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Muslim and Queer: Mourning after Orlando

As a Queer person, the shooting on Sunday reminded me how ugly bigotry is. As a Muslim woman the media frenzy surrounding the shooting on Sunday reminds me of how ugly discrimination is.

By Suhad Babaa

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

I am Queer and Muslim, raised in a Muslim and Christian household. I was taught to love and be gracious, to be humble and to embrace ideas, cultures and experiences that were not my own. I have also been taught to listen and learn. I have tried to live those values every day.

I don’t usually weigh in when there has been tragic loss of life in the communities that I am a part of. This mourning is something that is deeply personal for me. But over the last few days the media circus that I have grown to disdain, and the problematic rhetoric that comes with it, has seeped into spheres of my friends — many of whom I love and respect — and I cannot help but say something.

On Sunday morning I woke up to news of the shooting in Orlando like many of you. I was immediately in pain. Forty-nine lives lost. Not a single life should ever be taken this way, and there is nothing that can be said to try to make sense of this. I mourned, quietly, as I do too often these days for each life taken by violence. I mourned for all the families who have lost loved ones, for all of the people who I know now live in that much more fear, and for all of the lives that have been taken in the most unthinkable manifestations of discrimination before this.

Then I continued to read and I saw the name Omar. I knew what the rest of the day would look like — a tragedy that was born out of bigotry that would only be used to fuel more of the same. I knew almost immediately that over the next few days, whether casually at a bar, or while eating a meal at a public place, or in meetings with folks, the conversation would no longer be about how to ensure queer communities are safe, or how to move forward gun reform, but rather about Muslims, and more specifically, the conflation of Muslims and terrorism. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach because I don’t know a good way of mourning a heartbreaking tragedy while also having to defend who I am, which continues to be circumspect in this country.

As a Queer person, the shooting on Sunday reminded me how ugly bigotry is. How this country has yet to undo decades, centuries of discrimination and violence toward LGBTQ communities. I am reminded that we have more work to do — for those who came before us in the fight for our rights and dignity, for those who have lost their lives for simply celebrating who they are. And, we still have more work to do for those who have yet to be acknowledged within our community, for queer communities of color, transgender communities, gender queer communities and those without financial resources who are often invisible, at best, in our struggle. We have won significant milestones but we have so much more work to do and we have to do that work together.

As a Muslim woman the media frenzy surrounding the shooting on Sunday reminds me, again, of how ugly discrimination is. I know what it looks like when friends and family members are visited by FBI agents in the wake of tragedies for no reason other then our names sounding Muslim. To have middle names like Marwan and Mustafa and Hassan intentionally stripped in official documents, otherwise triggering strip searches at airports, in interrogation rooms and the like. To slowly feel like we have to push our Muslim identities back into the closet, a place familiar to me in more ways than one. To see the eyes wide of people around me as they try to figure out how to compute me, Muslim and Queer.

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess ScheflanActivestills.org)

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess ScheflanActivestills.org)

So when my Facebook feed is filled with problematic statements like “Sunday’s tragic deaths were the result of a jihadist terror attack and we must eliminate them,” and when friends weigh-in to express their heartfelt concern for the queer community coupled with a statement about needing to deal with the Muslim terrorists, and when our political leaders from both parties use this tragic massacre to beat their chest and drum up points in their campaign — it is enough. It is just enough and I have to say something.

If you want to stand with community, go to a vigil. Mourn with your friends and loved ones. Go to Pride. If you want to feel like you’re making a political difference, call your congressional leader about advancing with gun reform. Support young queer folks in communities that are so often forgotten in the U.S. If you are wondering how our country got this way in the first place, begin asking what our long history of discrimination looks like. Ask yourself what it would look like for everyone’s human security and dignity to be held sacred during tragedies like these. But if you can’t do those things, please stop saying things that are harmful — because unlike some folks, I do strongly believe that the words we use matter.

Suhad Babaa is the Executive Director at Just Vision, an organization dedicated to increasing media coverage and support for Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders working to end the occupation and build a future of freedom, dignity and equality for all. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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