LGBT Muslims Make Progress on the Path to Acceptance

Around the nation and the world, LGBT Muslims and their allies are working to build an inclusive faith — and having some notable success.

BY Trudy Ring

September 23 2013 7:00 AM ET

At left: Progressive Muslim congressman Keith Ellison speaks to supporters.

Here in the U.S., the two Muslims who serve in Congress have taken stands that are anything but homophobic. House members Keith Ellison of Minnesota and André Carson of Indiana, both Democrats (and straight men), have strongly pro-LGBT voting records.

“I don’t feel there’s much of a conflict” between being a faithful Muslim and a supporter of LGBT equality, says Ellison, who serenaded the arrival of marriage equality in his home state this year with a YouTube rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.” To him, he says, the LGBT cause is one facet of human rights advocacy in general.

“It’s not up to me as an individual to approve or condemn anyone else,” says Ellison. “The question is, Do I believe in civil and human rights for all people? … It’s really more of a question of individual liberty.”

Within his mosque, he says, there is a diversity of opinion about LGBT acceptance, and some have objected to the positions he has taken in Congress, but his imam has defended him. “I’ve never been not fully welcomed,” he adds.

He agrees that Islam does not condemn homosexuality. “The Koran doesn’t address the issue at all,” he says. “It doesn’t discuss it.” He does see growing acceptance of LGBT people among U.S. Muslims, noting, “I think it probably reflects the attitudes of American society generally.” When Minnesotans rejected an anti–marriage equality constitutional amendment last November, “Muslims probably voted similarly to the rest of the population,” he says.

As for members of his faith who would use their religion as a basis for antigay laws, he reminds them that Muslims are often targets of prejudice as well. If the general public were polled on how they view Muslims and how they view LGBT people, he says, Muslims would probably rank lower. So he makes this argument: “It’s rights for all or rights for none.”

Zonneveld notes that antigay and anti-Muslim attitudes often come from the same sources. So it’s key, she says, for LGBT Muslims to join with other progressive forces within the faith to advocate for equality and inclusion. “We should be working together,” she says.

While much remains to be done to strip away what she calls the “layers of prejudice” in some Muslim congregations and entire nations, the work goes on. Muslims for Progressive Values continues to establish inclusive worship spaces and offers pro-equality discourses by Muslim scholars on its website. The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity is planning next year’s retreat, to be held in May, along with a variety of other projects, and offers referrals to LGBT-inclusive mosques.

As for working together, Power lauds the efforts of Muslims for Progressive Values and other pro-LGBT Muslim groups around the world. And both his group and Zonneveld’s are partnering with well-established LGBT organizations: The Muslim Alliance has participated in the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference, while Muslims for Progressive Values is hosting an evening with prominent writer Reza Aslan November 15 at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C. The result of all this may indeed be, as Power puts it, a “bright new day.”

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