Should We Be Defending Islam, Despite Its Homophobia?
Wolf and other LGBT proponents of Muslim solidarity argue that not only do many queer people need to themselves identify with Islamic prejudice; but that many moderate, heterosexual Muslim-Americans are increasingly taking a progressive stance on issues concerning the community. Popular Muslim writer and performance artist Michael Muhammad Knight, for example, has argued forcefully for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Muslim-identified writer Melody Moezzi wrote a compelling piece for the Huffington Post last month comparing her experience of Islamophobia with a gay friend's limited legal protections. Moezzi argued that "as a Muslim, it is my sacred duty to promote peace, justice and compassion above all other moral values" and that message of peace most certainly applies to gays.
Ani Zonneveld, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Muslims for Progressive Values, has made LGBT and women's rights one of the pillars of her organization's efforts to protect freedom of speech and a separation of church and state. The organization endorses "the human rights, civil rights and civil liberties of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals," including support for marriage equality.
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, never called for discrimination of gay people, nor the subordination of women, according to Zonneveld. She knows her stance is controversial to many other followers of Islam -- and would result in her being jailed in many Muslim-majority nations. Even so, she described her pro-gay positions as "an easy sell" -- at least to herself.
"Because I have the sacred text to back it up, it makes my work a lot easier," Zonneveld told EDGE. "When Americans and the gay community look at Iran and their treatment of gays and women, I want them to understand: That is not Islam. That is corrupted power, corrupted politicians and corrupted religiosity that's doing that."
She also hopes that other Muslim people will warm to her organization's message and that it will eventually become the norm. She was particularly critical of Muslim Californians who voted for Proposition 8 in the fall of 2008, which banned gay marriage there, and encouraged non-Muslims to not let extremists represent her and other progressive Muslims.
"Muslims need to relearn that and educate themselves," Zonneveld said. "We say we're a community being discriminated against, and then we turn around and vote against someone else's civil rights and right to happiness,
"Ultimately," she concluded, "it's irrelevant what you think your religion -- and I don't care which religion it is -- says. It's unacceptable because we don't live in a theocracy."
Gay Religious Leaders Preach Tolerance
Queer religious leaders of other faiths have also stepped up as leading voices in bridging the divide between the Muslim and LGBT communities. As executive director of Soulforce, Rev. Cindi Love runs an organization that works toward freedom against religious oppression of LGBT people and religious-based homophobia.
She condemns the outpouring of anti-Muslim sentiment, while understanding why some gay people may be hesitant to embrace solidarity.
"I understand that some LGBT people are uncomfortable with even an attempt at dialogue with any one or group espousing fundamentalist values," she told EDGE. "We actually believe that is where we are called to engage. When innocent and vulnerable people are profiled and targeted by extremists, it is our duty as American citizens and as people who believe in fairness to defend them."
Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., is a member of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion Council and also spoke to the importance of LGBT people speaking out against the targeting of Muslim people.
"We're not going to overcome intolerance by exercising bigotry against those who are different than us," Russell said. "If we allow that to happen, we allow those in power to continue to divide and polarize us. But if we come together, we become the majority, and then it's not only the right thing to do, but it's the smart thing to do."
Russell hopes that the explosion of media coverage of anti-Muslim discrimination around the Downtown Manhattan mosque could prove inadvertently helpful in calling progressive LGBT people to arms in forging a coalition with Muslim Americans, mending what's been a largely tenuous relationship to date.
"As difficult as the last month has been, I think that kind of radical fringe energy has in some ways served as a wake-up call," Russell added. "We don't want our country back, we want it forward, and we won't be able to move forward while we're being divided against each other."
It seems clear that forging a bond between LGBT and Muslim Americans is an effort that's only now beginning. It's still one requiring much fence mending -- on both sides. And it is incumbent upon queer people worldwide to continue to challenge persecution of gays wherever it happens, Muslim-majority nations included.
The earnest effort recalls early steps by the queer community to work in concert with groups like the NAACP, whose leader just this month took the first steps of any president of the group into an LGBT community center in New York. As gay men and lesbians try to come to terms with, work with, and even fight for, communities of faith, it may be seen as increasingly influential part of queer Americans' ongoing quest for broader acceptance and legal protection.
It's an effort that will require a resistance to stereotyping and an emphasis on education and compassion each step of the way. From all involved.