Should We Be Defending Islam, Despite Its Homophobia?

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by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor

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.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.


  • katyggls, 2010-10-05 08:11:20

    No we shouldn’t defend Islam. Like almost all other major religions (including Christianity) it’s core tenets are hateful and repressive towards women and lgbt people. But we should defend Muslims. There’s a difference between a religion and the people who practice it. Defending the building of the mosque is not a defense of Islam; it’s a defense of the separation of church and state and the right of every citizen of this country to have equal protection under the law, no matter what their creed.

  • , 2010-10-05 11:41:05

    Religion is a choice. Homosexuality and the color of your skin is not! The methods that Islam, Christianity and a whole host of other religions have chosen to enforce and inflict their ideologies, myths and theocracies on other people is the cause of contempt. I, as a gay human being, will not tolerate any religion telling me how to conduct my life and what moral choices I should make. Life experience has taught me that! How quickly religions fall into the role of the persecuted and the victimized; when they themselves are so ready, willing and able to spew out their vitriol so freely. We are expected buy into it, understand it suck it up? NO!!

  • , 2010-10-05 14:25:27

    I am so happy someone is bringing this up. I would rather have Islam center downtown than next door. There is a Pakistani restaurant a block from where I live on Ninth Ave. There are also a fair amount of transsexuals. They are always harassed and frequently assaulted when the pass the restaurant. When I complained to the manager of the restaurant, he smiled and said they should all be killed. And if I were in support of them, I should be also killed. He suggested that if I didn’t want to be murdered I should move out of the neighborhood. - Doric Wilson

  • wimsy, 2010-10-05 15:34:38

    Simple: Ask the Imam of the proposed mosque whether he teaches tolerance and acceptance of gays and lesbians. If he’s the man of peace he claims to be, the answer should be clear. But if he’s just another bigot wrapped in his agenda, I oppose the mosque -- not because it’s near ground zero or the sacred strip clubs nearby; but because it helps spread his bile.

  • nothingpetty, 2010-10-05 18:46:12

    First, 9/11 was not all Muslims, just a terrorist cult who call themselves Muslim. Second, if we do not treat others as we would be treated, than we are no better than the people we castigate as prejudiced.

  • , 2010-10-05 20:19:31

    Religious real estate--when any of the organized religions in this country start paying property tax like I struggle to do on a house not worth half what I paid for it,then we’ll talk. If Muslims were the only religious group who think gays are heretics.......

  • Keppler, 2010-10-05 20:45:01

    I wouldn’t defend the southern baptists or the catholics. Why would I defend Islam?

  • Milwaukeeguy, 2010-10-05 22:17:27

    In a word NO

  • RJ, 2010-10-06 14:45:06

    Which "we" are you purporting to speak for? If it’s for so-called progressives, whatever. If it’s for LGBT folks, whatever made you beleive that some all-inclusive "we" subscribes to politically "progressive" views across the board? (And it is sad that Edge has seemed to have jumped the shark from being an informative and balanced info source to just another Lefty fag rag.)

  • John Michael, 2010-10-06 16:14:42

    When I defend the rights of the Islamic center near Ground Zero, I do so knowing that I defend our constitution; when I lose sight of that, I am no longer an American.

  • GAG'EM, 2010-10-10 22:20:30

    Michael Lucas should stick to what he knows and does best -- gay porn -- and leave the politics to people who know about that, and about the US Constitution. I don’t know why the Advocate thinks that being a porn impresario makes ML an expert on anything else. By the way, I am Jewish. I do not support or oppose the Islamic Center. I defend Constitutional rights for all Americans. When the time comes for my Constitutional rights to be defended, I will demand that the founders of the Islamic Center do the same for me, as would of all other Americans. There is no reason to single Islam out for its homophobia when Christianity, Judaism and most other religions have displayed homophobia too.

  • , 2013-02-10 13:07:52

    1. Leaving the politics to ’people who know about that’ means leaving it to politicians. Doing that leads to the public being ignored while the politicians golf and give themselves raises. So being political is everybody’s business. That’s part of how this all works. 2.Islam is not just threatening gays. It’s threatening civlization. Christians (I’m an atheist) have at least learned to not go around killing people willy nilly for being gay. Granted, not so much in Africa. Which brings up the role of wealth when it comes to ’tolerance’. Which brings me to Saudi Arabia. Lots of money in the hands of the people in charge. Not a lot of gay pride parades there. In short, Islam is the enemy of gays. And women. And atheists. And pagans. And pretty much everyone else including, when you get right down to it, Muslims. 3. In this world, when so many people are busy kissing Islam’s butt and pretending there’s not a problem, ANY resistance to Islam is good resistance. If libs want to wake up and admit that Islam is screwed up and hostile, then maybe they can try to figure out the best, most peaceful, most progressive way to deal with it. But as long as they’re playing ostrich, they have no moral leg to stand on when it comes to people who ARE facing the reality of Islam.

  • GAG'EM, 2013-02-10 13:29:42

    There’s a difference between defending a religion and defending people. I feel that the world would be a much better place without ANY religion, but vilifying more than one billion people in the world who believe in Islam is a sure way to continue an already-protracted world-wide war leading to more death, destruction and atrocities against everyone.

  • , 2013-10-29 07:53:18

    Anyone with any kind of thought in their head would say absolutely not. Give me a break. Those people hang us from construction cranes in the public squares of the Muslim world or even worse. And as for freedom of religion under the constitution, I absolutely do not hold Islam as a religion in my book, oh no. I hold Islam for exactly what it is, and that’s a theocratic and fascist governing mechanism. Christianity used to be pretty barbaric, but guess what, that’s ancient history. The majority if Christians are peaceful and living people, contrary to what some of us have been misled to believe by mainstream media.

  • GAG'EM, 2013-10-29 11:43:05

    So let me get this right: "Their" hate is evil, but your hate is reasonable. And where does this hate get us? Dehumanization of the "other" has brought us bigotry, violence, genocide and millennia of war. Only efforts to see the "other" as human: different but equal to us, will lead to a world without injustice and violence. Try it. And try meeting and talking to some Muslims. You may be surprised to find that they are human beings.

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