What happened in Orlando is the result of a number of factors, including abhorrent gun laws and mental illness. I applaud those who haven’t given in to Islamophobia, but let’s be honest – there are some other issues we need to be talking about.
The Muslim community’s reactions to the Orlando shooting brought up the important (and frequently ignored) discussion about Islam and its relationship with members of the LGBTQ community. However, the logical inconsistency of some Muslims who decry terrorism as un-Islamic and then point out that Omar Mateen drank and hit up gay bars is painful to note and blindingly obvious. How can you say that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, and then imply that “real” jihadis should be devout Muslims in the same breath? The reality of the situation is that gay and trans Muslims are abused, ridiculed, mocked and in extreme cases, even killed with alarming regularity, simply because they exercised their right to freedom of expression and sexuality.
In Pakistan, my country of origin, homosexuality was initially criminalized by the British during their rule in India, and this legislation has persisted and been given further credence by traditional Islamic injunctions forbidding same-sex relationships, which are common to all the major Abrahamic faiths. However, the Islamic countries that don’t condemn same-sex relationships do have one thing in common: they weren’t colonized by the British Empire.
According to Human Rights Watch and the Washington Post, there are eighty countries that criminalize same-sex relationships, and some of the most anti-gay nations are predominantly Christian sub-Saharan African nations (like Uganda). However, countries with the death penalty for homosexuality include Saudi Arabia, Iran and the sharia-run parts of northern Nigeria — all Islamic theocracies that either imprison or kill Muslims for being gay, and have a running history of censorship issues and intolerance for free speech. Disturbingly, Iran offers homosexuals the option to change their sex and become women rather than accepting consensual homosexual relationships.
I spoke with a friend of mine from Pakistan who is currently residing in Toronto. She says eventually she knows she has to inform her parents of her sexuality once they attempt to arrange or discuss marriage. She told me, as a Pakistani from a privileged yet conservative family, “my sexuality does not affect my relationship with religion (Islam),” her relationship with God is her business and nobody else’s. One’s sexuality is a basic human right, and the fact we aren’t ‘allowed’ to embrace our true selves is a crime. In a culture where a mass majority of people view women simply as a tool for reproduction and where our parents are unable to accept their daughter wishes to marry a woman: being gay is rather difficult.
Pakistan (and the rest of South Asia) are home to a unique ‘third gender’ (i.e., how they have labelled the transgender community) who have recently been recognized as such by the Supreme Court. This is indicative of the intersectional way in which culture and religion interact to affect gay rights. Tellingly, there are no trans men. However, that’s not to say trans women still aren’t abused or killed.
Saudi Arabia has arrested men for cross-dressing, for sodomy and for pederasty (which the Saudi Arabian government seem to have confused with homosexuality). In South Africa, men believe in “the virgin cleansing myth” – that having sex with a child will cure HIV/AIDS.
Iran condemns same-sex relationships, with harder punishments on gay men than lesbian women. Transgender people have rights under their penal code, but only if they have undergone a sex change operation, which is partially paid for by the government and which views transgenders as heterosexuals.
In the UAE, the stance is similar, with up to ten years prison time for consensual same-sex relations. I grew up in Dubai and had a number of male friends approached by older, affluent local men, invariably married and with children of their own, who found my adolescent friends “cute” and offered them money for sex, impressed on me the hypocrisy and social pressures Muslim gay men face. As a human rights advocate, I receive multiple messages from people who either agree or disagree with me. Recently, I received a tweet that reads: “hahaha,what love?if i love a dog,should I marry it?I dont support the killings but I also dont support homosexuals.”
Unfortunately, many Muslim diasporas perpetuate homophobia and stigmatizing behaviour, with 52% of the UK’s close to 3 million Muslims supporting a ban on homosexuality in a recent poll. I’ve had the misfortune of hearing things from Muslims like “it’s so weird to see men kissing and holding hands, it’s inorganic and unnatural.” A few years ago I had a friend from Dubai who demanded the UAE flag be dismantled from Pride March in Toronto because it disrespected his country and the rules and regulations it stands for. My dear friend, what about what other people stand for and their right to exercise freedom of speech?
Omar Mateen may have been a Muslim, and he may have been mentally ill, linked to ISIS or gay, but nothing excuses one of the largest mass shootings in US history, and nothing excuses the killing of innocent people for being gay across the Islamic world. However awkward to our leftist sensibilities, however much the debate gets hijacked by the likes of racists such as Trump or Pamela Geller, we must persevere and make sure that this is a discussion that happens. Whether someone is Muslim is irrelevant, whether Ramadan occurs during the same month as Pride is irrelevant, because someone cannot change their sexuality, an inherent part of their anatomy for 30 days, and because gay Muslims have been killed and imprisoned too, and will continue to be until we as a people can evolve and learn the art of acceptance for the greater good of humanity.