What It’s Like to Be Queer and Muslim in Canada

It's been a week since the attack at Pulse nightclub. A week where my mom asked me not to go to Pride events in Toronto this year.
June 20, 2016, 6:00pm

Portrait from the series Just Me and Allah by Samra Habib

It's been a week since 49 people were gunned down at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. A week where my mom asked me not to go to pride events in Toronto this year.

"I am afraid for you, for everyone," she said. My mom thinks this is the first time that LGBTQ people have experienced violence in North America.

There is a long history of violence against LGBTQ people in North America and around the world; it did not start or end with NYC's Stonewall Inn.


From Cairo to California, from Tunisia to Toronto, from Johannesburg to Jerusalem, LGBTQ people have paid dearly for who and how we love.

And this week I've felt it rawly as a queer Muslim.

At one point or another, most queer Muslims have either been a closeted Muslim or a closeted queer.

My last name, Mohyeddin, means revivifier [revitalizer] of religion. Whether or not I am a practicing Muslim is a moot point with a last name like that. My passport says "born in Iran," and every time I want to cross the border, I am made deftly aware of all the identities imposed on me by name and geographical circumstance.

And as for the closeted queer part, I never had a "Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you" moment. It just felt absurd to me to do so. I never treated my sexuality as breaking news or as a disappointment. I was indignant about the fact that it was seen as something that I had to break to them.

Instead, I treated my parents like two intelligent individuals who hopefully would notice that their daughter never brought a boy home for them to meet after the age of 14.

As a result, there was no coming out of the closet for me; I never put myself in one. For many years, my parents and I became the perfect blueprint for "don't ask, don't tell."

Two years ago, I was asked to have my portrait taken for a series on queer Muslims. I didn't know the photographer, Samra Habib, prior to the project, and I didn't quite understand what the point of it was. All I knew was that I was going to have my portrait taken and that it would go places and that it would all be under the moniker "queer Muslims."


The point of Habib's project became clear when I began receiving messages from other queer Muslims, some as far away as Malaysia, who were afraid to be who they were and grateful that the project existed. They were grateful that Habib gave a face and a voice to them; they wanted to see themselves and did so by seeing others.

Titled Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project, the exhibit debuted for World Pride in Toronto in 2014 and instantly received a lot of media attention.

The project shows queer Muslims as a very diverse group, each practicing or not practicing their Islam(s) and each queering in their own way. The photographs are not spectacular in at all. Habib does not play with light. She does not stage or manipulate. The magic lies in the fact the pictures exist.

For too long, too many people thought you couldn't be queer and Muslim. As if intersectionality was not something available to us. As if we could not occupy many identities at one time. As if we were one dimensional.

When news of the shootings first emerged, many of us queer Muslims instantly felt the weight of divided loyalties and the pressure to defend ourselves and our communities. We knew that people in positions of power and ordinary individuals would use the deaths of the 49 LGBTQ people as a platform to spew more hate against Muslims and Islam.

And the questions continue to weigh.

When I hear some cleric in a mosque say nasty homophobic things about the queer community, am I not supposed to call him out now because it may serve as fodder for Islamophobes everywhere? Can I no longer call out the hate within my own community?


LGBTQ people spend their entire lives trying to prove that they are just like everyone else. That love is love is love is love is love. These days Muslims are having to do the same. We have to prove our humanity to the world and try and find some time in between to mourn the lives of our community members.

We have been way too forgiving and inviting. Forgiving of those in positions of power who berate and belittle us. Inviting to those who want to do away with us. Of eschewing language to offer excuse; of calling it a phobia when it is nothing but hate.

The actions of Omar Mateen reverberate far beyond the borders of Orlando. They may be the reason why a Muslim woman who wears hijab may think twice about putting it on before she goes out. It may be the reason why she doesn't go out at all.

Ramadan and pride will come together this year despite the efforts of fascists in both communities we navigate and inhabit.

For the first time this year, an entire Pride Toronto stage is devoted to Middle Eastern song and dance and to Middle Eastern queer people and artists. The stage is titled, Yalla Barra, which in Arabic means "come out."

I hope more of us will be doing that this year.

Follow Samira Mohyeddin on Twitter.