What is LBTQ+?
LBTQ+ stands for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and the plus sign represents any other sexual identity such as pansexual, asexual, omnisexual. Basically, the acronym is an all encompassing symbol of inclusion no matter what a person choses to identify as. The usual acronym LGBT+ includes gay men.
MEWSo rejects every form of discrimination, inequality and exclusion, and that includes discrimination against LBTQ+ women.
Yes: They do exist!
The official version in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa is that gay people don’t exist: they only appear in the ‘decadent, morally depraved’ West. Most Middle Eastern communities, of course, know this to be a lie, but the overwhelming majority of people are still reported to be very opposed to homosexuality. It’s no wonder such attitudes remain deeply-rooted in these communities in the UK.
This was not always the case. In the 13th and 14th centuries there were celebrated male poets across the Middle East who wrote openly about male attraction and homosexual love. Such poetry was considered educated and refined.
Even as Britain made life difficult for homosexuals in the late 1800s right up until the law was changed in 1967, many countries in the region, such as Morocco,* were far less judgemental. Sodomy may have been considered a sin in Muslim courts of law but, perhaps because of the strict separation of the sexes, other gay acts, such as holding hands, passionate kissing, fondling or lesbian sex, were not.**
However, the impact of decades of colonial powers punishing such behaviour with jail sentences; conservative interpretations of religious laws; and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1970s coinciding with gay rights movements in the West, has resulted in a stark separation of cultures, a situation Islamic politicians continue to exploit to increase anti-West fervour.
MEWSo is determined …
… to tackle such discrimination whenever or wherever we come across it. We will continually challenge these harmful attitudes in the community, at a grassroots level and on the national stage.
The reactions of family, friends and colleagues means coming out as a Muslim can be near impossible. The pressures to marry someone of the opposite sex can be enormous and marriage generally is often considered a family responsibility. Arranged marriages are still very common.*
If LBTQ+ women are not completely accepted by their family, at best they may be forced to ‘be cured’ through religion and/or psychiatry; at worst, ‘kicked out’ of the family, physically assaulted or even killed. This cannot be allowed to continue.
We are working with other charities and organisations, Local Authorities and the Government to fight LBTQ+ discrimination and protect their rights in our communities to ensure they have the same chance to lead fulfilling, meaningful lives as everybody else.
MEWSo's Executive Director Halaleh Taheri, said: "In our communities, LBTQ+ women are forbidden by their religion and customs, especially Islam as the largest religion in the community, so these are very vulnerable people. In their countries of origin, people have been executed - stoned - if they've been caught. Just look at the reaction of the Muslim community in Birmingham in 2019 when schools began teaching the 'No Outsiders' programme that taught pupils tolerance towards LGBT+ people and helped them understand that it's OK to be different. There was a massive row and many protests that forced several schools to abandon the project.
"We are against such backward, discriminatory attitudes and MEWSo continues to make space for LBTQ+ women to feel safe, empowered and able to speak out. We connect them with neighbourhood and LBTQ+ organisations that can help and give them the strength to live the lives they want.
"Our campaign intends to step this up. We want to gather support from other like-minded charities, community & national organisations, connect with Government departments, schools and community groups and build on the expertise of others.
"In the short term we want to provide urgent services for the most vulnerable women and girls who might be in serious danger in our communities. We already have a LBTQ+ workshop where women can share their stories and be creative, and we plan to organise seminars, speak out at conferences and talk to influential community leaders to push for a change in these inhumane attitudes.
"Middle Eastern and North African communities are better than this. More than ever we need to practise our humanity."
* Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, 21 Jun 2016
** The Economist, Open Society: How homosexuality became a crime in the Middle East, 6 June, 2018
MEWSo is funded by the Tampon Tax Community Fund to support women and girls from Middle Eastern, North African and Asian communities experiencing abuse and discrimination.
If you would like more information about our campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact us. If you would like to support our cause, please consider donating or look at our vacancy page for volunteering options.