The horrific killings in Orlando shattered two joyful occasions: Gay Pride Month and Ramadan. For many of us who are both gay and Muslim, these celebrations could only occur in parallel universes; our identities fractured between two groups, neither of which fully embraces the other. The attacks in Orlando have exposed this longstanding rift between the Muslim and gay communities, one that calls for resolution, even as some seek to exploit it for political gain.
This is a time for the Muslim and LGBT communities to not merely stand together but to deepen their understanding of each other, to recognize their common interests, and to acknowledge their shared members.
In this current moment of newly secured gay rights, it is easy to forget that gay-pride events arose in response to pervasive oppression. LGBT individuals long have been targets for political scapegoating, social discrimination, and hate violence, all deriving from a conception of homosexuality as deviant, unnatural, and a threat to the social order. The 1998 torture and murder of Matthew Shepard occurred less than 20 years ago, and countless other hate crimes have been perpetrated against LGBT individuals before and since. And while the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples symbolizes the rapid and historic gains that the gay community has made, the recent transphobic bathroom bills, not to mention the Orlando attack itself, should remind us of how vulnerable the LGBT community remains to demonization and exclusion.
But even as homophobia is being countered, Islamophobia is on the rise, and more readily accepted in the political, media, and public spheres in our country’s ongoing “war on terror.” In the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim, South Asian, Arab, and Sikh communities have experienced an unprecedented backlash in the form of hate violence, bullying in school, and employment discrimination. Attacks on our communities have surged in the past year, particularly in the aftermath of the ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Cab drivers and convenience-store clerks perceived to be Muslim have been shot; mosques and Muslim-owned businesses have been torched; Muslims have been assaulted while praying or peacefully walking down the street. In one instance, a man used a high-powered rifle to fire shots into a Connecticut mosque. In another, a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf and pushing her baby in a stroller was assaulted by a man who called her a terrorist and yelled, “I’m gonna burn your fucking temple down.”