans, many who say they would take their own life if they were exposed since death is easier than coming out. Some LGBTQ Muslims are in such desperate situations that they would rather join a terrorist organization than risk a humiliating death as an outed homosexual. This culture of denial and shame was evident when Seddique Mateen, the Orlando shooter’s father, seemed more comfortable in interviews accepting that his son was a terrorist than being gay.

Nonetheless, change is on the horizon. Prior to my coming out it seemed like it would take centuries for gay liberation to reach the heartland of the Muslim world. But, so much has been said about LGBTQ rights in recent years and especially since the Orlando massacre that it’s no longer a topic that Muslims can avoid. Now that the US and much of the West is gay-marriage affirmative, the goalpost has shifted and LGBTQ equality in Muslim majority countries seems possible within our lifetime. But that’s only if the outside world can support LGBTQ Muslims to claim their freedom. Every gay person and straight ally can do something to legalize homosexuality in the 73 countries (mostly in the Muslim world) where being gay is still punished by death or incarceration.

Intersectionality (lumping homophobia with Islamophobia) does nothing to liberate LGBTQ people in the Muslim world who are criminalized by the tenets of Islam. This is why I have a problem with LGBTQ outreach groups who say they don’t want to paintbrush all Muslims by talking about the violence within Islam. How can we have interfaith dialogue when the dominant state-sponsored religion doesn’t tolerate freedom of belief or speech and justifies beheadings, hangings, and throwing gay people off of buildings?

While reformist efforts, like the Pakistani clerics who recently issued a fatwa saying transgender marriages was legal, is a step in the right direction, I’m skeptical about a liberal Islam stamping out sharia law and armed jihad. The realist in me knows that Islamists and Jihadis won’t ever surrender to a pluralist democracy. This is why I advocate for Muslims to leave Islam and embrace liberalism and secular values since it is the only way I foresee LGBTQ inclusion in the Muslim world.

The Orlando attack demonstrated how Islamic radicalization mixed with sexual repression poses a national security issue. This is why promoting LGBTQ rights globally is not just a human rights issue but the most effective counter-terrorism strategy over the long haul. There really is no other way to pacify Muslims or deter other would-be terrorists than by imperiously spearheading a culture of love and liberality. If LGBTQ equality can be achieved in an extremely religious country like Afghanistan, where 99 percent of the population favors sharia law according to a 2013 Pew research study, then it will happen everywhere. I just hope I’m alive to see the day when gays and lesbians peacefully marry in my homeland and in every country in the world.

Nemat Sadat is the first public figure from Afghanistan to come out of the closet and campaign for LGBTI Rights in Afghanistan and Muslim communities worldwide. He is currently working on his first novel and lives in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter @nematsadat.

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