In the days following the tragic shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016, we learned more and more about the shooter: name, ethnicity, and religion. Omar Mateen, a Muslim Afghani American. I held my breath and braced myself for how I knew Islamophobes would use the shooting for their own purposes — but I was also interested in what the Muslim community would say.
Ramadan and Pride overlapped almost completely in 2016, and it should have been a beautiful time to celebrate one’s Queer Muslim identity. But the shooting at Pulse Nightclub — which killed 49 and wounded 58 — shook that completely. It’s still unclear why Mateeen committed the massacre. He pledged allegiance to three competing extremist groups, criticized the U.S. involvement in Syria and Iraq, and according to some, may have been a closeted gay man.
LGBTQ Muslims have always been stuck in a dichotomy, pressured to choose between their queerness and their Muslimness. And the Pulse shooting made that dichotomy even starker as we witnessed a tragedy, and all the victims of it, being used by politicians and lawmakers to target the Muslim community. All of a sudden, it seemed, LGBTQ Muslims didn’t exist at all. But the story of Pulse is missing a great deal if the voices of LGBTQ Muslims are excluded.
Muslim Americans wanted to distance themselves from Pulse, and understandably so. I sat back and watched my Facebook feed fill with essays and shared posts from Muslims and Muslim organizations about the shooting. About how it was un-Islamic. About how Omar Mateen is not a real Muslim. About how it’s Ramadan, and this is meant to be a sacred time for Muslims.
Without considering any complexities or nuances, the Muslim narrative behind the Orlando shooting said, “We don’t claim this behavior, so please don’t use this story against us.”
I’m not here to question the authenticity of all of those Facebook posts, but what I will say to Muslims is this: It is not enough to call acts of violence against LGBTQ people un-Islamic, when many Muslim American communities perpetuate anti-LGBTQ bigotry and hatred. Yes, anti-LGBTQ violence is un-Islamic, but so is the way of thinking that led Mateen to Pulse in the first place and that we let silently brew in our circles.
The Muslim community has been alienated in America so many times. We were treated as an “other” after the September 11 attacks, and we are treated the same after every extremist attack someone decided to say was in the name of Islam. The Pulse shooting was no exception.
But while we are familiar with being othered, we are often quick to do the same to LGBTQ Muslims. One year after the Pulse shooting, LGBTQ Muslims still often do not feel welcome enough to go to mosques, let alone serve on their boards or as leaders at national Muslim councils and organizations. Instead, Queer Muslims have been pushed to make their own safe spaces separate from the Muslim community.
Pulse was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and one year later, we need to be offering more than just rhetoric.
Back up your initial words of sympathy and condemnation, and walk the walk by challenging yourself and the way that you talk about LGBTQ issues among your friends. Think about how you conduct yourself during these conversations, and ask yourself if you think your friends would feel comfortable coming out to you if they needed to. And what about your Muslim friends? Are you automatically assuming that queerness and Islam don’t fit? Challenge that mode of thinking.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to leave homophobia at the door, to treat one another with compassion and empathy, and to make sure every single person feels safe to be themselves.
I want to clarify that my criticism of the Muslim community is not to be used by Islamophobes who care about LGBTQ rights in name only, and who wish to further their own agendas. LGBTQ Muslims have always existed, and we deserve to drive our own narrative and tell our own stories. Queer Muslims will no longer be erased — by Muslims or by non-Muslims.
Let Pulse serve as a reminder that the only way for us to maintain our humanity is with hearts full of empathy and compassion and the ability to challenge the way that we view others. Make everywhere you spend your time a place where LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ Muslims, can feel safe and welcome.
And to my LGBTQ Muslim friends: have the most fulfilling Ramadan and a happy Pride month. What a reward to be able to celebrate these two beautiful parts of your identity together.
Aamina Khan is a Pakistani American Muslim born and raised in the Chicago area. Follow her on twitter @aaminasdfghjkl for more discourse on politics, pop culture, and news.