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I’m a Muslim, I’m an activist, and I don’t ‘hate’ gay people

Deonna Kelli Sayed

We’ve seen a lot of talk this week about the divide between the Muslim and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in America. But they’re about as alike as they are different.

I should know. I am a Muslim, and I am an activist who works to create space for Muslim stories. Yet, I understand that as I ask people to honor my humanity as a Muslim, I must set an example by honoring the humanity of others. That includes the gay community.

Many in the Muslim community struggle with the idea of same-sex companionships. To be honest, some Muslims struggle when talking about anything sexual at all. Yet, it is also true that compassion, love and mercy are requirements of my faith.

More: Islam didn’t kill the Orlando victims — the shooter did

Recently, I was hosting a panel discussion celebrating several LGBT stories in my city based on a podcast series I produce for a local independent newspaper.

Sarah, a teacher at a prestigious private school, approached me at the panel to tell me how she had mentored one of her fifth grade students, a Muslim boy whose mother had told him not to reveal his faith. She shared that the student was living in fear. Sarah consoled the student and his mother. Her efforts ended up empowering the family.

After I thanked her for supporting my community, Sarah then thanked me for supporting hers, revealing that she was a lesbian who is married to her partner. She took my hand and said, “Muslims share so many of the same fears as our community.”

She got it.

Neither of us could have imagined that less than 48 hours later, an Afghan-American Muslim would take an assault weapon and mow down members of the Orlando LGBT community during Latin Night at the Pulse nightclub.

More: After Orlando, I’m more afraid than ever to be queer in public

As a Muslim, I understand the constant striving to speak for myself, to be louder than the stereotypes. Still, many Muslims have to gauge just how Muslim we can be in any given circumstance. We never really know how someone may react to our “Muslimness.”

My 14-year-old son was once sent to talk to the school principal over a book report on ISIS. The book was hardly suspicious; it was a collection of perspectives from Washington Post journalists.

Meanwhile, I’ve come to a point where I no longer cover my head. If you see me, I’m just a white woman. My driver’s license features a picture of me in hijab. I once had to show my license to a tow truck operator. He was flirting with me until he realized that I was Muslim. Then, his attitude completely changed.

Many members of the LGBT community experience the same social and cultural dynamics. I have an HIV-positive friend who points out that he has to negotiate how gay he is in new situations, how safe it is for him to reveal his HIV status when he meets new people.

He said that coming out doesn’t happen once, but it is a process that happens every day. As I discovered this theme, I nodded my head in agreement.

As a Muslim, I get it.

On Sunday, merely hours after the Orlando shooting, I sat on a different panel with fellow Muslims discussing Islam in America. The moderator pointed out we couldn’t tell the audience why Orlando happened.

We didn’t have those kinds of answers.

What we did do — every single Muslim on that panel — was fully come out as supporters of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

One can point fingers at faith or extremist movements. One can argue over language: is it a hate crime or terrorism? That isn’t going to get us anywhere. Orlando demonstrates what we’ve allowed America to become: a place where hate is legislated, and sometimes, armed and dangerous.

More: My gay teen’s coming out struggle just got 10 times harder

But Orlando also offers something magical. It gives Muslims — and America — a chance to discover the true colors of our souls.

This moment, this pain, is our moment to reach for beauty.

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