My heart was thumping with apprehension as I knocked the Canterbury House front door. What awaited me behind those closed doors? One week ago, I had reached out to the Islamic Healing Space, founded in late 2017 to create an affirmative space for the LGBTQ community. As much as I was curious to explore this new environment as part of my Public Policy research work, I was also worried since I knew no one from the community and I had never been in such a space before.
I was jolted out of my angst as the door opened, and I was welcomed by a young smiling lady. She was A.L, the volunteer who had replied to my Facebook request. Within those first few seconds, A and I connected in a way that I had not expected. As I walked inside, I noticed a group of ten people sitting around a table, chatting heartily. I signed in, grabbed the agenda and was invited by A. to have some food and to join the group.
I grabbed a pack of crayons and a kaleidoscope drawing and joined the group. The conversation was centered around whiteness, Arab/Jewish supremacist concepts, cisheterosexism, ableism, and other oppressive systems. I was cautious not to give my opinion, thinking that I could not know better than all these young people, who had their own experiences to relate. As the conversation unfolded though, my initial hesitancy began to slowly dissolve. We were talking about marginalized people across the world; about the fight for justice and the search for cross-boundary solutions that could benefit marginalized people in other parts of the world where the policy space is restrained and the healing space non-existent.
The one and a half hour I spent with the LGBTQ community gathered at the Islamic Healing Space was an eye-opener for me. It took me back to Allan Johnson’s words: “There’s nothing inherently frightening about what we don’t know. It is not what we don’t know that frightens us, it’s what we think we do know… If we take difference and diversity as reasons for fear and occasions for trouble, it’s because we’ve learned to think about them in ways that make for fear and trouble.”
I do not pretend to know others’ religion better than they do, but I know for sure that no religion of God can ever preach violence and hatred. In the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge? I am glad that we are talking about homosexual people because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.” It indeed took the Vatican a long time to shift its stand on LGBTQ community, and it may take conservative preachers of other religions born before and after Christianity an even longer time to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community.
My experience with members of the LGBTQ community has taught me to be more inclusive and to respect others for who they are as individuals. Members of the LGBTQ community are already marginalized and struggle to have their right to simply be, love, work and have access services respected, which is the reason why they march every year. The explicit homophobic and hateful demonstration that we witnessed recently is an opportunity for us to reflect again on our common values as a nation. It is absolutely fine to have differences of opinion and different beliefs. But it is not acceptable to brandish hatred in the name of religion.
Homophobia is often deeply grounded in a system of patriarchy that considers males who are part of the LGBTQ community as a threat to the male symbol of virility. As a friend of mine pointed out, “If we stop thinking about sex all the time, maybe we will see that homosexuals are no different from us.” Of course, we can all hold our own opinions on marriage equality and the rights of gays and lesbians to raise children. But as civilized people in a democratic state governed by a Constitution and not by religious laws, it is totally unacceptable to directly or indirectly threaten or harm in any manner whatsoever those who we think do not abide by our faiths or beliefs. The counter protest to the gay pride march was a long way off from being peaceful; even if there was no physical violence, there was no dearth of derogatory remarks that generated fear of harm. If that’s not hatred, I wonder what it was. But if they think they won the battle, they are wrong. Thinking of it, they have probably helped in giving more visibility to the LGBTQ community and their fight for equal rights.
I found the Islamic Healing Space empowering and visionary, and wish that we could replicate this model across religions. Let’s face it – oppressive systems exist across religions, races, ethnicities, and civilizations. From slavery, to discrimination against women as well as the LGBTQ community, it took and will always take goodwill, empathy and courage of a few to break the barriers; others have followed and still more will follow.