To mark LGBT History Month this year we’re catching up with key people from the LGBT+ movement to discuss how LGBT+ and faith can dovetail with each other and help to shape a cohesive and progressive society. For our second interview in the series we spoke to Sabah Choudrey, co-founder of Trans Pride Brighton and Trans Youth Worker for Gendered Intelligence.
Sabah is a Pakistani trans activist with a passion for his communities having co-founded Trans Pride Brighton - the first trans march and celebration in the UK - and started online social and support spaces for queer, trans, and intersex people of colour in Brighton (QTIPOC Brighton) as well as for LGBT and queer desi people in London and the South East (desiQ).
Sabah spent his rebellious years living in Brighton where he fell into LGBT+ youth work and development in LGBT+ BME/faith communities at Allsorts Youth Project. Once he had enough of being the “token person of colour”, Sabah moved back to Greater London, where they are a Trans Youth Worker for Gendered Intelligence mentoring and facilitating groups for trans young people and trans young people of colour. Sabah writes regularly on www.sabahchoudrey.com.
What is your experience as an LGBT+ person of faith?
Identifying as a person of faith, as Muslim, isn’t something I’ve been doing for very long. It’s scary to pull away from faith just as it is to come back. I was raised Muslim, but the Islam that I was raised to believe in was an Islam that would never accept me. It took me years before I realised that it was people who don’t want to accept me, not a religion.
How can we better represent LGBT+ students of faith at NUS?
I suppose it comes down to how accommodating the LGBT community is for LGBT people of faith. The answer is, not very. There are so many events that consider people of faith as an afterthought or an add-on to an event, when inclusion should be thought about at the beginning. I think the assumption is that LGBT people of faith aren’t a big part of the community, that there aren’t any LGBT Muslims, Christians or Jewish people because they’ve been ostracised or banished from their community, when actually, we have our LGBT religious communities, and for many of us, coming out wasn’t about making a choice between the two. It was about being true and authentic and holding onto faith.
What do you feel is the biggest barrier in the work that you do?
My biggest barrier is other people’s assumptions and prejudice. The first thing I have to do when I talk at events or workshops is convince them: “Yes, I exist. I am all these things and I am happy and proud.” And only then they will listen to my message.
What advice would you give LGBT+ people of faith?
Doubting your faith doesn’t make you a bad person. Doubting Islam doesn’t make you a bad Muslim. Questioning your faith is a part of discovering your faith. Your Islam is what you make of it. Listen to women and queer people talk about faith. And even if you let go of faith, your faith will never let go of you.
What advice would you give LGBT+ student societies on how to better support LGBT+ students of faith?
Ensure people of faith are always on the agenda. When talking about equality and diversity, include religion. When you exclude a group, when something isn’t spoken about, when people of faith aren’t represented, you send the message that these people aren’t important enough, or that we just don’t see them. Join up with faith groups, start a dialogue and run events together. Celebrate religious holidays, and put them on the same calendar as LGBT events. Think about where you can accommodate LGBT people of faith, for example, don’t run food related events during Ramadan, or instead of having sober spaces or sober socials, have drinking socials and drinking spaces – accommodating people who drink alcohol is a lot easier. Take tips from guides like ‘Inclusivity: Supporting BAME Trans People’ and share articles from websites like homosexualityandislam.com. Its simple things like this that sends the message that we are centring LGBT people of faith.
Next week, we’ll be discussing LGBT and faith with another key figure in the movement. If you’d like to discuss your experiences in this area you can email Robbiie Young, NUS LGBT Officer (Open Place) on Rob.Young@nus.org.uk.
For more information on LGBT History Month 2016 visit www.lgbthistorymonth.org.uk.