For many of us in the queer Muslim community in the West, the same-sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court in the United States was a bittersweet moment. Bittersweet because while we were celebrating this momentous victory, we were reminded how far our situation was removed in the Muslim World, literally watching the tears on the faces of LGBT people in Turkey as they were gassed on the streets.
The Pride parade in Istanbul showed us the discrepancies of Western privilege, where we are after things like marriage, and what people in the Global South are still facing, in which there are still countries who have capital punishment laws in the books for same-sex sexual activities.
Yet awesome, awesome things have taken place. Here are some of those moments:
The Empowered Allies
Two popular Muslims, mainstream scholar Reza Aslan and comedian Hasan Minhaj penned an open letter to the Muslim community, inviting them to stand up for equality. They even created a website to get the discussion going. Another scholar, Muqtedar Khan, penned a letter to the community to welcome the Supreme Court ruling, writing on Al-Jazeera that “We cannot combat Islamophobia and demand equal treatment for Muslims while propagating homophobia.” Muslim for Progressive Values’ Ani Zonneveld went on national radio and defended why the organization she leads supports LGBT Rights, telling Public Radio International that the “Prophet Muhammad didn’t prosecute anyone for being a homosexual, there is no punishment in the Quran for being a homosexual, period.”
The Little Rainbow That Could
When Palestinian activist painted part of the Israeli West Bank barrier with the rainbow colors, it created outrage. It was painted over. Khaled Jarrar, the artist, told the Electronic Intifada that his mural was inspired by “the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States.” Across the border in Egypt, a popular actor, Khaled Abol Naga, known as the “Brad Pitt of Egypt,” changed his Facebook photo to rainbow, as did millions of others worldwide. He became the first Arab actor to do so, and garnered controversy. In Pakistan, Marvi Sirmed, who put her life on the line when she defended LGBT Rights in 2011, told The Guardian that it was a surprise for her that “so many people on social media are actually supporting it, because that was certainly not the case just five years ago.”
The Great Debate
From Somalia to Afghanistan, from Saudi Arabia to Albania, Muslims discussed issues relating to same-sex marriage everywhere. The great importance of American choices was once again pointed out by the global feedback on this issue, and Muslims were not exception. We retweeted hundreds and hundreds of people who came out in support of LGBT Rights, and there were just as many against it. There were also multitudes of undecided people, and people who thought LGBT people are morally not cool but that they should be protected by the law. Needless to say, that debate is raging on all social media.
The Growing Voices
The media became much more open to LGBT Muslims than they were before the Supreme Court ruling. We saw stories all over the place. There was the Salon story, in which Lamya H. argued that it’s possible to be both queer and Muslim. We heard the story of AJ, the Saudi-born lesbian, on PRI, who talked about what it’s like to grow up gay in a country like Saudi Arabia. We saw Ramy Eletreby’s story on LGBT people celebrating Ramadan on KCET, the Los Angeles public television channel. All of their stories added to the debate, as each of them created its own discussion in various parts in the Muslim World.
The New Opportunities
The day after the Supreme Court ruling, my e-mail was flooded with people asking what they could do for our community. Friends and family members who have been on the sidelines, or quiet with their support, suddenly felt they were more equipped to help. So, I directed them to MECCA Institute, which recently released a crowd funding call to support its progressive Islamic school. I directed them to Rahal Eks, who launched his website to teach the world that being queer and Sufi are not mutually exclusive. I directed them to Muslims for Progressive Values, which has been the first non-LGBT organization to have its own programming for the queer community. If you’re reading this, you too can support those initiatives.
Afdhere Jama is the author of Queer Jihad: LGBT Muslims on Coming Out, Activism, and the Faith. He lives in the United States.