Growing Up Gay & Muslim

When Shadi was growing up in Qatar, he knew he felt different to the people around him.

“I thought I was the only gay in the world,” Shadi told Radio National’s Earshotprogram for their Homotopia series.

“Sexuality in the Middle East – especially in Qatar and the countries around it – is not something that people talk about. Socially, it’s a massive no-no, it’s not acceptable in any way, in any frame,” Shadi says.

Qatar is a Muslim-majority country. Muslims in Qatar who have extra-marital sex can be put to death, regardless of their sexual orientation.

When he was a teenager, Shadi and his friends did what most teens do: they started talking about sex.

“Some of them started talking about gay sex in a very negative way, like they can’t even understand how people like it this way. In a way, that kind of gave me an inclination that there are other people who like this, or might be just like me.

“That kind of gave me hope.”

A few years later, Shadi experienced something that would profoundly change him: he spoke to another person who identified as gay on an online chatroom.

“That’s the first connection to the gay world that I had.”

“I can almost imagine Neil Armstrong’s moon landing in a way, it’s like, oh my God, I discovered something new, there are other people like me.

That first glimpse of an LGBT-friendly world would eventually set Shadi on his path: coming out, meeting his first boyfriend, and then moving to Australia. He’s now been here for seven years.

A big part of Shadi forging his identity as a gay Muslim in Australia has been the Queer Muslims in Australia online community – a Yahoo Group set up by queer Muslim woman Alyena. The group bills itself as a safe online space for queer Muslims to connect and talk about the unique challenges they face.

“I’m not amazing. but I am someone who’s got passion, and maybe that’s all this group really needs,” Alyena says.

“Like any group you’ll find people who are coming to find someone ‘just like me’. Others who’ll say, ‘I want a Muslim boyfriend or girlfriend’, people who believe faith is important for the relationship. I’m very clear that if you have accepted the faith and you happen to be queer as well, then yes this is the place for you.”

Shadi, who joined the Queer Muslims in Australia group, says it helped him find a community that reaffirmed his identity.

“Islam doesn’t really say that being homosexual is bad, I’m still trying to find one verse in the Koran that says you need to kill homosexuals or you need to punish them or anything. There is none. The group, first of all, helped me realize that I’m not the only gay Muslim in Australia, so that is great, and gave me a way to give back to the community.”

Gay rights around the world

In 2017, the LGBT community still faces intense discrimination and abuse around the world: in Chechnya, for example, a gay “purge” has seen at least 100 men abducted and beaten – some killed – according to human rights groups.

“The victims in particular spoke about being beaten, mostly from the waist down, tortured with electric shocks where torturers attached electric wires to their fingers, toes or earlobes,” Human Rights Watch’s Russia Program Director Tanya Lokshina told HackWe covered this story, and the protest movement in Australia, in May this year.

Closer to home, in May two gay men were lashed 83 times each with the cane in the only Indonesian province where homosexuality is illegal. Vigilantes had found the men having sex in a private apartment earlier in the year, and reported them to authorities.

A window to the LGBT community in Jordan

Where you live in the world can make a massive difference on your ability to come out and be accepted for who you are, Khaled Abdel-Hadi told Hack.

My Kali magazine – May/June 2016 issue

Ten years ago Khaled founded My Kali, an LGBT magazine in Jordan. In terms of gay rights, Jordan isn’t as accepting as Australia, but it’s generally more progressive than other Muslim-majority nations.

“Privilege does play a huge role in being accepted or not,” Khaled told Hack.

For eight years, Khaled Abdel-Hadi published My Kali in English only – a conscious decision to reach a “niche” rather than the Arabic-speaking “masses” in Jordan.

“But then when we became known as a Jordanian and Arab LGBT magazine, it was sort of hypocritical not to include the Arabic language,” Khaled says.

“We went full on with an Arabic issue in mid-2016, and we faced a huge backlash – especially from the sensational media, which caused a lot of incitement toward to Government to do something towards us or the publication.

“The articles were very hardcore, I’d say.

“We published an interview with an ex-Imam who came out on Youtube. He worked at the ministry of religion at the time. They found out about him being gay and they fired him. The family found out about it and they wanted to kill him.”

But the Imam read My Kali, and said it had inspired him to speak out. So he gave Khaled an exclusive interview.

“That has pushed him to leave the country and apply for asylum. This interview was not easy to publish,” Khaled says.

“Many people think it’s something they have to choose, I either have to be gay, or not Muslim or not religious, or I have to be religious and not gay.

“People don’t bridge these two concepts together. I found that sort of inner peace when I was reflecting…I think this was something I was born into, it’s not something that I chose.

“It’s something you have to go through as a person in the Arab and in the Middle East.”

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