Karine Jean-Pierre
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To Be Queer and Muslim in the Age of Trump

Donald Trump

Amanda Pressman sat with her friend in a parking lot in Greensboro, NC, during the early hours of Sunday morning. They had just come from a party. Together, they found a place to sit and wait for the sunrise.

Then the texts began.

“I got a notification on my phone about the shootings around 5 a.m.," she recalled. "It didn't mention anything about the place being Pulse, but it did mention that it was being looked at as an incidence of 'domestic terror.’ I remember immediately hoping that the shooter wasn't brown, or wasn't Muslim.”

Pressman, 21, straddles two identities. A first-generation Muslim immigrant from Indonesia, Pressman is also queer. If you asked her to describe herself, though, she would sooner say she’s a student, an activist, a slam poet, or a blogger. Long before those texts started arriving, the nation had already ginned up plenty of fear about Muslims after September 11 and San Bernardino, in coverage of international terrorism, with Donald Trump proposing his ban on all Muslims entering the country, and perhaps even a national registry. Pressman couldn't stomach another tragedy that would be used against her — especially not one that crossed another of her identities.

In her art, Pressman weaves queerness and her heritage into a single tapestry. But on days like Sunday, as she watched the death toll mount, Pressman worried her identities were clashing.

“I didn't want to have to have to protect two sides of my identity from each other,” she told The Advocate. “I don't know what to say when bodies like mine are killing bodies like mine.”

That's a sentiment that rang true for many queer people of Muslim background in the hours after the shooting. Maureen Bashir, Pressman’s classmate at Virginia Commonwealth University, says she doesn't expect as a queer young woman and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants to find sanctuary among either fellow queer people or fellow Muslims. “In either community I need to tone down one of my identities to fully fit in,” she told reporters. “It's heavy on the heart, really.”

Because neither of these spaces fully accept the thousands of queer Muslims in the U.S., some feared an impending backlash over Orlando — from both sides. 

“On the one hand, non-Muslim LGBT folks are blaming Muslims for the attack," said Bashir, while on the other hand, straight Muslims "are blaming people's genders and sexualities." A description like that casts her own Muslim community as broadly homophobic, and like a lot of religions, it's not accepting but has groups within that break with orthodoxy.

Yaqoob Abate, a queer Georgetown University student of Arab and Italian heritage, agrees that it's an enormous challenge to reconcile being queer and Muslim. “Muslims sometimes are uneasy about LGBT people,” he said. But Abate insists intolerance isn't only in one direction. In his experience in queer communities, “Muslims as well as people of color are often put into a box and tokenized in a way that other groups are not.”

This conflict grew more severe Sunday, as Trump gave a lengthy speech in which he framed LGBT and Muslim identities in opposition. He said supporting LGBT people inherently meant stopping Muslims — who he claimed want death for gay people — from coming to the United States.

Trump attacked Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for her opposition to a ban on Muslims coming into the country, and he jumbled together multiple identities. "Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country — they enslave women, and murder gays," he roared. "I don’t want them in our country."

The Republican presidential candidate went on in a lengthy speech Monday about why American Muslims ought to be questioned on what they know of terrorists, and he claimed the nation's mosques ought to be monitored by the government. These young queer Muslims could be caught up in that hypothetical dragnet. Had Muslims been barred from immigrating to the U.S., then Abate, Bashir, and Pressman wouldn't be here today. It seems the interplay of identities is more complicated than some may think.

Abate, who studies international politics and Arabic at Georgetown University, wrote that we must “foster a culture of inclusion and allow for multiple and seemingly conflicting identities to be celebrated and cultivated.” According to him, “America is a place where having multiple identities is celebrated.”

If America looks inward before it points the finger abroad, we might find answers to help us end violence against LGBT people or reconciling a culture of inclusion with a desire to protect Americans from terrorism. 

Abate suggested that America must “recognize that our foreign policy with the Middle East and in other Muslim nations is one-sided and neo-colonial and our actions over the past several decades have directly allowed for this resentment to develop.”

Bashir admitted she can offer no “easy solution,” but then pointed out that “it’s no coincidence that countries with tighter restrictions on firearms and guns have less mass shootings.”

Pressman joined in on the call for systemic change. “We as a country need to value and cherish the lives and existences of queer folk; tolerance isn't enough. Tolerance is a tight-lipped smile wishing that you didn't have to deal with it. Acceptance and love is the only hope for full safety.”

Until the day when these issues are resolved, these LGBT Muslims worry about their own safety — as Americans, as queer people, and as Muslims in an Islamophobic culture. “I’m always looking to see where the nearest exits are, places to hide, or what my method of self-defense would be in the event of an emergency,” Bashir told The Advocate. “I can’t go to the mall, the bus station, the doctor, or even the club, apparently, without thinking about the worst-case scenario.”

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