Recently, I was asked by someone when I knew I was gay. I very quickly and honestly told them after I slept with a guy. That may seem weird but at the time I was telling the truth. Since then I have gone back to that question several times, thinking about my childhood.
Growing up I was taught that homosexuality was bad. Not by my family, but by society. I took an extreme stance on homosexuality and internalized it in a very detrimental way. To keep people from knowing about my "secret", I became a gang member. I was known for being ruthless to others.
When I was probably 17, one of the biggest ways that I dealt with being gay was to do drugs. This was in the mid to late 90s when homophobia and gay-bashing were rife and considered okay.
Looking back, I did drugs because I hated myself for being gay. When high, I was willing to flirt with gay men. But I would never do anything with them because that would have meant beyond a shadow of doubt that I was gay.
My drug use had increased to a point of no return. I isolated myself from anyone who was not using or buying drugs from me. I was also robbing gay men because I believed that they would not put up a struggle and that even if they did, it would not have made a difference.
Around this time, I connected with a guy pretending to buy drugs but with the intention to rob him. He did not have drugs but the next thing I knew we were together. This person was my first sexual partner and also the first person I truly loved.
Early 2009, I was arrested and sent to serve time with the State of Georgia. It was during this time that I formally became a Muslim. When I took my "Shahadah" -- formal affirmation of faith -- I began internalizing homophobia again. This time, however, it was due to the fear of God.
I remember asking the prison Imam about homosexuality, who told me that the only difference of opinion in traditional Sunni law was the manner in which the homosexual was to be executed.
He had me read about the story of Lot in both the Qur'an and the Bible. After that, he looked me straight in the eye and asked if I were a homosexual. I very quickly and adamantly said "no." I think that is when I really started hating myself though I did not show it.
By the time I was released I had become a very self-righteous person. I thought I was going to go to Hell and that my fate was sealed. I would study Islam with extreme, sometimes fanatical passion to figure out if I could somehow "make a deal" to not be gay and avoid Hell.
I convinced myself that even though I was gay, if I did not act on these feelings, I would be okay. Some days were not easy and I remember contemplating suicide many times. I realized if something did not change I was going to end up killing myself.
During Pride in Atlanta, I was told about an organization called Muslims for Progressive Values that was inclusive of people of all faiths. This was the moment that changed my life forever.
After I found MPV on Facebook, I was introduced to Imam Daayiee Abdullah. I learned that Daayiee was not only gay but was trained to be an Islamic scholar and Imam. He helped me see other views in Islam that I was not even aware existed. I would say that Daayiee probably saved my life and for that I am forever grateful.
I started meeting other gay Muslims and learned that I was truly not alone in this world. The Muslims I met were good people and good Muslims.
El-Farouk and I would have long in-depth email conversations about Islam and homosexuality. His one question, "If homosexuality is supposed to be this huge sin and punishable instantly by death then why would God have created us?" turned my Islam upside down. I realized that God does not make mistakes so being gay could not be a mistake.
I met Junaid through a mutual friend on Facebook and instantly liked and respected him. Reading his published articles and our personal talks cemented the fact that not only I could be both Muslim and gay but I could be proud of both.
I have recently moved to the Midwest where the most common question I get is, "You're gay? But how can you be Muslim?" It just does not make sense to think that. It would be like me telling someone you can't be Christian because you are not white.
I do enjoy being able to talk to people about the fact that I am gay and Muslim but more importantly that I am just a person. I want the same things in life as anyone else.
I am blatantly discriminated against by the Muslim Student Association at school for being gay. I do not actively tell Muslims that I am gay when I meet them, but when I befriend them on Facebook, sometimes, I get a hate-filled message, which is not okay.
What people do not realize is that every time I get a hate-filled message it brings back my feelings of self-hate and plunges me into a depression. However, I am happy that now depression usually does not last long because I have friends I can talk to and they understand.
I might not love myself everyday but today I can honestly say I do not hate myself anymore. And for that I thank God and my role-models -- Daayiee, El-Farouk, and Junaid.
I have not written this to get pity or praise. I have simply written this to get my thoughts and feelings out there. And maybe someone who is gay and Muslim will read this and see that it is okay.
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.