Just weeks before the devastating attack on the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Nadir*—a Pride Foundation scholar, Iraqi refugee, and member of the Muslim LGBTQ community—reached out to me to share his story.
We scheduled time to meet the Tuesday following the massacre in Orlando, not knowing what the weekend would bring.
Feeling heavy, Nadir and I walked into his local library to talk. Coffee shop meetings—my usual go-to—don’t work when fasting for Ramadan.
And then Nadir told me his story.
“I want to find acceptance within the LGBTQ community as a Muslim Iraqi, and I want to find acceptance in the Muslim Iraqi Community as a member of the LGBTQ community. Both sides make it hard.
As humans beings—whether members of the LGBTQ community or not, whether Muslim or not—it’s important for everyone to understand the struggle all humans face. Most of the LGBTQ Muslims I know want to keep their connections with their communities, their culture, their traditions, and their religion, but many find it hard to gain acceptance.”
Until the age of nine, Nadir grew up in Baghdad in a home that he reflects upon as being happy.
In 2005, two years after the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq, Nadir’s family home was bombed, and they were forced to flee the only place he had ever known. Country to country, seeking safety and combating a growing sense of homesickness, they eventually settled in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Living in Turkey positively changed my self-perception,” Nadir reflected. “It is the place where I like to be most in the world because it is a liberal Muslim country, which means it’s easier to hold both my faith and my sexuality.”
He held this belief close to heart until the 2008 murder of Ahmet Yildiz, a Turkish journalist and LGBTQ activist.
“Maybe it’s not really safe for LGBTQ people anywhere in the world. We thought it was safe here [in the United States], but what happened in Florida proves the opposite.”
At 17, Nadir’s family left Turkey when their case for resettlement to the US was accepted.
Now living in the US, even in the circles where he thought he’d be accepted, specifically among other Iraqi refugees, Nadir feels forced to hide his identity. Today, he lives his life in secret, knowing that his parents and his close friends would likely not accept his whole self if he were to begin living openly.
When Nadir walks the hallways of the community college where he is studying political science, he sometimes feels uncomfortable among other Middle Eastern people: “In general, my school environment is really multicultural. As an LGBTQ person, I don’t have anything to worry about. As a Muslim, I don’t have anything to worry about. But with Middle Eastern people, they see a person who looks like them, but dresses differently than they do. It makes me feel unsafe, but I understand it. I grew up in it. It makes me afraid, but sometimes I intentionally walk by them to say, ‘Yes, I’m Iraqi, but people should be free to express themselves.’”
This is Nadir’s goal—both personally and professionally—to be represented as an Iraqi LGBTQ Muslim, to show his close community that he achieved success as an LGBTQ person, with the help of an LGBTQ organization. To show the LGBTQ community that there are Iraqis and Muslims who accept them for exactly who they are. Standing up and saying, yes, I can represent both communities.
Nadir’s dream is to work as an ambassador or consulate and take advantage of his two citizenships and work in diplomacy.
Understandably full of frustration and, at times, anger, Nadir needs people to know that this is really what Islam is about—working together and seeking peace. It’s about love.
“Some say there is no place for homosexuality in Islam, but really, homophobia has no place in Islam. Islam is about tolerance. It’s about loving and accepting each other. It teaches us that it is not a human’s job to judge.
Since the shooting in Orlando, people have been contacting my Imam, and are upset about what happened there. They want to know what they can do. Even my parents, who are homophobic, condemn the shooting. They know that it was no one’s place to judge in that way.
The Quran teaches Muslims to love each other, regardless of differences. That everyone is responsible for their own actions. God would never wish for one person to force their faith or values onto another person—he would never accept that worship. God wants me to find him.”
My conversation with Nadir ended with a hug and with excitement.
I left the library having heard what so many people need to hear at that moment: another reminder that the vast majority of people believe what Nadir and I believe—that all people should have the ability to live openly, genuinely, and safely in a world that celebrates them for exactly who they are.
The Pride Foundation scholarship application opens to students on October 10, 2016. Through just one application, LGBTQ and ally students are entered into consideration for more than 50 scholarships that award over $400,000 each year.
Katelen Kellogg is Pride Foundation’s Community Engagement Manager. Email Katelen.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect this individual’s identity. He is now studying at the University of Washington.