Recently, San Francisco public officials and queer community leaders expressed concerns that the anti-gay bus ads backed by political activist Pamela Geller would denigrate the city's Muslim community. Indeed, by emphasizing the outrageous comments of controversial Muslim leaders, these ads incite fear and demonize an entire minority.
Instead of stereotyping and generalizing, can the likes of Pamela Geller recognize the immense work being done by both straight and queer Muslims? Instead of creating divisiveness, can they work with Muslims towards affecting positive change?
The ads include the controversial opinions of President Ahmedinejad -- "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals" and of the influential Sheik Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood -- "the punishment for homosexuality is death."
However, such selective references provide a misguided view of the current Muslim position on queer rights issues. By putting the spotlight on President Ahmedinejad, Geller's ad ignores the work of queer Iranian activists like Arsham Parsi and developments like the Iranian Gay Pride that took place in Turkey in 2011.
Geller's ad also does not account for the academic work by Iranian Professor Arash Naraghi, who has argued that it is possible to be a devoted Muslim and believe that homosexuality is morally permissible.
It does not seem reasonable to quote Sheik Qaradawi without mentioning that over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries not only called for an international treaty to counter such clerics, but also called for a tribunal set by the United Nations Security Council to put them on trial for inciting violence.
It is also noteworthy that Muslim Professor Scott Kugle argues in an academic article that Sheik Qaradawi churns out his homophobia as part of "an agenda to reinforce perceived threats to Muslim masculinity."
Cherry picking quotes from homophobic Muslim leaders and projecting on the entire Muslim community is akin to stereotyping the entire Christian community by referencing equally influential evangelical leaders who believe gays should be put to death and the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose links with American fundamentalist Christian groups has led to the immense persecution of the Ugandan queer community.
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From Scott G. Brown aka Gene Brown, a member and participant of the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid and riots: "My ailing health has prevented me from making this 1,200 mile trip by Bus for next week's Pride Parade, but I can, truthfully, say that I was there in June 2011."
From Ashley Bartolome: "I took these photos at the Pride Parade in Washington, DC on June 9, 2012." What I love about pride is not only seeing but feeling the acceptance of everyone there. Gays, lesbians, heterosexuals and families attend every year supporting with cheers and smiles. I make it a point to attend pride every year not just for myself, but to give a voice and be a face for all LGBT people who can't speak up due to their closets or fears. I want to show them that it's ok to be who they are and there are countless Americans who accept them. I also like to be there out of respect for the LGBT who have been killed by others - or by their own hands - because of their sexuality.
From Welton Trindade, journalist and a gay activist: "I took part of Sao Paulo LGBT Parade. The march was realized on Sunday, June 10. That was the 16th edition of the event. Well, I wanted to show my body but a parade, in my opinion, is not just fun! So I've decided to show my muscles and, in the same time, to send a good message. The solution: to write 'Poder gay' (or 'Gay power') on my chest! It was a great experience!"
Vorstand, the organization team from the Zurich Pride Festival is meeting Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, from left: Chriss, Patrik, Nathalie, Simonetta Sommaruga and David.
From Eva Adams: "Hundreds of thousands came out to celebrate gay rights in Berlin this year and I had the privilege of riding on a hetero-leaning wagon in support...It was extra special to land at the Reichstag with tens of thousands behind us celebrating love and tolerance. I'm not able to pick a best photo but needed to share. Thanks for your project!"
From Marilena: "I was at this year's national italian Gay Pride in Bologna! It was my first pride and it was amazing! I felt surrounded by so much love and most of all I felt safe and proud of who I am! Baci!"
From Evert Hermans & Birger De Rese: "We've been married for 4 years now. We're proud to have in Belgium legalized same sex marriage!"
From Nate Meyer: "I am an American teaching English here in South Korea, I recently
From married couple Andi & Carissa: "Our pup Simon enjoyed his first Pride Parade in West Hollywood on June 10!"
From Abby Lavin, a volunteer with shanghaiPRIDE, who shares this image of a "Pink Picnic" (photo taken by Linda Li)
From The Israel Project
From Chris Wadsworth: "This is (left to right) myself, Gareth and Daniel at Maspalomas GayPride 2012 in Gran Canaria, Spain. The whole island (and thousands from all over Europe) turn up for the week long event every May to celebrate and meet LGBT people from all over the world!"
From Memo Macas: "It was the first time that I ever participated in the event and I really enjoyed it, next year I'll go with my boyfriend to Mexico City's Pride Parade."
From Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge: "We made history in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Saturday, June 23, with the first ever statewide Equality March. Here's a picture of both the youngest and the oldest marchers!"
From Daniel Douglass, founder/director of Flaggots: "Here's a photo of FLAGGOTS performing to Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' at Philly Pride, June 10. FLAGGOTS are a group of friends from the color guard and drum corps community that come together to celebrate Pride in a most fabulous way. Founded in 1991, they have performed in at least one pride event a year for 23 consecutive years.'
From Karen Belgrad: "At my friend's apartment, overlooking the parade route, he casually tosses out beads...and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel catches them with ease! OK, and a little lunging!)"
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant Don Mueller and LAX Airport Police Officer David Ayala celebrate pride as they prepare to march with over 60 other openly gay officers in the 2012 West Hollywood CSW Pride Parade.
From Bob Brennan: "Also there was a party at Allah Moana Beach Park. Everybody was gay that day."
From Keli Stooksberry: The picture on the right is my friend Courtney talking to protesters. The picture on the left is of my partner DeAnna and I kissing in front of the protesters. This was my second pride and the first interaction with protesters. I was not surprised but still overwhelmed by their presence in such a wonderful and uplifting celebration. My friend Courtney had one of them speechless by the end of their conversation not by throwing obscenities his way but rather using her knowledge of scripture. Again, I was not surprised that the man she spoke with had no more knowledge of the bible than the words written on his sign but it was priceless to see him have nothing left to say because Courtney was right!
From John Desselle: "It only took what, 42 years, for Baton Rouge to have a state wide Equality March. Headed up by Capital City Alliance: www.ccabatonrouge.org, we had representatives from all over the state. About 300 people showed up for the march. Most went on to our Baton Rouge Pride Festival which was at LSU Student Union this year."
From Michael Cruz: "I am the Secretary of the Queens Pride Lions Club. We are the first LGBT Lions Club in NYC. Here is a photo of us marching in the Queens Pride 2012 parade on June 3."
From Teena Lashmore: "Hi from Berlin!"
Melanie Pang (in pink) taking a photo with the men (and "noodles") of Jenni's Noodle House, a Houston favorite.
From William George: "This is me at Indianapolis Pride 2012. I consider myself a Pride aficionado. I love all the togetherness and the fun times. This year's Indianapolis Pride was the largest the city had ever hosted, with the festival expanding to twice the size it was previously. The headliners were Deborah Cox and Cazwell. While I didn't get to see him in person, I snapped this picture next to a promotional poster of him."
Jenny Lee tells us: "I am the girl wearing the rainbow sarong, under the banner that says 'Coming out, coming together.' It was taken in August 22, 2011 during a Wisconsin Pride parade. None of my friends was in the event. I had just finished my run that day when I noticed that something was going on. When I realized it was a LGBTQ Pride event, I went home home, grabbed my sarong that I got in Thailand and jumped right into the parade to show my support and that's why the picture. I had only been in Madison, WI for about 3 months. I moved to the city for grad school. What I noticed about the community is that it's liberal, tolerant and I felt belong...I'm straight and I stand for equality."
From gay superhero: "I didn't manage to be at the parade from the beginning, but that gave me the chance to find myself at the head of the march later, as they were going up Stadiou street. This is a central Athens street that saw a lot of disturbances during recent protests, including the death of three bank employees when their building caught fire. So it was nice to see a pacifist, colorful demonstration for a change."
Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck march in the 2012 West Hollywood CSW Pride Parade with over 60 openly gay peace officers from the LASD, LAPD, FBI and other police departments throughout southern California.
From Melissa: "This is me and my partner Jean. The first picture was taken at Toronto Pride in 2010 -- we are just up on Church Street. Our first pride and we are still very happily together 3 years later!"
From Bob: "Five-year-old corgi Carter (recently rescued from a shelter in Alabama) steps out Brooklyn to celebrate his first LGBT Pride in New York City."
From right to left: Stephanie (far right) with girlfriend Jackie (left of me) along with best friends Erika and Katie at Philadelphia Pride in front of the Ben Franklin Bridge at Penns Landing.
Sharon Needles performs at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration in NYC on June 20.
Happy Gay Pride 2012 from Amarillo, TX -- Route 66 Cadillac Ranch!
Happy Gay Pride 2012 from Amarillo, Texas -- Cadilliac Ranch!
From Bob Brennan: "It was a gay (happy) sunny day on O'ahu. First there was a parade from Ala Moana Beach park to Kapiolani Park where there was a celebration. Also there was a party at Allah Moana Beach Park."
From Maosung Yao: "I went to [Long Island Pride] with my partner Walter last weekend and we had a good time with our friends as well. The pride was great even thought it was small.
From Adam Barnhardt: "I'm the one with the rainbow mohawk, the one with the Pink hair and football gear is Emilio Cordova, and the one in white with the body paint is Loa Brannigan. We were featured in Metro State's student newspaper for our bizarre homemade outfits and all around theatrical method of showing pride in our true colors."
From Angela Huerta, rider: "First time [Kristin Holloway and I] participated in Dykes on Bikes!"
Sharon Needles performs at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration in NYC on June 20.
From Ashley Bartolome: "I want to show them that it's ok to be who they are and there are countless Americans who accept them. I also like to be there out of respect for the LGBT who have been killed by others -- or by their own hands -- because of their sexuality."
The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a multicultural youth agency for youth of all backgrounds with the mission to support youth and their families to live, work, and study with dignity, hope and joy. LAYC staff and youth participants walked in the parade with hand-made tie-dye t-shirts handing out candy and information about LAYC's LGBT support services. We had a fantastic time feeling the love and support of the community.
From Betty Viveros: "I got the greatest experience to participate in my first of many PRIDE festivals in Phoenix, Arizona earlier this year. I went with a group of my closest friends who are all, like myself are huge LGBQT supporters. Walking around shirtless guys and half-naked girls never looked so hot...literally. It hit 100 degrees that weekend!"
Sharon Needles fans root her on at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration on June 20.
From Mark Peters, who took this photo of Providence's "Nighttime Illuminated Pride Parade" on June 16.
Miss Trans New England
Jeff, Sal and Michael enjoy beverages in the scorching heat.
It is also noteworthy that instead of referencing Muslim leaders from the United States, Geller's ads make use of quotes from fanatical Muslim leaders who are living through upheavals in Egypt and economic difficulties in Iran.
Both American political and religious Muslim leaders have very different views on queer rights than what the Geller ads would have us believe. In 2009, the Council on American-Islamic Relations supported the hate crime bill that sought to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity.
Among Muslim political leaders, Geller may quote Ako Abdul Samad, the Iowa State representative from the 66th district:
"If standing up for equal protection under the law is a sin, then all of us in this room are sinners."
Geller can also reference the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, representative of the 5th district in Minnesota:
"I am proud to be vice-chair of the Congressional Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Caucus."
He can also be quoted saying:
"It is not your place to judge and condemn others."
"If the person you happen to love and want to be with happens to be the same-sex and gender as you then I say God Bless you and try to be as happy as you can in this very difficult world."
Likewise, Geller can reference the second Muslim Congressman Andre Carson, representative of the 7th district in Indiana:
"As a proud member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, I am committed to the Caucus' mission to "achieve the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well-being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression."
Among Muslim religious leaders, Geller can quote Imam Johari Malik, director of Outreach at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Centre in Northern Virginia:
"If someone says, 'gay sex is nasty', just ask them, 'how do you know?' ...It's time to get past our homophobia to help human beings".
Likewise, Geller can also reference Imam Suhaib Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest mosque in the New England area:
"If someone who's a homosexual comes to the mosque, wants to pray, wants to worship, be part of the community, I have no issue with that."
"Ultimately, people who have whatever inclinations in their life, no one has a right to bar them from their experience with God."
It would be academic dishonesty and intellectual sloth to quote classical Muslim texts to represent the current conservative Muslim opinion. Just as the Jewish halacha changes with new knowledge and moral sensibilities so does the Muslim Sharia.
Even conservative leaders like Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Orange County in California, one of the largest mosques in the U.S., who had earlier proscribed queer people and stated that "no one is born a homosexual," have slightly shifted their view point on the issue.
In a recent interview he mentioned, "many Muslim jurists today are inclined to accept on the basis of modern research that it is quite possible that people may be born with this [orientation]" and that "we all have to learn and understand things more, so we do change our minds on the basis of understanding the human situation."
Indeed, by accepting same-sex orientation but prescribing permanent celibacy for queer people, the conservative Muslim opinion is somewhat similar to the Vatican 'hate the sin love the sinner' position.
However, Islam is not a monolith. While, acknowledging the classical Islamic position, Professor of Islamic Law, Dr. Mohammad Fadel mentioned in the context of the 2012 U.S. Elections,
"I think one can certainly take the view, and I know a lot of Muslims might find this to be controversial, that we can support the idea of same-sex marriage because what we want is to make sure that all citizens have access to the same kinds of public benefits that other people do."
However, the strongest support for queer Muslims in the U.S. comes from the community Muslims for Progressive Values, which has chapters and gender and queer inclusive mosques in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Salt Lake City and Columbus, Ohio.
Their Board of Directors includes queer Imam Daayiee Abdullah, who leads the Mosque for Enlightenment and Reform and who has most recently helped launch The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD).
Where the Geller ads fail to recognize this diversity of positions amongst Muslims in the U.S., some commenters on the news articles on the Geller ads, exhibit a lack of nuance in their understanding of the queer Muslim situation.
Instead of obtaining information from queer Muslim groups both in the U.S. and abroad, commenters on the Geller ads news articles expressed alarm on the "emergency" situation for queer people in places like Saudi Arabia, mentioned the recent stoning of a Somali gay man and referenced the Prophet's saying that prescribes the death penalty for 'homosexuals'.
However, unlike the emergency situation in Uganda, Nadya Labi depicted in her article 'The Kingdom in the closet' how gay life flourishes in a place with religious and cultural taboos. Likewise, it is noteworthy that Muhammad Aslam Khaki, a lawyer who specializes in Islamic law, assisted the Pakistani transgender and inter-sexed community - the Hijras, at the Supreme Court, which eventually recognized their equal rights as citizens of Pakistan.
Referring to the execution of the Somali gay man, queer Muslim activist Afdhere Jama has stated that queer Somalis 'have all agreed this story is fake'. Likewise, even conservative Muslim religious leaders like Imam Muzammil Siddiqi have expressed that the Prophet's saying that prescribes the death penalty for 'homosexuals' is inauthentic.
Instead of being a Debbie Downer, and instead of showing half-baked concerns for the queer Muslim community, Geller and the commenters can show genuine concern by talking to queer Muslims, who despite facing both Islamophobia and homophobia, continue their work with dignity.
Indeed, Geller and the commenters will find that tactics that include cultural imperialism, which include the June 2012 Pride celebration held by the American Embassy in Pakistan only imperil the queer Muslim community living in places whose laws were shaped by the Victorian morality of their colonial masters.
Geller and the commenters will also learn about the manipulation through 'pinkwashing' if they listen to queer Palestinian activists like Haneen Maikey, who has expressed anger overthe Israeli occupation:
"Stop speaking in my name and using me for a cause you never supported in the first place ... stop bombing my friends, end your occupation, and leave me to rebuild my community."
Geller and the commenters can also help queer Muslims causes by supporting the Iranian railroad for queer refugees, U.A.E. based queer Muslims with their concerns on the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, or the closer to home 2013 Philadelphia LGBTQ Muslim retreat.
In short, instead of creating fear mongering and divisiveness, will Geller and the commenters overcome their limitations to work with Muslims, both straight and queer, towards affecting positive change?