Thursday, 4 November 2010

In Denmark, one Muslim MP stands up for LGBT rights

Kamal Qureshi, Member of Danish Parliament, speaks at panel about Expressing our differences, challenging our prejudices, develo from ILGA-Europe on Vimeo.

Source: Equality Scotland

@ILGA Europe conference: Panel on 'Expressing our differences, challenging our prejudices, developing our alliances'

Notes by Jane Carnall

Kamal Qureshi, Member of Danish Parliament

I will stand up, because in my culture we use our hands a lot, and someone will get hurt if I am just sitting here (between Francois and ILGA Europe chair).

Moved to Denmark as a small child, been elected to Parliament in 2001, 2005, 2007, and an election coming soon.

People kept asking me about LGBT issues and I didn't know why, and then I found out that because I have a Muslim background people kept expecting me to have a certain attitude. Equal rights were one of my issues, and soon LGBT rights became my issue. I was one of the first people to attend a gay parade in Denmark who was not gay himself. At first there was opposition within the Parliament and even within my own party, but I said that this was an opportunity to make clear if we really believed in equality or if we did not. And after struggle my party (socialist People's Party) accepted this.

I was a spokesman on integration as well as on equal rights: I was the first male ever to be a spokesman for equal rights in the Parliament. When I joined the gay parade in Denmark in 2002 this became a big issue.

There was a big issue about it on the radio, in the media, especially among conservative Pakistani groups.

Then I began to hear that my mother and my sister were being harassed when out socially among Pakistani friends. Among other things it was being said that I was dancing with naked men on this gay parade, but as many of us know, it is much more boring than that.

My sister was harassed at a wedding party about my work for political equality and she went out and sat in her car and cried. So I thought, I must do something about this. And I called the big Pakistani radio station, and I said - all this campaign was being led by very Orthodox imams - and I wanted time on air, and I would have an open microphone, and anyone could call in and ask me anything. They gave me two hours every Sunday for the next three weeks.

I got lot of phone calls. If I was not fighting for ethnic minorities rights, they could complain, but they could not complain that I was also fighting for other minorities rights as well, because for me it was all one fight. And then it all turned round, and people were saying "okay, he's weird, but he's one of us, so we will support him the best way we can". I had lots of experiences that gave me lots of energy.

When I attended this parade in 2002, it goes through the centre of Copenhagen, through the middle of the Muslim community, by the shops, by the mosque. So the first time I went there, the people were all looking at me, and apart from the accusations that I was dancing with naked men, there were many accusations I was gay myself.

So one guy with a Durum shop, this guy I knew, the local kebab person, he said "what are you doing here?" - "Well, I am attending this parade." And he came rushing after me with a kebab, saying "Here, you must have something to eat while you're walking".

I targeted the taxi drivers, and a few of them came to the Parliament, these people are persons who come from very small villages, they don't have education, many of them learn to read only after they come to Denmark, their parents are not educated. These persons work 12 hours a day in a taxi, when they come home they have not a lot of time to think about how the world works. Five of them came to my office with a bag of 200 euros they have collected to give me. "Kamal, we do have this issue we have to talk to you about. You work for gay rights -" and then this other driver said, "He works for our rights, he has to work for other rights too, can't you see? It is the power of the big package!"

Picture of women outside shop in traditional Muslim garb, hijab, smiling at Gay Parade, as if to say "Yes, they're weird, but we accept them".

I've heard a lot of times that people in the gay community have a fear that people in the Muslim community will attack them. But for the past nine years nothing like that has happened. And every time there is an attack, I am afraid if someone from a Muslim background has done it, because if so it will be petroleum on the flames. But so far it has been white/right-wing homophobes. But always there is the fear from the LGbT Community, a racism that they have to target, that it will be "the Muslims" that does it.

There has been this general prejudice from the LGBT community that "he doesn't mean it, he is not really gay himself". And I had the interview with the gay radio station, and the first question was, "Come out! Are you gay yourself?"

I got an award from the Pakistani community "Politician of the Year" and was interviewed by a magazine who wanted to ask "are you gay yourself? are you hiding?" I think it is important that the LGBT community accept that they have support from people who are not gay themselves, and to support their supporters. "If you think I am gay, write that I am gay, I do not care", okay, here is a photo - and it is a very camp photo, taken by a friend of his!


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