Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The dilemma of choosing between being a gay man and a Muslim

Speech by Arsham Parsi of the Iranian Queer Organization, IRQO, at the Equality Forum in Philadelphia (May 1st, 08)

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

It's my pleasure and honour to represent the Iranian Queer Organization and its members on this panel along with my colleague Roshan Boran. Before anything, I would like to thank our generous sponsors, among them Justin Weaver and Jeff Woloson, whose financial support made it possible for us to participate in this panel.

The dilemma of choosing between being a gay man and a Muslim is a personal one for me, since like most of my friends, my identity is formed by two important factors: Islam and homosexuality. For some of us, as queer Muslims, Islam is a divine religion that inspires, and sometimes even dictates the way we live; for others it is simply a cultural foundation that establishes our language, history and social interactions. Regardless of our personal devotion to Islam, every one of us still has to find a way to make peace both with our sexuality and the Islamic dimension of our existence.

Personally, as a Muslim gay man, it is painful for me to see how my fellow Muslims deny and condemn the existence of homosexuality within Islam, and refuse to accept me as a member of their community. It is equally discomforting for me to see how some Western queer activists viciously attack Islam and its perceived intolerance of sexual minorities, not realizing that often it is us, the queer Muslims, who are at the receiving end of these harsh criticisms.

Since I was born queer and was raised a Muslim, through no choice of my own, it is neither desirable nor possible for me to disregard one aspect of my identity to protect the other. The truth is that I belong to both communities: the global queer village and Muslim society.

This dilemma is one shared by many Muslim LGBT people, including a significant number of Iranian queers. As long as they are within their communities, they have to hide their true sexual orientation out of fear for their lives. But once out of their communities and often within Western societies, queer Muslims have to confront endless attacks from the Islamophobic camp. The sad reality is that for most Islamophobes, the only version of Islam is the one promoted by fundamentalist regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. The fact that many Muslims resist these fundamentalist readings of their faith, and are more sympathetic towards issues such as the rights of women, religious minorities, and queers, is never acknowledged or appreciated.

After all, Islamophobia is a hate-based ideology similar to homophobia that disregards the complexity and diversity of human communities, trying instead to portray a shocking caricature by highlighting the most outrageous and often controversial elements.

At the same time I should note though that the experiences of all those Muslim queers who suffer routinely from fundamentalist Islamic laws and practices cannot and should not be denied or overlooked. Apologetic discourses are as counterproductive and dangerous as Islamophobic ones, for they also avoid addressing the real challenges that Muslim queers have to encounter in negotiating their identity. Muslim queers, like all other humans, share the same needs, fears, and desires. As such, their real life experiences must be the starting point for a holistic and objective examination of their challenges.

I sincerely hope our discussion today leads us toward a more sophisticated and multi-layered analysis of queer Muslims' lives. In conclusion, I would like to thank Equality Forum for inviting IRQO to participate in this panel.


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