Like many across this country, I’ve been trying to catch my breath since Sunday morning when I first learned of the massacre in Orlando. For people in my community—those who walk as queer and/or trans* and Muslim every day—the fear is palpable. Speculations swirl about the shooter’s mental health and sexual identity. Media requests abound, wanting the “queer Muslim perspective.” For many of us—Muslims, LGBT people, immigrants, Black and Brown people—we are all too familiar with experiences of violence, whether at the hands of the state or individuals. We know that the root causes of violence include fear, shame and isolation. We also know how critical it is to our survival to actively work against that legacy of division and harm.
Like any identity I hold—queer, Muslim, gender non-conforming, Arab, mixed-race, able-bodied person of color—this means holding complexity. It means that no identity of ours is in opposition with another, because each of them exists within us. I exist as a whole person, so they also exist as a whole. And there is power in that.
I have been leaning into my community these past few days. I am privileged to have one today, in an organization I helped co-found several years ago, the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD). We are a people-of-color led, multiracial, mixed-gender organization that works to support, empower and connect LGBTQ Muslims, in order to increase the acceptance of gender and sexual diversity within Muslim communities, and to promote a progressive understanding of Islam that is centered on inclusion, justice and equality. We are a group of volunteers, a decentralized, loose network of queer and trans* Muslims who are rooted in local communities. We organize community that makes sense for us, where we are, because we are the experts on our own experiences.
As the statement MASGD posted on our website on Sunday notes, the tragedy at Pulse is a reminder of the egregious harm that can result from the widespread availability of guns. These firearms facilitate acts of violence by people whose own values are in direct conflict with those of the overwhelming majority of Muslims and U.S. residents, who hold human life to be sacred. In our capacity as a national touch-point for those in LGBTQ Muslim communities, MASGD joins the renewed calls to our policymakers for comprehensive gun-control legislation. Our community members’ lives, quite literally, depend on it.
We are also keenly aware that these conversations are happening within an increasingly hostile climate to Muslims. September 11, 2001 remains an important marker of an upsurge in Islamophobic violence in our communities. We have seen distinct ethnicities, cultures, nationalities and religions homogenized into a single group. The result is day-to-day violence, from neighborhood hate crimes to state-based racial and religious profiling. Fifteen years later, the post 9/11 reality has not changed.
There is no homophobia in my faith, Islam. There is, however, homophobia in my community, and there is tremendous Islamophobia and xenophobia within the broader LGBT communities. There are also people—non-Muslim LGBT people and straight-identified Muslims—who stand alongside us, as people living at the intersections of marginalized identities. While we recognize that tragedies like this may lead people to look for something or someone to blame, we ask people to focus on the values that form our common ground, such as the right to pursue lives of dignity and self-determination without fear of harm. It is time we lift up the connections that our lives depend on—time to have the conversation that denounces police and vigilante violence and makes explicit linkages between White supremacy and racial and religious profiling based on perceived gender or sexual identity, faith, race and immigration status. There are those among us who know that the path forward means embracing spaciousness, not scarcity and fear. And it is we who must walk.
Yas Ahmed is a co-founding member of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD). Living at multiple intersections of identity and experience has taught them first-hand that building power within and among marginalized communities is critical to our collective well-being. Their writing has been featured in spaces such as Hyphen Magazine and San Francisco LitCrawl 2015.