* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Queer people of colour can struggle to find a sense of belonging when they also face other discrimination within the LGBTQ+ community.
Tufayel Ahmed is the author of “This Way Out” (Lake Union, 2022)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in the UK and while the occasion signifies a demonstrable upward swing in the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality across Britain, I’m still sobered by the fact that for many people whose identities intersect multiple minority groups there is still a long way to go.
My identity straddles multiple intersections: I’m gay, I’m an ethnic minority and I’m Muslim.
I grew up in the 1990s in a migrant household in London. My family had a strong sense of cultural and religious values. My parents, first-generation Bangladeshi migrants, raised me and my siblings with the norms that had been ingrained in them growing up in Bangladesh.
A strong sense of family and community, dressing modestly and not mixing with the opposite sex; Western ideals were frowned upon — listening to music or going to the cinema, for example. We were taught to pray five times a day and fast for Ramadan; we never questioned the extent of our faith.
It was a binary world – but I never quite fit in.
I always knew I was gay growing up, but I kept it hidden deep inside and spent much of my formative years retreating into myself.
I feared what would happen if I was found out — would my family’s love prove conditional? And growing up believing homosexuality was a sin, how could I possibly be gay?
It felt like a cruel joke. I didn’t choose to be this way – I just am.
That is a feeling that I imagine resonates with many people from deeply religious backgrounds, Muslim or otherwise. And it’s one that makes the already arduous journey of coming out that much more difficult.
It took me a long time to accept myself — well into my late teens and into my early twenties.
Thankfully, I had friends and family members who supported me, but not everyone has that. In fact, in many Muslim countries around the world, same-sex activity is illegal and some countries even impose the death penalty. That is an extreme, of course, but even in Western society, LGBTQ+ Muslims and other minorities face societal and religious stigma.
I’ve trawled through online message boards and read messages by less fortunate people whose families have shunned them over their sexuality or even suggested conversion therapy.
I’ve learned to understand that there is an element of fear-based instinct in these reactions: How can this be compatible with Islam? Will my child go to hell? What will the community say?
That makes it ever more important for intersectional queer people to find a sense of belonging in the wider LGBTQ+ community.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. People of colour, who often have to deal with the difficult circumstances described above, also face discrimination within the LGBTQ+ community.
A little more than half of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic queer people face racism from other LGBTQ+ people, according to a study by the UK’s largest LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall.
It seems unfair that anyone should face double discrimination, but that is the harsh reality we live in.
So, while 50 years of Pride in Britain is great, when I see majority white queer folks at the London parade, I can’t help but be concerned about racism or Islamophobia.
Pride tends to feel like it’s for the cisgender, white gay man.
In the next 50 years, we need more white allies to educate themselves about what other people face and stand with us, and organisations to do the work to make the community truly inclusive for intersectional queer people.
Perhaps then I’ll feel a sense of belonging in this community.