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we asked queer muslims for their thoughts on the lgbtq lessons debate

In the past month, queer Muslims have had to sit back and watch as both their faith and their sexuality are relentlessly put under the microscope.

by Yusuf Tamanna
04 April 2019, 10:12am

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Over the last month, a primary school in Birmingham has found itself in the headlines after parents criticised the school’s decision to teach pupils about LGBTQ relationships as part of its sex education curriculum. Titled the No Outsiders programme, it was designed by Parkfield Community School to promote greater understanding of marginalised relationships, races and sexual orientations, but hundreds of parents at the Muslim-majority school quickly pulled their children from of the class. Criticisms that the content was not age-appropriate and would ‘turn their child gay’ soon followed, leading to parents protesting outside the school gates and calling for the programme to be scrapped altogether.

Fuelled in large part by an inherent Islamophobia, the media quickly positioned the debate as simply Muslims vs. the LGBTQ community. But in the weeks since, the conversation has snowballed into a wider national debate, essentially asking the question of whether queer people should be allowed to exist at all.

The discourse continues to dominate headlines and social media daily, but the voice of one demographic has been largely left out. Between televised debates on Good Morning Britain and BBC’s Question Time, queer Muslims have had to sit back watch as both their faith and their sexuality are relentlessly put under the microscope. Finding themselves caught in the crossfire, how do everyday LGBTQ Muslims feel about the situation as it unravels, and where do they think the conversation should go from here?

Mohamed Hanafy, 26, Cyber Security
“Though I now live in the UK, I went to school in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and whenever topics about LGBTQ people were mentioned it was always in a negative light. There wasn’t any real understanding of how to be gay and Muslim, and if a boy was even a bit effeminate it would lead to attacks and prolonged bullying.

It’s hugely important for children to know other people’s perspectives, and not just what their parents tell them, because children aren’t isolated from the British experience. If you don’t teach children from a young age that different people and family types exist, then all you’re going to do is create another generation of people who discriminate against the LGBTQ community -- it’s never going to end.

I can see where the parents are coming from; they want what’s best for their children and they think being taught about LGBTQ issue isn’t what’s best. But they have to realise they live in a British society and their children will come across people like us; even some of their own children could be LGBTQ. We’re not invisible.”

Haroon Abassi, 31, Writer
“If I could talk to the parents protesting, I’d ask them really what their fears were. A lot of the defence has been that the kids should be taught about LGBTQ topics in the home. But by doing that, they’re ostracising an entire community. I’ve always believed that if you are from a minority group then you stand shoulder to shoulder with other minorities.”

If the roles were reversed and I used the word ‘Asian’ or the word ‘Muslim’ in the same way these parents are using the word ‘gay’ or ‘queer’, then how would that make them feel?

Some of these parents may think you can’t be Muslim and gay, but I’ve not known any different and I haven’t sought out to be this way. I grew up this way and all I know is that I have my faith, my family and my sexuality and I’m trying to marry them all together to make the best I can of the situation.”

Noura Ikhlef, 23, Freelance Journalist
“There wasn’t any experience of being queer at school because it just wasn’t talked about, and anyone who was out at school was normally made fun of.

It’s necessary for these kids to learn about LGBTQ issues, because not talking about them isn’t going to prevent them from being queer themselves. It just makes sense for young people to learn about it in a school setting, especially for queer Muslim children who may not have the support at home. At least they have it at school and that could make life a lot easier for them.

“ don’t think it’s a parent’s right to get involved in a way where they’re telling them what they should and shouldn't be teaching. There are schools that are dedicated to learning in a certain way, and if these parents are really that concerned then they should enrol their children into those schools. What they’re doing right now shouldn’t be allowed.”

Wasim Khan, 29, Marketing
“In primary school, I didn’t think being gay was a thing. I knew I was different for liking boys, but I didn’t have a name for it. In secondary school, many people told me I was gay before I was able to understand this myself. I remember when someone called me ‘camp’ and I had to ask what she meant by this. The secondary school I went to was very liberal and we did have a couple of gay teachers. I felt safer in this school having successful representation of gay people, but that didn’t save me from the bullies.

In PHSE lessons, we had a group of young LGBTQ people come in and introduce themselves to us and talk to the class about their experience with homophobia and how they dealt with it. From this, I was made aware of an LGBTQ youth group which I was able to attend at the weekend. This was very beneficial to me, as I was able to meet my tribe. People just like me, with similar experiences and feelings.

I really don’t believe the teaching of LGBTQ topics at school should be up for debate. There are many subjects which are taught in schools that are not aligned with Islam or other organised religions: to object to the acceptance of LGBTQ people roots in homophobia, and I cannot see past that. When the theory of evolution is taught and contradicts the religion, we do not see protests at school. Why would that be? In my experience, when I discussed being taught evolution in school with my parents, the response was not to think too much of it as we’re Muslim and Islam teaches us a different way. So why charge against something that teaches us to accept others?”

Nidal Butt, 28, Dispensing Optician
“At school, I would always receive comments from people who would assume I was gay because I wouldn’t take part in things like playing football at lunchtime, but for me there wasn’t any sudden realisation about who I was. I always knew I was gay. At school the teachers never mentioned anything to do with the LGBTQ community, there were no awareness weeks like there are now.

Language is so important and the way you speak about things gives away what you think, so when I see these parents protesting about their children being ‘exposed’ to gay life it makes it seem as if we're a society of toxins, and if children know about us they’ll catch this disease. But it’s not something they need to be exposed to, it’s information that’s already around them.

From what I know, the No Outsider programme wasn’t just about teaching children about gay people, but teaching them about tolerance in general. This means tolerance for different religions and viewpoints so it’s disappointing to see the people protesting outside Parkfield Community School completely miss that point. If you’re happy for your child to learn about different religions when they’re five years old, but then they see their parents protest them learning about LGBTQ lives, they’re automatically going to presume there’s something inherently wrong with it.

I feel like Muslims know what it’s like to be discriminated against and have all those bigoted beliefs directed at them, especially in this current climate. To begin protesting the teaching of the No Outsiders programme negatively affects all Muslims because, of course, the media are going to think ‘Yes! This is the angle we want -- Muslims are intolerant’. It’s sad that a small Muslim community in Birmingham haven’t really thought about the consequences of their actions on other Muslims who have absolutely no issue with children learning about LGBTQ lives.”

Some names in this piece have been changed.