Anti-Muslim activists often attempt to foment hatred against Muslims by claiming that Islam is inherently anti-queer.
While homophobia certainly still exists in American Muslim communities, as a whole, American Muslims are slowly becoming more accepting of homosexuality.
And notably, they’re doing it at a faster rate than white evangelical Protestants.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted this year found that 52 percent of U.S. Muslims say homosexuality should be accepted by society. In contrast, only 34 percent of white evangelical Protestants believed in 2016 that homosexuality should be accepted by society.
The rate at which white evangelicals are shifting their views is slower than the rate for Muslims. White evangelicals shifted their views by 11 percentage points between 2006 and 2016. Muslims’ acceptance of homosexuality shot up by 25 percentage points between 2007 and 2017.
Urooj Arshad, a queer Muslim activist who is a member of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, told HuffPost that Muslims’ support for the LGBTQ community may hinge on a common experience that both groups share ― being victims of discrimination. Queer Americans and Muslim Americans have both been harmed in recent years by policies and rhetoric that threaten the safety and wellbeing of their communities. As a result, Arshad said, it isn’t surprising to her that Muslims are beginning to accept homosexuality.
“Since September 11, the Muslim community has been dealing with severe erosion of their civil rights which has made the community more sympathetic to violations of civil rights against other marginalized communities in the U.S.,” Arshad told HuffPost.
At the same time, white evangelical Protestants seem to be blind to the discrimination faced by both groups.
Evangelical Protestants’ Rejection Of Queer Rights
Evangelical Protestants are the largest religious group in America, making up a little more than a quarter of all Americans. And with the election of President Donald Trump, evangelical leaders have gained a significant foothold in the White House.
Evangelicals are also one of the religious groups most likely to hold negative feelings towards Muslims. Pew surveys have found that half of white evangelicals believe there is a “great deal” or “fair amount” of support for extremism among Muslims living in the U.S ― higher than any of the other religious group surveyed. They tend to believe that Islam encourages violence (63 percent) and that there is a natural conflict between Islam and democracy (72 percent).
On issues affecting queer people, white evangelicals often stand out from other American religious groups.
They are the only major religious group that favors allowing small business owners to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds (56 percent). And while 63 percent of American adults support same-sex marriage, only 34 percent of white evangelical Protestants say the same.
Surveys show that white evangelical Protestants are more likely to say that Christians face a lot of discrimination in America, than they are to say the same of Muslims. White evangelicals are the least likely religious group to say gay and lesbian Americans confront a lot of discrimination in the U.S.
While support for marriage equality is rising among younger evangelicals, the group is on the whole still very much against queer rights.
For Brian McLaren, a progressive Christian author from a conservative evangelical background, these statistics confirm that white evangelicals are distinguishing themselves as the “most change-resistant demographic in America.” He thinks this resistance to progress stems from evangelicals’ belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. He also believes it’s a result of the maneuvering of “unofficial evangelical gatekeepers” who are quick to target and cut off both organizations and individuals who depart from conservative interpretations of sexuality.
“I used to say that Evangelicals are conservative. But increasingly, I think there is a growing regressive wing of Evangelicalism that wants to return to an idealized (and fictionalized) past ... a white Christian America where patriarchy reigns and those who don’t conform ‘know their place,’” he told HuffPost. “Sadly, being anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim are becoming litmus tests in many Evangelical congregations and organizations.”
The Growing Impact And Influence Of Young Muslims
Shifting attitudes towards homosexuality in American Muslim communities have been driven by a few key groups. Muslim women’s acceptance has increased by 31 percentage points over the last 10 years. College graduates have bumped up 32 points in the same time period.
Muslim activists and scholars are particularly noticing the change in mindset happening among younger Muslims. Millennial Muslims are more likely to be accepting of homosexuality (60 percent) than Muslims of older generations. The youth’s acceptance grew by 27 percentage points between 2007 and 2017.
This may be related to the fact that American Muslim adults are significantly younger than the overall U.S. adult population. About 35 percent of American Muslims are between 18 and 29 years old. Twenty-one percent of the general U.S. population falls in that age bracket. In general, younger Americans tend to have more accepting views of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
“Millennial Muslims are very much part of the larger American youth population who are more tolerant and loving of queer friends and family,” said Mariam Durrani, an anthropologist at Hamilton College who studies Muslim American.
“As part of a marginalized and discriminated population, Muslim youth are more likely to adopt solidarity positions with other marginalized and discriminated communities.”
In addition, Durrani points out, younger Muslims are witnessing leaders within their community stepping forward in support of queer rights. There are faith leaders who openly support gay youth, mosques and community centers where queer Muslims are welcomed, and Muslim leaders and entertainers who are publicly out.
“All of this shows that being queer is part of the American Muslim community and youth, as usual, are the most progressive in this regard,” Durrani said.
Debate Within American Muslim Communities On Homosexuality
Arshad said that queer Muslims have become “cautiously optimistic” in recent years about their acceptance within American Muslim communities.
“I know that we have come a long way and that now we at least have some space within the mainstream Muslim civil rights movement and many influential allies. I do think there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done especially to create a safe space for LGBT Muslims within the Muslim community,” she told HuffPost.
While Muslims have signaled an openness to supporting LGBTQ Americans in general, Arshad said some are hesitant about offering that same level of support to queer Muslims.
“What we see is more of a willingness to support the mainstream non Muslim LGBT community but when it comes to LGBT Muslims, people get uncomfortable.”
Tensions about Islam’s acceptance of homosexuality surfaced this June at a convention held by the Islamic Society of North America, a national association of Muslim organizations. At last year’s convention, organizers included a panel that, for the first time, focused on LGBTQ issues. This year, Muslims for Progressive Values, an advocacy group, partnered with the Human Rights Campaign to set up a joint booth at the convention. Staff at the booth distributed brochures calling for female imams and LGBTQ-inclusive prayer spaces.
A few hours after setting up, MPV claims ISNA organizers asked that the booth be shut down, reportedly because MPV’s mission was “antithetical to [ISNA’s] beliefs.” The HRC confirmed to HuffPost in an email that the joint booth was expelled from ISNA’s convention.
“It was OK for HRC, a mainstream LGBT rights group to exhibit but because HRC was co-tabling with Muslims for Progressive Values, which advocates for LGBT Muslims, both were asked to leave,” Arshad told HuffPost.
HuffPost sent requests for comment to ISNA, but did not hear back.
Despite the controversy, MPV president Ani Zonneveld said she was heartened by the positive responses the booth got during the brief time it was set up at the ISNA convention.
“Many who came to our booth were absolutely on board,” Zonneveld told HuffPost.
Since MPV’s founding 10 years ago, Zonneveld said she’s seen less resistance and more open conversations within the American Muslim community on topics like LGBTQ rights.
“We’ve also seen traditional imams and community leaders forced into these conversations by members of their own, often younger, congregations,” Zonneveld said.
Arshad said she found the data from the Pew survey particularly encouraging because of how anti-Muslim activists often use LGBTQ rights issues as an excuse to discriminate against Muslims. She pointed to how President Donald Trump used the Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida to drum up support for his proposed Muslim ban.
“As a queer Muslim at these intersections, I am constantly aware of how the right wing uses any opportunity to demonize Muslims and hypocritically uses LGBT rights as a proxy to do that,” Arshad said. “Meanwhile this government’s own record of rights for LGBT people is terrifying. Now more than ever, we need dialogue and brave spaces to bridge our various communities and this trend within the Muslim community is promising.”