A group of LGBTQI Muslims walked in this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to bring awareness to homophobia within their community.
The float, which was funded by grants from the Mardi Gras and Lesbians Incorporated, involved 25 people holding a banner which said “Muslims Against Homophobia.”
The organisation behind the float is Muslims Against Homophobia Australia and was founded in 2011 as a safe space for LGBTQI Muslims.
Alice Aslan, the founder of the organisation, said that the majority of the response to MAHA’s attendance at the Mardi Gras was positive.
“We have received messages through our Facebook page and people are really happy to see us and a lot of people cheered us at the parade and I think the gay community as well has been very supportive,” she told the Huffington Post Australia.
Despite this influx of support, she said there are many other members of the group who do not walk in the parade at all because they have not told their families about their sexual identities and fear back lash from the Muslim community.
“A large part of the group would love to, but they can’t because of the stigma, because their parents don’t know, because they don’t want to embarrass their families and because there is a homophobic environment within the Muslim community,” she said.
Aslan said this reluctance is part of the reason why the organisation connects with people through a secret Facebook page where only queer Muslims can become members.
She said that Muslims in general believe that homosexuality is forbidden in Islam and so coming out is even more difficult.
“The majority of Muslims seem to think like this. They think homosexuality is a kind of mental illness,” said Aslan.
She said that a common thought within her community is that homosexuality is a mental illness which can be cured.
“Eventually in the long term I think this has a negative impact on their [LGBTQI Muslims'] mental health,” she said.
It is perceptions like this that MAHA is aiming to change -- something Aslan says can only be achieved by starting a dialogue between the LGBTI community and the Muslim community.
“They should at least start talking about same-sex relationships and at the very least we should start having this conversation and out of this conversation I’m sure there will be some progress,” said Aslan.
Walking in the Mardi Gras has been a major tactic for MAHA, their sequinned burqa in 2011 bringing some attention to the group.
“We are trying to be visible so that we can challenge homophobia in the Muslim community and we also would like to promote acceptance,” she said.
She says it is “not [about] blaming the Muslim community for homophobia but just trying to understand why there is homophobia within the Muslim community. Just trying to understand it critically will help us to have this conversation."
“Critical attention is much better and it will provide some progress eventually,” she added.
Aslan urges young LGBTQI Muslims to connect with other people from MAHA and other similar organisations.
“Without these organisations I think people don’t know what to do and they end up not getting the support they need.”
She hopes that eventually a single, official organisation that has the support of the government will be created which will support people and connect them to others.
“This way they feel that being gay or being lesbian is alright, it’s okay and there are other people like them,” said Aslan.
Aslan says that although it is a slow process, just starting the conversation within the Muslim community in Australia is a step in the right direction.