In early July 2019, about 1.5 million people descended upon London’s streets to celebrate the annual Pride in London parade that supports gender and sexual diversity. Celebrated every year, the event is part protest part celebration, with members and supporters of the LGBT+ community taking to the streets to advocate for equality. 2019’s march was particularly special as it marked a half-century since New York’s Stonewall Riots, which have been credited for sparking the discussion on gay and trans rights around the world.
In addition to people marching in solidarity, there were different floats bearing messages, with glitter, rainbows and unicorns adorning the route. Many participants were there to celebrate the community’s culture and history while rallying against the challenges of prejudice and inequality. The parade route started at Portland Place at midday, moving down Oxford Circus, Regent Street (to Piccadilly Circus), along Lower Regent Street, passing Pall Mall and Trafalgar Square before concluding on Whitehall.
While the event attracted a large number of attendees, many others who identify with the LGBT+ community consider attending the Pride march a dream that’s yet to become reality. In the Muslim community, the idea of having a different gender or sexual identity from the conventional is seen as unnatural and a ‘sin’. Those who identify as homosexual often face stigma, discrimination and even physical violence. They’re pushed aside and, in some cases, disowned by their families for their choices.
A common perception that drives some of these reactions is a perception that the Islamic faith has little or no room for diversity in gender and sexual matters. Common traditional readings of the Quran have touched on the subject of homosexuality but have been interpreted in different ways. Some hold the view that homosexuality is haram (forbidden), while alternative views condemn acts of sexual violence. Regardless, these beliefs have led to the adherence of heterosexual relations as the norm, with anything else seen as immoral.
The result of these norms has had a devastating effect for Muslims who identify as LGBT+, many of whom face challenges embracing their identities and even coming out to family and friends. Some are taken to doctors to see if medical help might provide a solution, while others are pushed into marriage as a way of dealing with it. Often, these actions end up leaving the individuals feeling misunderstood, excluded and forced to choose between their faith and sexuality.
The harsh reality of the hate and discouragement that those who identify as LGBT+ within the Muslim community face has led individuals and organisations to speak out. Faith Matters is one such organisation that has been vocal in addressing these issues and working to develop shared values that bring communities together. Founded by Fiyaz Mughal, Faith Matters has been active in reducing conflict within faith communities by fostering cohesion and integration.
The organisation’s programmes and methodology work to forge strong relationships within and between faith communities by identifying common interests. Some of the avenues that Faith Matters works through include online campaigns, safeguarding projects, and transparency and governance projects in parts of the world that experience extremism.
Within the Muslim community, many are coming forward to spread the message of acceptance and inclusivity for LGBT+ Muslims without subjecting them to making difficult choices. Supporters of LGTB+ know that acceptance can happen by collaborating with those affected and by being ready to challenge the status quo and speak out.
The right to freedom of belief and expression should be safeguarded for all, regardless of faith or belief. The call to the overall Muslim community is to go beyond accepting these rights and actively call for them to be enjoyed by all. By participating in the London Pride march, supporters want the message that resonates with all to be that LGBT+ Muslims are to be accepted and treated as equally as their heterosexual peers.