'People say you can’t be gay and Muslim. They are incredibly ignorant,' says LGBT business leader

Suki Sandhu argues couching religion and sexuality in mutually exclusive terms pushes people further into the closet 

Maya Oppenheim@mayaoppenheim
Thursday 03 August 2017 22:48
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Suki Sandhu and his partner
Suki Sandhu and his partner

Since it was claimed the first same-sex Muslim marriage had taken place in Britain last week, the question of gay marriages within the community has dominated headlines.

Asifa Lahore, the country’s first Muslim drag performer, openly rebuffed the assertion, saying the UK’s gay Muslim community is “thriving” with “countless” same-sex marriages having taken place in recent years.

Suki Sandhu, who married his male partner, echoed the sentiments expressed by Lahore. The 36-year-old LGBT business leader, who is sikh, said he knew a number of people within both the Muslim and wider south Asian community who had either been married or were on the brink of tying the knot.

“I agree with Asifa and she definitely knows what she is talking about because I would say she is quite connected to that community,” he told The Independent.

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But Mr Sandhu insisted it was important not to overlook the deeply-entrenched prejudices faced by LGBT Muslims.

He condemned those who argued that it was not possible to reconcile the Muslim faith with being LGBT. Last week, LBC presenter, Maajid Nawaz, was left shocked after a caller told him one could not be both gay and a Muslim while discussing the case of the UK’s so-called first same-sex marriage involving a Muslim partner.

Korum, a practising Muslim who insisted he was pro gay rights, said: “If you’re gay, you can’t call yourself Muslim! … “It’s like saying I’m a vegetarian but then say I’m going to eat piri-piri chicken.”

Mr Sandhu, who had a civil partnership with his partner in 2010 and married him in 2016, condemned the deeply “ignorant” suggestion that being Muslim and gay was mutually exclusive.

“It’s incredibly ignorant. As a Muslim man you are always trying to reconcile your faith with your sexuality so having people reinforce this prejudice is pushing people further into the closet and not allowing people to be authentic or themselves,” he said.

“It’s hateful. It’s not framing the conversation in the right way. I don’t know why anyone can’t be religious and be true to their sexuality. They’re not mutually exclusive."

Mr Sandhu, who is the founder of the OUTstanding, which champion's the world’s most prominent LGBT leaders, came out to his mother almost a decade ago.

“It was petrifying because this was like eight or nine years ago,” he recalled. “I don’t think she quite got what I was trying to say her because her only real reference point of gay people would have been characters on Eastenders.”

“Her first reaction was well you could still get married. I was like ‘I can but it’s not going to be to a woman’.

“It did make me think there must be other people she knows that are in sham marriages. My extended family is about 50 and even now nine years later I’m still the only one who is openly gay. It shows you there is a lot to be done.”

In the wake of discussion surrounding same-sex marriages in the Asian community, police have warned that hundreds of gay and lesbian Britons of Asian descent are being pressured into arranged marriages. West Midlands Police said it dealt with at least 30 LGBT people last year who were forced to enter into a heterosexual marriage.

After suggesting he could marry a woman, his mother suggested he see a doctor to “cure” him of his sexuality instead.

“She called me and said I’m sure you can see a doctor, I’m sure can can get some tablets, I’m sure you will be cured, she didn’t understand it,” he said. “It took four or five years to come to terms with it before she met my husband. She didn’t even want to see a photo of us.”

Mr Sandhu said that while his mother was “tearful” and “distraught” by his sexuality, she managed to come to terms with it once she met his German partner.

“They were at our wedding party, they gave a speech at the wedding. They call my husband son they love him like a member of the family,” he said.

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