Awareness About Islam
Ana Birsa Reviewer: Hiroko Kawano In 2017, I decided to goon a national conservative talk show. I always love a challenge, and I didn’t want to shy away from this one. I had just spent the previous year teaching people in the rural South how to talk about things like abortion, working at Planned Parenthood. And I spent the previous year working at Heineken, in government relations. So, I love a good challenge. And so when it came time for moto talk about safe spaces, I decided to do icon a conservative talk show. Bad messaging, I know! But … I, you know – I think I did a good job. Anyway – so safe spaces in the context that in the United States, we have several different programs aimed at targeting, harassingand surveilling different communities. Against the Muslim community, it’s called Countering Violent Extremism. It’s supposed to be part of this counter-terrorism effort, but what it ends up leading tois further radicalization, further marginalization and mental health issues throughout these communities who are affected. So I made the argument that what if we spend the taxpayer money that goes into those programs that are harmful, and we put those into community spaces where people can talk about difficult things, come closer to their communities and feel empowered – that they don’t have to feel alone. And so I made that case. And I said, “And, in fact, let’s not stop there. Black people need safe spaces where they can be free from police violence and from racism. LGBTQ people need spaces where they can be free from hate violence.” The Pulse shooting had just happened year prior to me going on the show. And the host, who very rudely interrupted me, said, “You’re not here to speak on behalf of those communities.” And I said “Well, Tucker Carlson, (Laughter) in addition to being a Muslim woman, I am a black, queer person.” And … (Applause) And I had just come out on national television to most of my family, to people all across the world and to all of my coworkers. And I couldn’t put it back in the box. It was the Pandora’s box. Everything was out. I could feel my phone notifications buzzing. People were sending me death threats, words of encouragement; GLAD had reached out – amazing things. But I just wanted to get through the interview. I think I did a good job. You can check it on YouTube -highly recommend. (Laughter) But, now I’m kind of the token queer Muslim, and that’s not the case at all. There’s so many of us: there’s Leo Kalyan, there’s Abdullah, there’s Fawzi Mirza. There’s so many of us! Today I work with an organization called Muslims for Progressive Values, and we work to advance progressive values of Islam, values that are very much rooted historical context. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. I was born Blair Elizabeth Brown. Yes, not Blair Imani. I changed my name. I converted to Islam in 2015, but I had grown upon a Christian community, but not a conservative one. I’m blessed to say that I never grew up in a space where people were telling mehomophobic things, whether that was at home, at school or at church. I grew up in a family where, literally, the first time I’ve ever heard any thing in the gray area of homophobic was last week. And it was a mistake. Ah, it was a misunderstanding, thank goodness. And so, I kind of grew up feeling like I could be whoever I wanted to be, including my sexual orientation and my gender identity. And so, when I had my first bisexual crush when I was eight years old, I didn’t completely know what it meant, but I knew there was something there. You see, I had a crush on this kid – whose name I won’t say because that’s very awkward – and his sister. And I liked them for distinct reasons. It’s kind of that age where you start getting butterflies in your stomach when somebody writes youa Valentine’s Day card, even if they wrote it for the whole class. But you feel special. And right as that was happening, I started to become concerned because when I saw things like Disney movies, there was always a prince and a princess or a beast and a princess, which is also confusing. (Laughter) But I knew that there were no princesses or princes together. I felt like maybe I should suppress this part of myself. And I did, kind of. That is until I came outgo my mom when I was 15. You see, I was standing therein front of her, very ABC Family-style in my all-girls Catholic uniform, and I said “Mommy, I’m a lesbian.” And she goes, “Oh no, no, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no … Honey, you’re bisexual.” And I am! (Laughter) (Applause) And I was, and I was before, and I will be forever. But, I finally had something to call it. And when I converted to Islam in 2015, I felt very comfortable and very aware of the fact that Allah made me with all of my flaws and perfections but made me to be a queer Muslim because Allah makes no mistakes. And so, when I converted, I started to get messages from people – especially after I came out – people asking me how do I reconcile being a person of faith and being queer? And I always say, “We don’t reconcileidentities in my house. We reconcile bank accounts, okay? There’s nothing to reconcile.” Because in the Quran, there is no condemnation of same-gender loving relationships. And I know, maybe some of you in the audience here, some of you online, all the people online, are saying “But Blair, what about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? What about the story of Prophet Lit?” And so, for you non-religious people – oh, to be one of you – (Laughter) the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story about a town that was doing horrible acts: acts of rape, acts of incest, acts that we know in human psychology cause trauma and pain. Not a condemnation of same-gender loving relationships, things that do not cause trauma and pain. What does cause trauma and pain and even mental illness is having to hide parts of yourself because people user religious texts against you. (Applause) And so, first and foremost, I’m a historian. I’m also a black woman. In my culture, we believe in receipts. That is when you demonstrate facts based on what you’re presenting presently. So here’s some receipts, okay? First and foremost, when Muslims and Christians began to come into contact with each other, Muslims were known for being very sexually permissive, not sexually restrictive. So seeing this narrative today that Muslims are uniquely homophobic is not at all rooted in history. In fact, Muslims were often characterize das perverted or bisexual. I’m the latter. (Laughter) And so, as this continued, the time when we started to see more of a puritanical approach to Islam was when there was contact with European Victorian morality, moralities that started to criminalize things like same-gender loving relationships and started to define things like sodomy – acts between people who both have penises – as bad and villainous and something to be condemned and something to be codified in the law as being condemned. At that time, in the 19th century, you start seeing legislation being passed in places like Lebanon and all across the Islamic world that condemned these acts. But it did not come from Islam. And so, of the five Islamic countries that do not have anti-sodomy legislation on the books, those are countries that do not have the same relationship with colonization as countries like Saudi Arabia and Brunei. Those are the facts. The other thing too, though, people like me – people who are Muslim and who have progressive values – are constantly being charged with Westernizing the Muslim world. But the Muslim world is already Westernized. These ideas of puritanical values, of interpreting the Quran to be oppressive – those did not come from Islam. Those came from colonizers, Western colonizers. And so, how do we make a world where people don’t take their lives because they feel like they can’t reconcile being queer and being Muslim, or being queer and being a person of faith? Well, first, it comes by knowing that queer people are born within every demographic in the world. There are queer Jews, queer Mormons, queer Catholics, queer Protestants, queer Muslims. And I’m proof. And I will continue working toward a world where we can be our full selves, because like the rainbow that represents us, LGBTQ people are beautiful and naturally occurring. Thank you so much.