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Both Targets Of Discrimination, How To Unite Muslims And LGBT Communiy


The shooting in Orlando this week occurred at a time when gay pride was celebrated in many spots across the United States and Muslims observed the holy month of Ramadan. And a Muslim man went into a gay nightclub and killed 49 people. Muneer Ahmad, who is a professor of law at Yale University, has done some thinking about what it's like to be both Muslim and gay. He wrote an article in the current issue of The Nation. And Professor Ahmad joins us now from studios at Yale. Thanks so much for being with us.

MUNEER AHMAD: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Do you feel kind of fractured identity being both gay and Muslim?

AHMAD: I think that's a good way of putting it. I think that for myself and for many gay Muslims, there's a sense of being betwixt and between. One looks for a sense of belonging in each place, but never really finds it.

SIMON: Of course, it's a terrible tragedy that affects everybody, but I'm wondering how you've dealt with feelings that you must have this week.

AHMAD: It's been heartbreaking for, I think, everyone, myself included, and really a process of trying to grieve on many different levels, to respect the dignity of the people who lost their lives, to recognize that they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, mostly Latino. That in and of itself was a lot to digest. I think it's pretty common for American Muslims, whenever there is any act of public violence, to read or listen to the news with a clenched stomach, waiting for the identity of the perpetrator. Because in those instances, such as here, where it's revealed that their perpetrator is a Muslim, it's a second wave of anguish.

SIMON: You're speaking openly with us now. You're a professor of law at Yale in a cosmopolitan community. I wonder what your impression, though, is to how open gays who happen to be Muslim feel that they might be inside their religious communities.

AHMAD: For gay Muslims, particularly those who come from immigrant communities where already there is a sense of dislocation that's part of the family experience, to carve out a new space within that community can feel very difficult. And to leave that community, I think, also can be enormously challenging.

SIMON: You mean that if you decide to identify yourself as gay, it might put you at odds from friends and family members in your Muslim family?

AHMAD: It's the fear and the reality that many people have.

SIMON: Yeah. Is there a part of Islam that has a particular problem with sexual orientation?

AHMAD: Can you point to text in the Koran about homosexuality? Sure, in the same way that one could do in Jewish and Christian traditions. I think there are social practices of stigma and exclusion that go a lot further in explaining the difficulties within the Muslim community. There are some parallel difficulties in the gay community. And that really is what the challenge is for gay Muslims, to live between these two spaces, one of which is in many ways animated by homophobia and one of which in many ways is animated by Islamophobia.

SIMON: Is there some common experience that they can use to try and bring about a relationship?

AHMAD: Going back to Orlando, those were a lot of young people from immigrant families who were immigrants themselves. Much, although not all, of the Muslim community also comes from immigrant families. And I think that the idea that the home that you thought you found in the United States could be so destroyed in a moment of celebration - that's something that, I think, can resonate across communities.

SIMON: I wonder what kind of reaction you've gotten since you wrote your article in The Nation.

AHMAD: One email I got in particular really epitomized the openness to sincere, if difficult, conversation that I think is most needed right now. It's actually from a former student of mine who just graduated named Thisney Matellah (ph). She wrote, I've been struggling with the atrocities of this past weekend. I've never felt compelled to apologize for acts of, quote, "Islamic terrorism" because they don't have anything to do with me. But I and the rest of the straight, cis-gendered members of the Muslim community do owe our LGBTQ siblings an apology for the less than welcoming environment we have fostered. If we can find any good from this, I hope it is that the straight Muslims will embrace our LGBTQ siblings with open arms so that they never have to feel like they must make a choice between their sexual and-or gender identity and their religion. I guess this email is an apology to you and anyone else who might have felt unwelcome at mosques, Muslim student associations or other Muslim spaces and also a promise to try to do better.

SIMON: Muneer Ahmad, clinical professor of law at Yale Law School. Thank you so much for being with us.

AHMAD: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And tomorrow on WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY, we'll hear more about what it's like to grow up gay and come out in immigrant communities. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.