As I opened Twitter yesterday, a tweet popped up by BBC Women’s Hour that read “Do you think LGBT rights should be taught at schools?” I sighed.
As a bisexual Muslim woman, I’m exhausted by the debates across various media platforms that casually question our right to exist. Have they stopped to think about the young people in school who already know they may be LGBT+?
Every time it’s debated whether it’s “appropriate” for LGBT+ people to be visible in the public sphere, a young LGBT+ person questions the right to exist in their own skin. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, without having the heart-wrenching knowledge that some adults – maybe even their own parents – believe gay people do not have the right to live openly.
Children are completely reliant on their parents – they teach us the ways of the world, what is right and what is wrong. Can you imagine the confusion, the inner turmoil a young LGBT+ person feels watching their parents essentially protest against them? The road to self-loathing is found atop of a slippery slope, and it begins there.
My first girlfriend was a British Muslim like me, but with a strict family from Bahrain. She knew she liked women but admitted that our relationship would never go anywhere. She believed the fact that we were attracted to one another was just a test from God – and we were failing that test miserably. We broke up eventually, because she was too worried our love would drag us to hell one day. I didn’t blame her. That was what she had been told from a young age.
Zahir* was my best friend. We’d spend our summers sneaking into gay clubs like thieves in the night. I’d never seen Zahir as happy as I did when he was free to be himself. He was never willing to come out – it would have broken his Bengali mother’s heart, he said. Zahir had been taught that being straight was the only moral option a human could take. Though I knew he was far from coming out, the day he started dating women was a real shock. For him, pleasing his community was worth living the rest of his life internally unhappy. His parents are pressuring him to get married by next year.
As an LGBT+ Muslim, you can feel like you’re safe nowhere. Within your own religious community people deny your right to exist, while the mainstream media debates whether you have the right to be seen. Opening a newspaper and potentially seeing something Islamophobic only makes things worse. The ostracisation that Muslims experience is extremely mentally damaging.
Seeing parents protest in Birmingham against the “No Outsiders” project with signs that said “my children, my choice” was concerning because what these parents are failing to grasp is that their child will one day be an adult, free to make their own choices. Just because you try and hide the existence of LGBT+ people from your child now, it does not mean your child will not grow up to be gay – they just won’t trust you enough to show you who they truly are.
*names and details changed to protect identities
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