Words by Khakan Qureshi | @KhakanQureshi | Photo: © Flickr.com

Thursday 27th July 2017 is a historic date for the LGBT diary, mainly because it marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality.

Like many others who are keeping tabs on the LGBT timeline, it provided me with an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in terms of progress and acceptance.

We know it’s a momentous occasion and on a personal level, gave me something to discuss on social media. As a gay Muslim, I had contributed to the BBC4 documentary “Prejudice and Pride: The People’s History of LGBTQ Britain”, part of the BBC Gay Britannia season, and looked forward to it being aired on the television. After all, as a minority group within the LGBT community, the diversity has to be represented in such a ground breaking documentary, as we’ve also made our contributions to the LGBT movement and make up part of its history.

The previous night, I had watched “Against The Law”, a one-off 90-minute film dramatising the events of the Montagu trial, which saw three men sent to prison for homosexual activities based on the testimony of their former lovers in the 1950s. 

Someone had tweeted:

“We should never forget how gay men suffered before the law was changed. It’s a disgraceful part of our history.” I responded, “Gay men still suffering today,” referring to religious oppression in the UK, the atrocities in Chechen and other heinous crimes against gay men in other parts of the globe.

This led to several supportive tweets and then I received this:

“I am against homosexuality. I don’t want to accept it. Stop promoting it to my face. I thought sexuality is supposed to be private?”

This interjection from an unknown person progressed into an intolerable disagreement about the written word in the Qur’an and what this person believes to be religious laws on homosexuality. The pressure within me was rising as he insisted I answer his question on whether or not I agreed that Allah and his prophet Muhammed had condemned homosexuality. I wasn’t going to rise to his baiting and attempted to be reasonable and logical in my responses.

I thought I could ignore his tweets and he would move on, but then I woke up the next morning and checked my timeline. He was incessant with his questions and demanded replies until he finally tweeted:   

“Islam forbids homosexuality, sodomy, fornication, etc. End of story.” At this point, I reported him to Resisting Hate, which is, according to their Twitter account, “an anti-hate pro-diversity organisation” and they acted on my behalf to report the troll.

But the written assault had left me reeling and I wondered: How far have we really come in terms of anti-discrimination? Yes, we might have the ‘gay laws’ within the UK to protect or provide equality, but what about transferring the legislation and ensuring it is implemented into communities and individuals who are either insular, indoctrinated or contain so much religious fervour that they cannot help being antagonistic or anti-gay, particularly within Islam or those who claim to be Muslim. 

To begin with, the incident reminded me of several conversations I had with so-called Muslims, most notably two imams who claimed to be “accepting of LGBT people”.

I had participated in a radio discussion about homosexuality within the South Asian community.

One of the contributors was an imam who stated, “I accept you but I don’t agree with what you do.” I queried his stance on homosexuality. He reiterated that he accepted me as a gay man but not the “sexual act itself”.

I asked if he was willing to stand up in front of his congregation or community to say “It’s OK to be gay,” regardless of whether or not the individual indulged in sexual activities. He refused, stating “the community is not ready yet.”

This was echoed by another imam whom I met at a panel discussion at the Stonewall Education For All Conference in Birmingham. Where the previous imam had appeared to have no knowledge of there being gay or LGBT people in his mosque, this imam said if a person was struggling with their sexuality and came to him he would offer advice and guidance. At last, I thought I had found a free thinking open-minded religious leader who could set a precedent. I listened to him provide what appeared to be a positive spiel in helping the LGBT community. Until I asked him the same question about standing up as an ally, as I believe if we have faith/religious/community leaders who are in a position of power and influence, we are half-way through winning the battle of acceptance.

He looked at me and provided the attentive audience with an anecdote of how he has “helped out at stall at Oxford Pride and been present throughout the day” and I asked him again if he would just say “It’s OK to be gay” in front of other Muslims. After much thought and deliberation, he appeared to be a defeatist in his response: “No, because I don’t think the community is ready yet”.

I felt dejected and disheartened. Here was an opportunity to open a chink of hope in 2017, to prove that a real Muslim would be someone who can show compassion, integrity, understanding, respect and acceptance of others. Instead, it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and raised more questions in my mind as to how to move forward.

This led to an opportunity to take part in London Pride. I had never taken part in the event before and even though I had paraded at Birmingham Pride for the last three years, London was an eye opening sea of change. For a start, it allowed 100 Gaysians (a portmanteau of gay and Asian) to come together from all parts of the UK. And for the first time ever, there was a strong block of South Asian LGBT faces highlighting diversity, visibility and authenticity. At the time, I was so proud of what we had achieved that I would want to repeat the process at every Pride parade. 

Because now, when I think of it, with the Twitter troll imposing his indoctrinated viewpoint on me, the imams refusing to acknowledge the LGBT community rof partial decriminalisation, I understand what it means to push forward, to create change and why we have an LGBT movement. 

I might be a brown, gay Muslim, and the South Asian community in certain parts might be about 50 years behind the times in their outlook and mindset, but believe me, regardless of faith, religion or culture, I will keep moving forward until we have TOTAL equality and acceptance.

Until then, we have to keep marching!   


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