Too many times in our history, we have been told that some group of people is dangerous and must be controlled. Talk of a threat to society—from African-Americans, from Jews, from Catholics, from LGBT people, from immigrants—has led our nation and others down many dark and shameful paths. Anytime someone wants to tell you that a whole community (with a few exceptions, perhaps) is dangerous, you should worry much more about the rhetoric itself than the people being slandered.
So it is with Muslim Americans and our Muslim neighbors around the world. I was raised Episcopalian in Kentucky, but Muslims are my neighbors, my coworkers, my friends, and my family members. They are as diverse as any community in this country. And so I was deeply saddened and disturbed to read Shannon Gilreath’s fearmongering piece in last week’s Blade, which repeated the timeworn techniques of painting any group as a menace: Quote scripture out of context—like countless extreme Levitical laws and bloody biblical tales that most Jews and Christians today ignore (if they’ve even read them). Recast a diverse religious tradition as a threatening ideology—like those throughout American history who stoked fears of “popery.” Recite a litany of crimes committed by individual members of the group—like those who have always seized on stories of sex crimes by LGBT people. Conjure up an existential threat to society.
As Americans—and especially, I would hope, as LGBT Americans who know so well what it is to be turned into a boogeyman—we should know better. We should know better whether it is now-President Trump telling us Mexicans are rapists and murderers, or Breitbart News telling us transgender people are predators, or David Duke telling us about the Jewish threat, or a pundit in our own community telling us Muslims want to kill us. We should understand that behind these lies, there are over three million Muslim Americans getting up every day and going to work and to school and paying taxes and helping their neighbors, even though others are constantly suspicious of them. We should know that just as we know that when a terrorist bombs a clinic or shoots a doctor in the name of Jesus Christ, or when we read about a Christian parent who beat or killed their gay child because they found them ungodly, the problem is not Christians, it is prejudice and extremism.
We should understand, too, that persecuting Muslims and banning them from the country isn’t going to protect LGBT people any more than banning Evangelical Christians would. LGBT Muslims are not an exception to be “saved” by persecuting and banning their co-religionists. In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality surveyed nearly 28,000 people. Like Americans in general, about 1 percent of our respondents said they were Muslim. Just like respondents of other faiths, transgender Muslims reported being rejected by some family and friends and supported by others. Like some LGBT people raised Christian or Jewish, some LGBT Muslims have lost their faith due to rejection from their faith community, while others have found a home among members of their faith who accept them.
The LGBT movement has responded to often virulent faith-based hostility among some Christian communities by supporting dialogue within families and communities that is beginning to turn the tide even within some of America’s most conservative denominations. What we have not done is call for Christians as a whole or even a whole denomination to be treated as pariahs, surveilled, made to register with the government, or banned from the country. We should see homophobia and transphobia in any religion the same way. LGBT people have nothing to gain and much to lose by joining in the demonization of Muslims and immigrants. Muslims and immigrants who are LGBT will lose most of all.
I was proud to join millions of Americans in the Women’s March. I was proud to join so many people, of all genders but overwhelmingly women, standing up for one another: white, black, brown and Native women, immigrant and U.S.-born women, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and secular women, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. The marchers rejected, as should we all, attempts to turn communities against one another. One of the core themes of the marches was captured by the popular chant, “No hate, no fear, diversity is welcome here.” In the Trump era, that must be the LGBT community’s rallying cry.
Harper Jean Tobin is director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality.