Why Was Salaam Formed?
LGBTQ+ Muslims in Canada are subjected to many types of discrimination, including Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and, given that the majority of Muslims are not white, racism. In addition, many Muslims are also in Canada as asylum claimants, refugees, or as other types of immigrants, and must therefore navigate the hardships associated with that process.
The majority of Muslims in Canada originate from the non-West, from countries that were colonized by the British. Muslim communities were subjected to the pathologization of their sexual and gender practices as they did not conform to the colonizer's standards of heterosexuality, monogamy, sex exclusively within marriage, and strict gender roles. Subsequently, laws were established by the British to enforce ‘acceptable’ practices.
The intolerances and discomforts around non-normative gender and sexual practices continue to manifest in these societies and communities years after the official end of colonial rule. While transphobia and homophobia within Muslim communities is often justified according to theology, this is contradicted by the fact that there was acceptance of gender and sexual diversity and practices in many historical Muslim societies prior to colonization.
LGBTQ+ Muslims in Canada are living the legacy of this colonial history.
Many minority community spaces are organized around the assumption of ‘single-minority’ status – consequently when LGBTQ+ Muslims attempt to access queer community spaces, they may experience these forums as white and therefore unsafe and/or irrelevant. Conversely, those accessing Muslim community spaces may find that these are similarly unsafe and/or irrelevant to them on the basis of their gender or sexuality. Demographics play a hand in this, but so does organization - what makes the dominant LGBTQ+ community white is not just the people in it, but fashion expectations, beauty standards, sexual norms, and so on. Similarly, what makes Muslim spaces seem cis and straight is, for example, the fact that mosques are often segregated according to gender. In this way, LGBTQ+ Muslims are communally and socially ‘unhoused’.
LGBTQ+ Muslims occupy a difficult position within the context of Islamophobia, in that a central narrative within Islamophobic discourse is that Islam and Muslims are uniquely and especially queerphobic. This functions to designate Muslims as ‘uncivilized’ and to justify xenophobic immigration and criminal law (for example, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act; proposed immigrant ‘values tests’). The fall-out of the 2016 shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Florida – wherein the shooter’s motives were attributed to an internalized homophobia emanating from his Muslim religion and family – exemplified how LGBTQ+ Muslims were asked to apologize for, explain, and defend their religion and religious communities, while at the same time grapple with the homophobia and transphobia that exists within them.
As a result of these discrete, compounding, and interactive oppressions, LGBTQ+ Muslims – particularly those who are racialized and new to Canada – are made vulnerable to psychological discord, romantic rejection, theological and familial alienation, lack of community and isolation, interpersonal violence, inadequate/inappropriate healthcare, institutional neglect/violence, legal precarity, and other unfavourable legal consequences.