June was Pride Month and Friday 28 June 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots.
It was a time to bring all the LGBTIQ+ community together, to stand united against prejudice, bigotry and discrimination. It is a month to commemorate and celebrate.
Why then, did I not feel proud? Why were my days travelling to conference after conference, talking about my faith and sexuality, culminating in the overall title of ‘intersectionality’, feel tinged with sadness?
In the back of my mind, in the silence of those golden moments when I smiled and spoke up about how (sometimes) life can be good for those of us who identify as LGBTIQ+, I thought about the protests taking place outside the primary school gates in Birmingham, England.
Muslim protests outside school gates
I thought about the Muslim majority protestors, with their placards and chants.
I thought of Shakeel Afsar, the leader with his megaphone, shouting ‘We are not homophobic!’ and the small children, aged 4 to 10, encouraged to repeat those words with as much hatred and venom as their parents.
I’ve been caught up in the maelstrom of the controversy, and have had time to reflect on how things are changing, developing and progressing, either for the better or the worse. And I wonder, how on earth did it come to this?
How did we fight against Section 28 – the dreaded UK legislation which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality in schools’ right up until it was abolished in 2003, to championing The Equality Act in 2010 with the arrival of same sex legislation and its affiliated policies to marry, adopt, and foster – to hearing anti-LGBT rhetoric rear its ugly head again?
By now, most of us must know the narrative of how Andrew Moffat. The deputy Headteacher at Parkfield Primary School in Alum Rock, Birmingham, introduced LGBT inclusive lessons to a predominantly Muslim community.
Personally, I advocate and cheer him on for his timely efforts, especially since I know, as a gay Muslim myself, we, as children, are indoctrinated with the mantra ‘Homosexuality is Haraam.’
Haraam meaning sin or forbidden.
Giving kids a full education
So, you can imagine when I listened to the young Muslim mother back in January 2019, I was not surprised when she remarked she did not want, ‘The teacher to teach her son to be gay!’
I was, however, shocked she would say it so blatantly in the media without any disregard for the repercussions. I thought her initial complaint would pass and someone, somewhere, an official from the UK’s Department of Education say, would have stepped in and corrected her misconceptions.
But here we are, seven months down the line, none the wiser.
The media has perpetuated a myth, an ongoing conflict which appears to pit predominantly white LGBT+ community against brown Muslims. They present a conflict and clash of cultures.
This compounds the ‘intersectionality’ (there’s that word again) of my identity and being.
Trying to reason with Muslim protestors
I have tried to reason with some of the protestors and asked them to reflect on their words, deeds and actions, especially when it was Ramadan.
I asked several to consider why the teachers, who are paid to educate their children in the best way possible about diversity, equality and inclusion are deemed as being antagonistic by the protestors and to think about the detrimental effect the dogged determination of the protests has on the children.
Their replies ranged from ‘I don’t want my kids to be taught gay’ to ‘It’s not age appropriate’ and ‘Being gay is not allowed in Islam.’
It didn’t phase me as I’d heard it all my life, since childhood, into my teens and when I explored my identity.
So, I’m determined to challenge the traditional, cultural indoctrination.
Equip yourselves to challenge religious homophobia
I’m asking all LGBTIQ+ people and allies to consider reading and researching the Qu’ran. In this way, we are all better equipped to tackle and challenge religious homophobia, bi phobia and trans phobia.
This is because I know, having seen and read the No Outsiders programme, being given the opportunity to look inside the schools which have been effected by the protests and speaking to the teachers, the steps they are taking to reduce bullying, discrimination and prejudice amongst children, has been incredibly uplifting and challenging.
This form of education – to show young children that it’s OK to be different, or to have diverse families, to embrace and celebrate all aspects of their being – is a much-needed discourse. It’s one which needs to continue on a regular basis to embed long term cultural changes for the better.
The fact I’ve always wanted the conversation about faith, sexual orientation and gender identity to be discussed openly is the only silver lining I can take from the educational disruptions.
I also hope that 50 years down the line, the Stonewall riots were not in vain.