When news broke of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., which claimed 49 lives at the hand of gunman Omar Mateen, Sahar Shafqat and her partner were preparing for Iftar, the time when Muslims break their sunrise-to-sunset fast during Ramadan. The couple’s family and friends sent messages asking if plans for the Iftar celebration should be cancelled. Shafqat couldn’t imagine not getting together after such a tragic event.
“We responded by saying ‘Of course not.’ If there was ever a time where we should all be with each other, it was absolutely on that Sunday. So we all did actually meet that night,” Shafqat said.
Shaftqat serves as a committee member for the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity and helped organize a vigil for the victims because she was “extremely sad and grieved” by the tragedy.
Individuals who spoke with the Washington Blade within D.C.’s gay Muslim community are heartbroken by the shooting, but also feel driven to stand against homophobia and Islamophobia. One seemingly universal thought spoken by a few members of the community is there is no fear surrounding D.C.’s gay bars and clubs.
Yassir Islam, co-founder of local South Asian LGBT support group KhushDC, says he has been enjoying D.C.’s gay nightlife ever since moving to the area 25 years ago. He says the events in Orlando won’t change how he approaches spending time in gar bars or clubs.
“It’s not going to affect me at all. You can’t hide and you can’t stay in because these things happen. You have to just get out there and do what you need to do and enjoy your life,” Islam said.
Shafqat has also enjoyed the local nightlife in the past and plans to continue. However, Shafqat says because of her many identities, finding a safe space is always fragile.
“I am Muslim, I am queer, I’m also an immigrant, I’m also not white and a woman.There are so many spaces where I’m not affirmed and accepted so I think that I will continue to go, but will be definitely be mindful. This has basically been a reminder that there are no safe spaces especially for someone like me,” Shafqat said.
Urooj Arshad, associate director for International Youth Health and Rights, has been advocating for LGBT communities of color, especially regarding issues such as Islamophobia and violence, for 17 years. Arshad said the timing of the Orlando massacre was particularly sensitive for gay Muslims because it happened during Pride and Ramadan.
Arshad has noticed people in the LGBT muslim community checking on one another and having a heightened sense of concern for each other’s safety because of the dual issue of homophobia and Islamophobia. Arshad fears it could lead to long-term isolation of the community from other groups, yet she has also witnessed a more positive outcome from the situation.
“I’ve talked to people who are saying, ‘I wasn’t out but I want to be out now.’ It’s making people more personable. It’s totally a personal choice, and it’s not always the safest, but it seems like folks are more wanting to be out and seeking each other out in this way,” Arshad said.
Worries about the D.C. community’s reaction weigh on Shafqat’s mind.
“D.C. being such a political town, I think we’re such a political city that its even more difficult in our city to not encounter people who don’t have an opinion on what happens. Which means we are kind of even more on edge about what somebody might think about us or might falsely generalize about our community,” Shafqat said.
On a more global scale, the first European-Islamophobia Summit takes place this weekend in Sarajevo, Bosnia. European and U.S. leaders will discuss the extent of Islamophobia across different countries, policy practices to fight against Islamophobia and the signing of a joint Istanbul-Sarajevo Declaration which will affirm a commitment to combatting anti-Islam hate crimes in both cities.
Participants will include former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw; Chairman of Bosnia’s Presidency Bakir
Back at home, the need to dialogue with different communities about both homophobia and Islamophobia is important to the co-founder of KhushDC.
“We’re caught between a rock and hard place because as gay Muslims we are rejected by other muslims and then also as gay people we then face prejudice from the larger straight community as well,” Islam says.
Islam says he thinks queer muslims need to speak with mainstream Muslim organizations about accepting them. But, he also urges queer muslims to speak within the gay communities to advocate for change as well.
“We just have to be more vigilant and engage more, but also make sure our voices get heard. Because even within the gay community it’s not always that progressive. It can also be dominated by white men and so minority voices often don’t get heard within the discourses of the gay community,” Islam said. “So within the gay community we have to step up and say “You know what? We’re queer and we’re Muslim. It works for us. We found a way and we need to have a greater voice.’”