Sunday began with one of the deadliest shootings in American history — at least 49 people were killed and more than 50 were injured. The attack took place at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and the suspect was an American Muslim who pledged allegiance to ISIS the night of the attack.
The shooting is an immense tragedy for all Americans, but not all Americans will be equally affected in the days and weeks moving forward. Queer Muslims in particular are caught in the crossfire, mourning the tragedy even as they fear an anti-Muslim backlash in the wake of the attack. (According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, as of 2014, rates of hate crimes in the U.S. had declined against every group except Muslims.)
Since the attack, many queer Muslims have spoken out about living at the intersection of these identities, how it feels to be doubly and triply marginalized, and the ways in which Muslim and queer communities interact. Some begin by simply stating, “We exist.”
Samra Habib, who curates Just Me and Allah, a queer Muslim photo project, wrote about the incident in a piece for The Guardian titled “Queer Muslims exist — and we are in mourning too.” She wants people to know that “being a peace-loving Muslim who is just as angered by homophobic attacks as everyone else isn’t out of the ordinary.” Here’s more from Habib’s piece:
“We are now used to the fact that, every time a criminally misguided Muslim commits an act of violence, the entire religion and all its followers are questioned and placed under suspicion in a way that isn’t replicated with other faiths. We – and this of course includes queer Muslims – have to take extra care walking down the street at night and entering our mosques for fear of Islamophobic attacks. Muslim organizations and activist groups are tasked with the responsibility of releasing public statements, apologizing for the actions of terrorists and reminding the world that Islam promotes peace so innocent Muslims who are just trying to go about their daily lives don’t suffer repercussions.
…Our thoughts must for now be with those in Orlando. But over the next few days, as we try to recover from this atrocity and begin to piece together what it all means, it’s important to remember that Islam is exploited by religious extremists all over the world, often in attacks committed against other Muslims…this can’t be boiled down to us v them. We’re all experiencing the same tragedy together.”
But some suggested that this tragedy will indeed be experienced differently by different groups. In a stream of tweets, one user expressed just how hard it is to be both queer and Muslim right now:
Twitter user @YxxngHippie continues, “For the former, we are branded as ‘kaffirs’ (non-Muslims), and ‘deviants,’ and the latter tells us we are not queer enough. The former is rampant with anti-queer/trans rhetoric, and the other is rampant with racism & islamophobia (just look at grindr profiles). We’re shunned from both sides and many of us are so torn right now. Where do our allegiances lie? Which community do we defend?” (The whole thread is worth reading.)
Shawn Ahmed, who runs The Uncultured Project, an anti-poverty organization, has been tweeting about what it means to him to be gay and Muslim. He begins, “If all the Muslims in my mentions right now condemning me for being a gay Muslim could condemn the Muslim shooter instead, that’d be great.”
The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) also discussed the difficulty in being queer and Muslim, and the fear that can come with it:
“For those of us who are LGBTQ and Muslim, we wait to see which of our identities we will be more fearful of disclosing in a world that questions our existence and intentions daily. We have found no contradiction in being both queer and Muslim, and reject the popular narrative that Islam or the Muslim community as a whole is homophobic and transphobic. We are proud to be both queer and Muslim, and cherish both of our communities.”
Looking ahead, Islamic studies professor Amanullah De Sondy says that it is crucial for all Muslim communities to unequivocally support queer Muslims. In the decade he’s spent researching Islamic masculinities, De Sondy writes, he’s heard “deafening silence” when it comes to Muslim leaders connecting with the queer folks in their midst:
“The challenge for Muslim communities around the globe today is to find and appreciate differences and pluralism and to support the lives of believers who do not fit societal norms. It is imperative if we want to support those on the margins who are hurt and damaged.
“We need to think carefully about what goes through the mind of that closeted Muslim man listening to the statements today, who may well end up married to someone of the opposite sex because he fears losing his position in his Muslim community. We need to think carefully about what these statements do to empower heterosexual Muslim individuals, who then stand to represent not just Islam but the “ideal” gender and sexuality.”
But LGBT pride within Muslim communities is also evident. On Twitter, many have circulated pictures of queer Muslims celebrating Pride month:
And the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) noted this year’s convergence of Pride month and Ramadan as a particularly special time of peace, community, and self-reflection:
“It is also not lost on us that this horrific tragedy occurred during LGBTQ Pride month, which this year coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, typically a period of peace and intense self-reflection. It pains us to see that these periods of joy, celebration, and peace have been marred so violently with such horror…
This tragedy cannot be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community. As LGBTQ Muslims, we know that there are many of us who are living at the intersections of LGBTQ identities and Islam. At moments like this, we are doubly affected.”
The statement from MASGD also took up the question of blame: “Tragedies like this often lead people to look for someone or something to blame, but we ask our friends to resist this temptation.” But over at The Islamic Monthly, Hina Tai looked at the question of blame a little differently. She listed some of the many factors that she believes allowed Sunday’s tragedy to happen, suggesting, “We are all to blame”:
“Blame is on those who say homophobia is solely a Muslim problem, in order to further the cause of Islamophobia rather than recognize America’s historic oppression of LGBTQ people…Blame is on our political leaders who continue to think gun control is up for debate while Obama gives his 18th presidential address in response to a mass shooting…Blame is on us who shamed LGBTQ Muslims and made them unwelcome in their own mosques and communities rather than promoting inclusivity….Blame is also on us who while condemning the violence purposefully erased the identities of LGBTQ from their statements…Blame is on those who will use this opportunity for political capital…Blame is on us who do not recognize that this shooting comes at an intersection of many different issues: homophobia, Islamophobia, (political-religious) extremism and gun violence — all issues that transcend religious and political lines.”