Atlanta LGBT Muslims navigate difficult path after Orlando shooting

On the morning of Sunday, June 12, Amina Abdul-Jalil was in the kitchen of her Marietta home when she found out. Her friend told her. Orlando. Mass shooting. Gay nightclub. 49 dead, 53 injured. Shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS.

“My first reaction was, ‘That’s really messed up,’” Abdul-Jalil tells Georgia Voice. “And then it was, ‘They’re probably going to blame it on the Muslims.’”

Like most, she became transfixed by the news, wanting to find out more. But processing what happened at Pulse nightclub was difficult for two important reasons—Abdul-Jalil is Muslim, and she identifies as queer.

“It seemed to be something that really hit home in the sense that it felt like two things that I hold onto very dearly were fighting,” she says. “When I was talking to a friend about it, I told them it was like when you’re a kid and your parents fight and you feel like, ‘I love both of y’all and I don’t want to be put in the middle.’ I really felt like kind of put in the middle.”

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ alive and well

The climate for Abdul-Jalil and other LGBT Muslims both here in Atlanta and across the country is far from ideal considering the level of Islamophobia and homophobia at play. But groups like Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) can be a lifeline.

The faith-based human rights organization was founded by Malaysian-American activist, writer and musician Ani Zonneveld in 2007. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the nonprofit now has 13 chapters around the world, with Atlanta being one of six in the US and the only one in the South. The local chapter has a weekly gathering on Friday afternoons, Sunday evening zikr (chanting in remembrance of God) and meets monthly at at the Cobb Emergent Gathering, an interfaith/atheist-agnostic-friendly discussion group.

Abdul-Jalil, who is a member of MPV, says there tends to be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude with LGBT people in the Muslim community. She goes where she feels safe no matter whether it’s a Muslim or LGBT space.

“If I go to the Masjid, I go to one where I’m pretty anonymous. Or if I’m at the MPV, I can be 100 percent me there, there’s no problem,” she explains. “In a queer space, I will weigh in on whether I need to modify my hijab. There are some ways I can have my hair covered that scream, ‘There’s a Muslim.’ And there are some ways I can have my hair covered and it’s just, ‘Oh there’s a black lady wearing her hair covered.’ There are some places I would not wear it, and those are generally places I just don’t go.”

Vigil provides platform needed

As she talked more about the Pulse shooting with friends and loved ones in the days following the incident, Abdul-Jalil felt like she needed to process her feelings out loud. That platform was delivered to her when she got word that the group she works with Muslims for Progressive Values was asked to take part in a community vigil June 14 at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta. They needed a speaker, so she stepped forward.

“I am Muslim. I am Black. I am queer. I don’t apologize for any of that,” she told the thousands in the crowd at the vigil that Tuesday evening.

She had particular points she wanted to make but says most of the speech ended up being just her speaking from the heart, because as she says, she didn’t want to “prepackage” anything. Stepping off the stage, Abdul-Jalil got a hug from one person, then another, but it was the hug from Imam Piemon El-Amin from Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam that made her burst into tears. She had known Imam El-Amin before and after she came out as queer, but they had never really broached the topic.

“It can be a fight for people who come from really tight faith-based communities,” Abdul-Jalil says of being queer and Muslim. “It’s a horrible feeling to feel like you have to pick. So he was kind of like an affirmation for myself that I don’t have to pick. That was very healing for me. It really did something for my soul.”